Written by Michaela Sharp, (Macalester College) Student Correspondent CET Jordan: Internship, Fall 2018
Why am I studying abroad?
In class one day practicing for our oral final, my teacher asked me why I had decided to study Arabic. Now, I am no stranger to having an existential crisis in Arabic class. So, cue the existential crisis. All jokes aside, during my time in Jordan I constantly have to ask myself why did I decide to study one of the hardest languages in the world. Arabic is ranked as a category four language by the State Department and it is not uncommon to meet people who have been studying Arabic for over a decade and they still say that they are learning. So, as my time in Jordan is ending I had an epiphany. My decision to study Arabic is like meeting the man behind the curtain. Let me explain.
I am Dorothy, very far away from home on the yellow brick road to Arabic fluency. What is Arabic, what does it represent, why do I study it? I don’t necessarily know…I am just going on the journey to hopefully figure the answers once I get there. Wherever “there” is. When I first arrived in Jordan I always said that I started studying Arabic because I thought it was pretty. Yes, this answer is shallow; thinking a language is pretty is not going to drive me to do my homework day in and day out. Then, my answer evolved to wanting to learn more about the culture of the Middle East, especially because it’s increasingly relevant in politics. Being in Jordan for only three months taught me that this answer is also shallow. Why is it important to me to learn about the Middle East? It is still a question I desire to answer.
With less than two weeks left in Jordan, I am nearing the end of my journey and I am approaching the man behind the curtain. I realized I was learning Arabic to prove something to myself, not for any large nuance/complex reason. I wanted to prove that I could master a language that is known for being difficult. In the end, I recognize that whatever the reason, it led to a journey. I met friends, American and Jordanian alike. I learned what I am like in a new environment and under pressure. I learned that there is never a definitive end to learning a language or a new culture. The goal or answer that I was seeking was never there. There is never an end. My journey down the yellow brick road led to a man behind the curtain.
So, how does this benefit you? Potential study abroad student? Well, before you embark on your journey – wherever that is – I implore you to ask yourself why are you studying this language and culture? And my cautionary advice is to not reach for goals such as Arabic fluency or mastery. The journey itself is enough. Embarking and finishing is an accomplishment. The question can have many or no answers.