At the University of Rochester, International Relations majors are required to study abroad for a semester and complete at least two courses taught in a modern language in order to complete their degree.
Junior Noor Shah decided to fulfill this requirement by studying in Amman, Jordan, saying that she chose Jordan “specifically because of the Arabic language and rich culture,” which she always wanted to experience.
Shah is currently studying in the Diplomacy and Policy Studies program in Amman through the Council of International Education Exchange (CIEE), a non-profit US-based organization that offers education and exchange programs worldwide.
Through the program, students can “learn about international relations, political science, and economics with a Middle Eastern and Jordanian focus [and] engage with local experts, government officials, and diplomats through special cooperation with the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy (JID),” according to their website.
At the University of Rochester, a third of undergraduate students study abroad.
Traditionally, many of these students choose to go to European countries such as Spain, Germany or Italy, where the cultural and social aspects of the experience are more similar to those in the United States. Increasingly though, many, like Shah, choose to travel to locations in the Middle East instead.
For Shah, the application process went smoothly. She had known that she wanted to study in the Diplomacy and Policy Studies program in Amman since her freshman year, and when it came time to apply, she says that “CIEE [made] it really easy to apply and show interest.”
Shah also notes that the process of getting her visa was uncomplicated, saying that “getting into the country itself is actually quite simple, [as] there is relatively minimal security and having a US passport is looked very highly upon in Jordan.”
Once Shah arrived in Jordan, she had 10-hour long orientation days, which, when combined with jet lag, proved to be very exhausting.
She also experienced the obstacle of not being familiar with the city in the first few days, because many streets have names that sound very similar and look alike.
She has gotten lost, saying that it “can be scary sometimes if you aren’t that comfortable with the language or the city.” Also, “hardly any of the drivers speak English or know street names.”
However, Shah did not hesitate to ask for help with directions. She reveals that “a lot of Jordanians are delighted to meet Americans, and will often look for any way to help you out and welcome you into their country, especially if you attempt to speak Arabic with them.”
Moreover, she thinks that the interaction with locals proved to be one of the aspects of the experience that has gone really well.
Although one does not have to be proficient in a language to study abroad, most students who study abroad in the Middle East work to become fluent in Arabic. Shah is pursuing a minor in Arabic, and is taking a standard Arabic course as well as a Jordanian Arabic class.
Shah is taking two other courses, “Jordan: A Case Study in Diplomacy and Development” and “Arab Diplomacy,” to complement her study of International Relations.
Studying abroad in Jordan provides an opportunity to see events happening in the Middle East from a closer viewpoint than in America.
As stated in the description of the program in Amman: “Classroom learning and field trips combine to dispel the myths of the Middle East and give students unparalleled insight into one of the richest histories in the world.”
A major difference she notes between being in Jordan and in the U.S is the water scarcity in Jordan.
“It is the third-poorest country in terms of water, which made me a million more times aware of how much more we consume in America. Here, only a certain amount of water is allocated to each household, and showering a lot less and drinking a lot less water is a huge difference that takes a lot of getting used to,” she explains.
According to the World Health Organization, the water shortage problem will worsen in the following decades as the population rises rapidly and the weather becomes more unpredictable.
The influx of Syrian refugees due to the Syrian Civil War adds to Jordan’s water worries. Shah is currently interning at Mercy Corps where she works with these Syrian refugees, and is gaining direct knowledge of the issues.
Additionally, she is learning about Jordanian culture first-hand.
Despite being very busy, “[people] are extremely friendly and polite, and often invite you over to their houses for tea and a big lunch, which you are expected to finish entirely,” Shah reveals. The hospitality is unsurprising given that Jordan is often considered one of the most comfortable and welcoming countries in the region.
In the month that she’s been in Amman, Shah has adjusted to the differences in the everyday life. One difference is that instead of walking or taking the bus for classes, she travels in a taxi.
As a female, she observed that women are expected to dress conservatively, saying that “although [wearing] a hijab is not a requirement, women are expected to cover their arms and legs while walking around in public.”
She takes every chance she got to explore important archeological sites.
Shah walked through old temples and Roman theatres on a trip to Jerash, a northern city filled with Roman ruins.
In Qasr al Abd, which translates to “Castle of the Slave,” located in western Jordan, she explored natural sites as well as old ruins.
“People are allowed to climb and hike right on the ruins without any sort of consequence, which is actually a nice change,” Shah remarks.
But even an everyday experience, which can vary from “trying a new food I’ve never heard of to hailing a cab downtown and walking around through different Mosques and souqs [marketplaces],” seems like an adventure, according to her, saying that she is “loving every second.”
On weekends and breaks, Shah likes to go the traditional souqs in downtown Amman, which have lots of fresh and relatively cheap produce as well as local stores.
Shah advises students who are thinking of going abroad but do not know where to go to start early, “It can take a lot of planning ahead of time if you don’t quite know where you want to go or why you want to go there.”
Shah adds finally that “even if my major didn’t require me to study abroad, I probably would still find some way to do it just to have this wonderful experience.”
Wu is a member of the class of 2016.