Written by Agneetta Moisio, (Vanderbilt University), Student Correspondent for CET Jordan, Fall 2021
To be completely honest, preparing for my study abroad semester could have been a bit more thorough. I hope this blog post could help at least one future exchange student to consider a few different things before embarking on the journey to Amman. I myself returned to Nashville, where I am located in the U.S., two days before flying out of the country to Jordan. Being an international student, I don’t exactly have a home base in the U.S. where I could regroup and thoroughly pack before going to Jordan. Instead, I have a storage locker in Nashville that I store my entire life in when I don’t have a university dorm in Vanderbilt University, like most semesters.
Visiting the unique Wadi Mujib, a freshwater canyon about an hour South of Amman.
What did I and did I not pack with me then? What did I wish I had packed? I like to think that I took a quick look at the weather and was fairly confident it was going to be unbearably hot the entire time. I am going back to my home country Finland post exchange, and luckily brought a jacket for that purpose. That jacket has been my saving grace in the cold evenings in Amman. So, definitely bring warm clothes, even if you don’t think you’ll need them—trust me, you will. Moreover, any trips to the desert—Wadi Rum—will warrant bringing jacket and other warm clothes with you.
In terms of local dress code, I think it’s better to err on the side of more conservative dress to be respectful towards the host country and culture. However, there are many occasions where more relaxed dress is allowed. Gyms and touristy destinations such as resort areas are good examples of places were dressing appears to me much more relaxed than I had thought to be. Rooftops for hotels, especially popular among expats and tourists, are very similar in terms of dress to any other American hotel bar. However, many places outside Amman remain very conservative in terms of dress, and it’s important to remember to carry a scarf or sweatshirt to be able to cover up if needed. Even if wearing a t-shirt and skinny jeans is totally fine in Amman, it does attract more attention than covering your arms and wearing loose pants. Being used to blending into the street picture in America even if I still feel like an outsider, here in Jordan your dress will impact how much attention you attract on the streets.
Celebrating a birthday and enjoying afternoon tea with other exchange students.
Other things to pack with you is medications. While all regular medicines are available, some do require prescription from a doctor. After suffering a really bad cold, I was extremely glad I had brought a whole arsenal of cold medicines and even certain antibiotics with me, and it saved me a trip to the doctor.
Lastly, I definitely recommend bringing a journal with you. Even if you’re one of the people who haven’t previously tried it, I still urge you to do it. Being able to read back and reflect on not only what you did, but also on how much you’ve grown and how your thoughts changed as time abroad passes by. I find it helpful to write down my own thoughts regarding the program, the people I’ve met through it, but also reflecting on the thoughts and questions that arise from cultural differences and the Jordanian society. On a more practical level, it is a lot of fun to read back and see what all I had done, especially if I forgot to take pictures.
Everyday challenges and sources of joy
To say that speaking Arabic and trying to understand what other people are saying to you isn’t tiring would be a big lie. Sometimes there are days in class where it seems that I absolutely cannot read, understand, speak, or write a single word in Arabic. Other days I catch myself answering a question in Arabic, without having to think twice. It’s a two-way street. The more you put effort into speaking Arabic, the more you get out of it. While the first few days of speaking only in Arabic are incredibly tough, I wish I could go back and tell myself it will be okay. Because it was. Nowadays, going out with my language partner and spending three hours with her are nothing but joy, because we can actually talk about topics other than the weather or how delicious the food is. But without the struggles in the beginning, that wouldn’t be possible. So, keep going. It will get easier, I promise.
Another challenge I was not prepared for despite reading about it online was the daily catcalling on the streets. Being clearly a foreigner in the society, it is impossible to not attract attention on the streets. In the local culture, staring is not considered rude, unlike in the culture in which I grew up. People are often purely just curious and will say or yell something in English just to practice their English skills or gain your attention. It was difficult in the beginning to learn to stop paying attention to all of it, but that has gotten easier with time as well. I learned that big sunglasses and headphones (be careful in the traffic!) gave me the privacy that I desired, even in public.
On the other hand, everyone in Jordan is extremely nice and eager to help you out. The Arab Hospitality is absolutely a huge thing and is very high on the list of my favorite things about Jordan. It is impossible to go to someone’s home without being offered coffee and small eats. People will stop what they are doing to help another person out. The most decorated room of the house is always the room for entertaining guests, portraying how highly Jordanians regard their guests.
Arab hospitality at its best. While we were casually visiting a local friend, we were greeted with self-made pastries and other treats.
In my opinion, the most important thing to prepare and pack with you is an open mind and the willingness to unlearn and relearn various ways of doing things. It may sound easy, but reflecting on your own identity, identifying potential challenges that await at the destination, but also thinking about your goals and learning objectives for the program is important. With clear goals in mind, it is easier to get through the more challenging days. Learning that a different way of life is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it’s simply just ‘different.’ With the willingness to actively listen and hear what people from different backgrounds are saying is after all a unique opportunity to broaden your worldview and grow as a person.