Get amazing at Arabic, but at great personal and mental cost August 20, 2019

By (Brown University) - abroad from 01/26/2019 to 05/16/2019 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury In Amman

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned a lot about myself and my values. My Arabic got incredible. I do not regret the experience at all, but I would not do it again. I am having trouble sorting between which of my issues are due to Middlebury and its awful administration and which are actually to due the country, Jordan. I have a hunch its more of the former.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Some great professors, resources/administration were abominable. Arabic definitely improved a lot. Middlebury certainly "works," the question is at what mental cost. Some staff clearly had no racial/cultural sensitivity training, and made offensive comments towards students of color (particularly black students), Jewish students, and LGBTQ+ identifying students.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Udai was great, but unfortunately he's no longer with the program. As a whole, the admin staff (Kerstin + RAs) were draconian in their enforcement of the Language Pledge, to the extent that it jeopardized students' health and safety. When we experienced cultural difficulties (e.g. anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), we were told that finding certain comments or actions problematic was due to our own cultural insensitivity vis-à-vis Jordan, and given little to no support or empathy. The admin was 100% "cultural relativity" and 0% "cultural absolutism." There needs to be flexibility and grey zone here to accommodate student needs and acclimate to new surroundings. In one particular instance, a Jordanian student working with the program made a comment in which he advocated for a "second Holocaust" and made other utterances that are too vulgar for this website. Rather than provide support, the Middlebury administration instead castigated students who found these remarks offensive, and outed all Jewish students in the process, making them extremely vulnerable. They also did not fire, dismiss, or even condemn the Jordanian student at fault, instead continuing to make the Middlebury students responsible by virtue of them being hurt, even bringing the topic (and accusatory language) up at our final dinner. This was only one instance of extreme administrative incompetence during a very tumultuous semester (which also included ample racism, sexism, slut-shaming, etc. on the part of the administration).

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I was with two host parents. They were both very sweet, but I realized early on that I was their financial crutch and the only thing keeping them out of abject poverty. Neither of them worked, so my room and board were the only household income. It is of course not their fault that the Jordanian economy is in tatters and that the cost of living is extremely high, but it created awkward dynamics that I was unaware of in advance. When people are 100% dependent on the 450 JD you pay them every month, it's not a normal family dynamic. I was told by Middlebury that we would engage in family activities and go on outings, but none of the above materialized. My host parents left the house only once a week to go to the grocery store, and the first time we ever went anywhere together was the last night of the semester for the Middlebury farewell dinner. I was happy to help out, but I wish Middlebury would have been transparent about the fact that its host family experience can take this form. I soon discovered that hosting foreign students is effectively a job in Jordan, particularly for low-income families. I wish I'd been prepared for this. Girls should also be prepared for significantly less freedom than what they're accustomed to in the US. My curfew was midnight, which was considered extremely generous by Jordanian standards (my female Jordanian peers couldn't be out past 7pm). As a whole, I felt incredibly babied and lacking independence, though my host parents would often call be "independent" in a degrading tone. Boy-girl hang-outs at home (even completely platonically) are completely out of the question; even "liberal" families did not even indulge this possibility. Students should be prepared for much more religious and conservative settings. Drinking alcohol (much less having alcohol in the house) is also a total no-go.

* Food:

Since I'm vegetarian, it was OK (though people didn't understand why I make this choice). Students who ate meat were kind of given an overload. Students should be prepared to eat significantly less fiber and fresh fruits and vegetables. Be prepared and bring proper medication. Also, make sure to bring tupperware! This doesn't really exist in Jordan.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Not as much as I should have been given the fact that I was living with a host family. Since my host family didn't do anything or go anywhere (see above) due to the economic situation but also their personal conservatism, I did everything on my own with other American female students (since the Jordanian girls I knew from the program couldn't even go out for dinner due to their curfews). The American male students were extremely insensitive to the gender difficulties and differences faced by female students, and prized the "authenticity" of their own personal experience over spending time with or supporting the female students in navigating an extremely male-dominated society and its accompanying restrictions. Furthermore, the Middlebury staff discouraged me from participating in any community activities where but a word of English would be uttered. I went to Running Amman runs on most Friday mornings (because running wouldn't have been possible otherwise), but admin initially warned me against it "because it's an expat space," never mind that 95% of the time is spent running and not speaking at all. Eventually, I just decided to ignore them and place my own personal welfare and happiness (rather than appeal to them) first.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I was generally fine and didn't get seriously ill, but they wouldn't let me speak in English when I had a fever and needed a thermometer (instead yelling at me for saying the word "thermometer" in English in an otherwise Arabic sentence because I hadn't yet learned the word).

* Safety:

Jordan is safe in measures of violence, but being a woman is extremely challenging. Navigating day-to-day Jordanian life as a female is quite honestly draining, and female (particularly visibly Western or non-Arab) students are subject to an incredible deal of harassment. I personally had two different men try to get me to get in their cars after blocking my path (essentially abduction attempts), and was constantly catcalled and sexualized, despite following local conventions and dressing conservatively. One thing I wish I'd known about Amman before arriving is the transit situation (or lack thereof). There is zero transit infrastructure, and mobility is exceptionally difficult. Taxis and Ubers are imperative to get around, and walking becomes dangerous because somehow, in a city of four million, nobody does it. If you walk, particularly as a woman, you are making yourself vulnerable to harassment or worse. Yet, at the same time, most taxi and Uber drivers will also harass you. So women are essentially trapped, feeling they can't do anything because any path (literal or figurative) to events, friends, activities, class, or otherwise will be laden with harassment and possible sexual assault.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No

I'd direct enroll at the American University of Beirut (AUB)

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Amman is so, so expensive. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE HOW MUCH THE UBERS ADD UP. I am a very well-off student and I still found it challenging to live on a budget. I usually work an on-campus job and obviously couldn't do this abroad. I was only afloat because I am very fortunate and my parents kindly sent me money every month, but this cannot be expected.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $100
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? This hugely depends on location. In some places you just can't save. Sad but true.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

I would not term it "encouragement." It was coercion.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? ARAB 0500 at Brown
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Speak in the language of the country with people from that country, always. Make that your personal rule and you'll improve more than you could ever imagine.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • American female friends I made
  • Dr. Abeer Dababneh
  • Arabic improvement
* What could be improved?
  • Admin staff
  • Support system (HAVE MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES)
  • Transparency and information
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? How much Ubers/transit would cost (read: how awful/nonexistent the Jordanian transit situation is to begin with), the uncensored reality about anti-Semitism and sexism, that my host family was financially dependent on me, that I should bring tupperware.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Gender Issues in the Arab World

Course Department:
Instructor: Dr. Abeer Dababneh
Instruction Language: Arabic
Comments: This woman is incredible. Learned so much.
Credit Transfer Issues: