Today marks two whole weeks since I came back from Jordan, and I wanted to take some time to reflect (in this very long post) on these six weeks that changed my life, and the lessons they taught me. In addition to language and customs, I have come back with a lot of new insight about what it means to live in another country, where resources are limited, and cultural norms are different from home.
Homesickness is not a joke. When going through our participant guide prior to my departure to Jordan, I read a lot about culture shock and homesickness. I took the advice passively, considering myself immune to these adjustment difficulties. It was only six weeks, after all. However, after the first week, I started to feel the general symptoms of homesickness: loneliness, some confusion, etc. I felt that I was the only weak one going through something like this, until I talked with my NSLI-Y peers, many of whom were experiencing something similar, but in different ways. Opening up to my host family about my adjustment difficulties brought us closer, and helped alleviate my homesickness. I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with the environment.
Big changes should be expected. I came into the program with a lot of preset ideas about our plans and such, but as I soon learned, big changes aren’t rare. One of the biggest changes I had was getting a roommate. I arrived in Jordan ready to take on the host family experience alone, and I did so for the first week or two. However, one of the pairs of girls had some trouble with their host family, leading to some changes. As a result, one of the girls, Emily, moved into my host house! We became really good friends, and while the change was big and sudden, it was certainly a really positive surprise, and I couldn’t imagine my stay in Jordan without her.
Wi-Fi is a limited commodity. Living in America, I (much ignorantly) thought that Wi-Fi was like air, abundant and ever-present. Sure, I have experienced slow Internet connection, or have had trouble loading things before, but I never knew that Wi-Fi could be a physical object. Yes, a physical object. In my host family’s house, the Wi-Fi was a small, white square, which had to be plugged in, in order to work. If it was not fully charged, or if it had been taken to the other end of the house, the Internet access would be out of our reach. The Wi-Fi was much sought after, and I can think of so many times that I had to go around the house overturning pillows and scanning the kitchen, just to look for that white block which had been taken elsewhere by a family member. Towards the end of our program, in the last few days, we ended up running out of Wi-Fi, but you know what? We survived.
Water is just as limited. Even though I live in Texas, the only limits on water I had been exposed to were small things, like not turning on the sprinklers each day, and the likes. In Jordan, however, the water limit is real, and we would take short showers each day, keeping in mind that including us, there were eight people in the house, and we needed to conserve accordingly. In my area (Shmeisani), Sundays were the days when the tanks would be refilled, and we would have unlimited water all day. That meant that longer showers, laundry, and intense mopping (which actually consisted of flooding the floors and then sopping up the water), all occurred on that day.
Air conditioning can’t be taken for granted either. I come from Texas, which is about just as hot as Amman, but at home, we have AC. In my host house, air conditioning was limited to one room (the kids’ room), and it served like the living room during the day, but on the bright side, it meant we all got to spend more time together!
You don’t decide how much you eat; your host mom does. I am sure all of the other NSLI-Y Jordan students will agree with this. In Jordan, it is very rude to waste what is on your plate, and you are expected to eat what is served to you. That means very, very large servings. I can think of so many times that I, stuffed at the dinner table, stared helplessly at the tower of rice still in my bowl. Don’t get me wrong; the food is delicious. However, it took a lot of practice and communication skills until I was able to effectively convey the message that I just couldn’t eat that much.
Plans are flexible. In Jordan, “Inshallah” is the law of the land. Most events do not run on a tight, punctual schedule. Things are expected to, and often will deviate from the original plan, and living in Jordan is a matter of accepting this and making the most of it. Our trip to Wadi Rum was cancelled because of instability in Ma’an; however, that meant that we had the opportunity to explore Madaba instead. If you embrace this experience, you’ll notice you will take things in a stride, and won’t disappoint easily.
Schedules are not universal. In the United States, dinner is usually in the evening, and most people don’t go out at midnight on a regular weekday. Halfway across the globe, things are different. During summertime in Jordan, the day really starts at eight in the evening. The city becomes alive, and people start going out at this time. Usually, I had dinner as early as nine or as late as twelve, although 10:30 or 11:00 was most typical. On Thursday nights (the start of the weekend), we would get home at 1:00 am from late night adventures, meaning that breakfast would be at 1:00 in the afternoon on Friday. It is all about being flexible, going with the flow, and snatching naps whenever you can.
Brushing my teeth with the gang, at 2:00 AM
Family is not nuclear. This was one of my favorite things. Every single day, we had some sort of extended family member over, usually cousins or aunts from our mom’s side. They would come for long periods of time, or just drop in for a few minutes to say hello. The point is, the definition of family in Jordan is different. It’s not just your parents and siblings; it means aunts, uncles, cousins, their cousins, and often those random people who you can’t place, but you just accept that they are somehow related.
It is possible for school to be the highlight of one’s day. One of the aspects of Jordan that I value so much was my amazing educational experience at Qasid. Our teachers were caring, innovative, fun, and incredibly open-minded. They would come and sit on one of the desks, and we would spend time talking about many subjects: life in Jordan, culture, and religion- everything from the meaning of wearing the hijab and praying, to the importance of milk pasteurization in Jordan. They brought us sweets, traditional dishes, and gave us too much coffee, and were always open to new ideas. That meant giving us an impromptu lesson on bargaining, or turning our delinquent paper plane throwing into a grammar game. In addition, our teachers were just fun-loving people. One day, one of our teachers took us to the mall to buy spices, while another day, we met up with her at the Bird Garden in Shmeisani, to hang out!
Six weeks is not too short to make lasting relationships. Looking back, the relationships that I have formed with my host family and NSLI-Y peers are strong and deep, and I don’t doubt that they will last. We connected on so many levels, and even though six weeks seems like a short time, my host family is like real family to me, and the peers with whom I spent my time in Jordan feel like old friends. I know I’ve made relationships to last a lifetime.
Reverse culture shock and reverse homesickness are real. When I first landed in Washington, I remember seeing a man kneeling down, obviously praying. It took me a while to realize that he wasn’t praying at all; he had a wrench in his hand and was fixing something. Thrust into the Western world after six weeks, surrounded by English, my ears perked up at the Dulles Airport every time I heard someone speaking in Arabic, and I couldn’t stop myself from striking up conversation. Back at school, I resisted the urge to greet my teachers with emphatic, “Marhaba!”, and even today, two weeks later, I was responsible for an awkward silence when I couldn’t come up with a response to my history teacher’s “Welcome.” (How do you translate “Ahlan fiik” to English??)
These six weeks have been nothing short of a life-changing experience. I don’t mean that in a cliché way, where I use the expression to compensate for a lack or word choice. I honestly mean that this month and half that I spent living in Amman filled me with unforgettable experiences that have changed and shaped me. I miss Jordan greatly, but I plan to keep a piece of it with me all the time, in the form of the memories, insight, and lessons that I will hold onto and cherish forever.