As I type this, I’m sitting down on my bed back home in the United States for the first time in what feels like centuries. It was a whirlwind of travelling, and my phone has changed back to Eastern Standard Time, but my body hasn’t. I have been reflecting on the different aspects of being abroad and going through all the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve changed, and I can truly say, it has been a transformative experience. At every point in life, we always tend to think that we know ourselves fully and completely, only to be proven wrong the next day – and I think this is true for me. While my core identity didn’t necessarily change, I have gained a new perspective in understanding myself and the world around me that I wouldn’t have had if I had not lived in another country for a few months. One of the main things that I’ve realized this semester is that the world is always much bigger than we imagine it. Of course, this sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s something that we don’t actively think about on a daily basis. In America, if you grew up here, chances are you spoke English and saw the world through a very Americanized lens. It makes sense because on a daily basis, we aren’t necessarily interacting with a different language or a different culture because, well, we’re usually surrounded by Americans (in all the different meanings of the word). But going abroad opened my eyes to entirely different ways of looking at the world. There are other governments, other clothing trends, other movies, other EVERYTHING that we as Americans don’t even realize exists because it falls outside of our daily orbit. Having this type of experience makes you question what you know the world to be in such a way that it makes you want to see more and more and more of it. If studying abroad has given me anything, it is the intense desire to keep traveling and exposing myself to different experiences. I think it is going to be very hard to leave the study abroad mindset and revert back to an American idea of things. But, if anything, having this experience has reminded me that it is possible to do your own work and fill in the gaps even when you don’t always have access to another culture or city or language. And I think that is what is going to help me adjust to being back from abroad, is keeping in touch with all of the friends I made in different countries and texting them in their language to practice and sharing part of myself with them just like they’ve done with me. There’s a whole world full of people that you’ve yet to meet, and just going up to someone and saying “hi” has made all the different in my experience abroad, and it gives me something to look forward to as I hope to remain connected to this amazing and interesting community that I was, if only for a few months, a part of.
My time in Jordan has allowed me to grow culturally, academically, and emotionally. In my past few blogs, I focused on the positive parts of my experience, but on this last blog I would like to point out some of the things that I struggled with and talk about how I overcame them in the hope that anyone else who is planning on going to Jordan can be well equipped should they face any similar experiences. While I have fallen in love with Jordan’s hospitality, rich history, and warm culture, it is important to recognize the things that made it a little difficult to live here.
The culture is very family-focused and social and, as a person who’s lived in America’s hyper-individualistic society for some time, this can become a big change. Privacy is almost non-existent in my home stay, and I have felt as if I cannot be alone in my room because my host mom may think something is wrong with me. At first, I thought it was kind of her to want to spend so much time with me, but progressively I found myself needing “me time”. Therefore, I began to tell my host mom that I wanted to nap, enabling me to finally get some much-needed alone time.
Another challenge of everyday life is the sexual harassment and catcalling women in Jordan face on the streets. Because we are foreigners, don’t look like most Jordanian women, and are typically likely not wearing a veil, we experience harassment a bit more than Jordanians. This at times made me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and very frustrated. However, I cannot provide a solution to this so my advice is to always travel in a group and to learn to ignore them. Just keep your head up high and move on with your day and remember that some men’s inappropriate behavior does not reflect the behavior of all Jordanian men.
The final challenge that I have been struggling with these past two weeks is facing the reality that I’m going back to the United States. I have loved my life in Jordan and there is so much more that I would like to see and do. The memories I’ve made, the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve fallen in love with are something I am not ready to give up. My time in Jordan flew by, and while I faced the difficulties mentioned above, it truly has taken a part of my heart and I do not have any advice on how to deal with leaving. So if you’re going to Jordan, take advantage of this opportunity, cherish all the memories and people you met, and remember to stop and take it all in, because time flies.
Maybe it doesn’t have water, but Jordan sure is rich in culture and history. In these past three months, I’ve had the honor of learning from Amman’s rich history, amazing sights, and from people’s stories of religious tolerance and cultural identity. Jordan is known around the world for its devotion to peace and humanitarian efforts as it takes in thousands of refugees every year and provides them with the safety and security they can’t find in their own countries. Because of this, Jordan has an incredibly diverse population filled with many different cultures, religions, and identities; yet, somehow, the spirit of unity and tolerance is preserved.
I was witness to this in what became one of my favorite experiences here in Jordan as I took a taxi to school one morning and met one of the kindest drivers in Amman. Immediately after I got in the car, my driver, Khaled, demonstrated genuine interest in who I was and where I came from. I shared that I was from Costa Rica, but I had migrated to the United States when I was younger and was completing my studies there. Enthusiastically, he told me he had moved to Jordan from Palestine when he was young and that Jordan had provided him with opportunities he wouldn’t have had if he had stayed. He shared that his parents had made the difficult decision to leave their home, because they wished to provide him and his brothers with a safe life and better opportunities. Curious, I asked him if he struggled to find an identity as a Palestinian in Jordan. He explained that because of Jordan’s diverse nature and continuous acceptance of refugees, he had been able to take on the Jordanian identity proudly while also identifying as Palestinian. He told me that his background would always be Palestinian, but that he also identified with the Jordanian national identity for the country had provided him with a safe home and great generosity. As traffic got worse and our time together lengthened, he pointed to the Qur’an sitting on the car’s dashboard and explained that he was Muslim and that he was also thankful to Jordan for allowing him to preserve and practice this identity safely. He then asked me what religion I practiced and I explained that I am Christian. Demonstrating, once again, great excitement, he proceeded to talk about how our religions were similar and how much he admired Jesus as a man of good deeds. He explained how our being able to have these conversations was what made the Jordanian identity so great for him. The genuine interest in learning about my identity, his life story and open-mindedness, and our being able to share our experiences is a reflection of the accepting and welcoming Jordanian society that I have grown to love during this time.
During this last month here, I hope to continue learning about this central part of Jordanian history and society. Even if I don’t get to learn in as much depth as I did with Khaled, I am eternally grateful for this experience for it gave me a more personal glance at this country’s diverse yet tolerant nature.
People always think it’s funny when I bring it up, but I cannot stress enough how different of a person I am now than I was during high school. Like, complete 180º different. Going away to college didn’t just give me a chance to meet people outside of the small town I grew up in, but it also affirmed and challenged different parts of my identity that I didn’t even know were possible. It’s been a long process of coming into myself (and it’s not done), but I have been more in tune with my communities and identities in a way that I had never had before college, and in a way that set me up for an abroad experience.
Many people say that going abroad is a chance to “find yourself.” And, in many ways, I believe that this is true. Spending time in a community that is outside of what you are used to makes you think more critically about how you walk through the world. But there’s also the importance of the period before going abroad that is very important in accessing your identity. Doing a self-inventory before I went abroad was a very important part of putting me in the right mindset to travel and live in such a different space. The communities and bonds that I left behind in DC for the semester have been very important in understanding how important a support network is for me. There is a necessary labor that happens in building a space for yourself, and it is so important to have that space in order to be safely challenged and continuously grow, knowing that you have people around to catch you if you need it.
One of the biggest culture shocks for me since going abroad has been the intense paradigm shift in identifying with the work that you do. In the US, it is a given that your identity is constructed by what you spend the majority of your time doing (perhaps work or school). It’s not uncommon to meet someone for the first time and be asked the age-old question: “So what do you do?” It has been so ingrained in my mind that I began to also identify with whatever job I was doing, or even what courses I was taking. In Europe, the idea of identifying yourself first as your career or job is so foreign, that often it doesn’t even come up in conversation until much later in knowing a new person. Actually, I couldn’t even tell you the jobs of most of the people the people that I’ve met so far in my travel experience. It just simply isn’t as important. And the reason I bring this up, is because it has made me consider my identities even more (ironically). People don’t ask me what job I’m working or what internships I’ve had, but they do ask about my family, my hobbies, and my passions. In this way, I’ve been able to actually take more ownership of my identities because of how much more they mean in this cultural context. People ask because they want to know, and I’ve become prouder to share these parts of myself that previously might have been secondary to whether or not I’m working a “hillternship.”
I’ve seen some beautiful places and met some amazing people, and each part of this experience has been a way to both affirm and safely challenge how I walk through a space. That is not to say that you *need* to study abroad to get out of your comfort zone, but sometimes you need to peek over the other side of the fence to see something new in the world and in yourself. Expanding your mindset, and also your community, gives you a space to become more of yourself than you ever thought possible, and in the best cases, gives you people to always fall back on no matter the circumstances.
This cold, sunny day marks the end of my third week in Amman. Each day has brought new adventures, amazing views, new friends, and delicious food. From the moment I arrived, Amman has kept me busy with its beauty and incredible people. I have seen Jordan’s well-known hospitality in every corner, beginning with my first day in Amman as my host mom welcomed me home with a big hug and a warm meal. I live with a small family and have a new little sister. We’ve become close really fast and have little dance parties every day when she comes back from school. My mom’s cooking outshines any other and her mom instincts are to feed me three times as much as I usually eat. My family has definitely been one of the highlights of my time here thus far.
Traveling has been another highlight from this trip and Jordan offers countless places to explore. My favorite has been Jerash, a small city just North of Amman. Along with a great group of friends, I explored the Greco-Roman settlement of Gerasa and admired the arches and columns of the Temple of Artemis. After enjoying the city’s history, we headed further up into the mountains and stayed in a small villa. Here, I witnessed the most beautiful sunset and views of the city. This charming place allowed me to take a peek at Jordan’s rural, peaceful way of life.
Classes have already begun and I have enrolled in thought-provoking courses as well as extensive Arabic learning classes. The professors are all extremely qualified and passionate about their work, which creates an even more intriguing learning environment. My favorite class, thus far, is Islam in the Modern Context, where my professor has created an open-discussion learning setting and encourages us to open our minds to controversial topics. CIEE has truly impressed me with its selection of great courses and professors.
While my experience here has been mostly positive, there have been some challenges. The language barrier has definitely been something to get used to. However, even though I have only been here for a little bit, I can already feel my Arabic skills improving and feel more confident in my speaking. Another challenge has been getting around the city and knowing where I am. The first week, I got lost every time I took a taxi and that created lots of anxiety. However, I have overcome this and can now direct my driver without a problem. While it was complicated at first, I can already say that I feel at home here in Amman.
For my next blog, I hope to share more of my travels around Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. I also hope to begin my research and learning on immigration and identity in Jordan.
By Dom Reynoso
Over the past few years since moving away to college, I have been on a journey of discovering how my different identities and parts of myself interact with each other. I typically identify myself as a Latinx gay man, which are two identities that have combined and contradicted each other throughout my entire life. It has led to a lot of confusion growing up, and it has been an experience of slipping through the cracks. I’m not always seen as “Latinx enough” to operate in those spaces, and at times not “queer enough” to operate in queer spaces because of my race. I think it comes from the reality of how our communities are represented and marketed to the world. When I’m at home in the US, it’s often a struggle to express my identities to people in a way that doesn’t detach them from myself. People typically want an explanation that is coherent with their perception of the world; they want an explanation of “Latinx” that sounds like what they’ve seen in the movies, or a definition of “queer” that can be explained to them without their discomfort. As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to parcel myself out in this way and explain my identities so that they feel lived-in instead of hollow.
Pride in identity is something that I have been challenged with since coming to college. Before that, I had never understood that I could express pride in something that wasn’t normative. And, when I grew to love and express my identities in college, I think it sometimes confused some people. It evoked a sense of disruption when I talked about the intersections of my identities around people who didn’t expect me to. But slowly over time, I got more and more comfortable with the fact that I can claim my identities without shame or fear. Going abroad is such an interesting experience because, in many ways, it is like starting all over learning how to express yourself. What seemed so easy before now exists within the context of an entirely different culture and language. In Italy, people claim their identities in a very different way that continues to change my perception of identity. For many Italians I’ve met, they have a much stronger sense of regional identity than we might find in the US. People classify themselves by their hometown/region first, and then perhaps by being Italian, and in extremely rare cases, as European. It creates a very different aspect of identity than I’m typically used to, but it has a historical reasoning. For many Italians, they remain in the regions that they’re from, and different parts of Italy even speak different dialects (that, according to my host mom, she herself can’t even fully understand when she travels to different regions). This kind of construction of identity is vastly different than what I’m used to, but it is refreshing in the sense that people here are just used to claiming their regional identities more frequently and with more enthusiasm.
It is interesting how a culture and language shift changes your perception of how to think about yourself and the different parts of you that you show to the world. It’s been about a month since I’ve arrived in the country, and I’m surprised everyday about the different things I pick up on. There’s still a lot to be discovered here, and little by learning I’m learning how to define myself again (and maybe this time in Italian).
If there’s one thing the immigration process taught me, it's that there are certain passports you want to have, and others that will result in waiting. A lot of waiting. Growing up, I likely spent just as much time at the USCIS building in Manhattan as I did on the playground with my friends. I’m not here to spin a sob story about my lost childhood in my family’s pursuit of the American dream, because that would be a lie. Yes, I missed out on a lot of the carefree aspects of being a child that my peers were able to enjoy, but growing up immigration office-hopping was actually an incredibly rewarding experience for a kid. I learned how to tell where a person was from based on the color of their passport, which helped when I trying to decipher people’s conversations in every language I would hear in the waiting room, consumed by boredom. Even then I was incessantly nosy and annoyingly friendly. I learned the importance of patience, protocol and attention to detail, watching my parents fill out every form in the known universe, and failing, on many occasions, to do so correctly. Most importantly, I learned resiliency and the art of getting through to people who only see you as another face in a sea of individuals who want the same thing. My particularly unique childhood was simultaneously foreign and inherently American, something that every immigrant child grapples with.
My identity has always been something that seemed to be working against me. I festered over it all: my cultural identity, my identity within my family, and my duty as a member of a global community. For a long time, I was ashamed of the fact that I didn’t have roots in the place I called home. I often found myself wishing I’d won the geographic lottery and stuck the landing in New York instead of Bangalore, India. Conversely, I wished that my parents had never left India, saving me the energy of understanding how to grow up in a completely new country. I came to understand, however, that my cultural bipolarity is an integral part of my identity. The Indian side of me helps me understand things on a global scale, and see beyond the idyllic cultural bubble of the northern hemisphere. I understand that people lead different lives in every part of the world because, for a time, my life wasn’t what it is now. But I would be lying if I said there isn’t a big part of me that is completely American. I credit my sense of agency and often bull-headed inability to accept failure to the country that I grew up in. The combination of these value systems is what makes me believe that everybody should be a global citizen. In an effort to not sound like a broken record, I urge people to take the advice of those PSA’s on getting little kids to eat vegetables: you won’t know what its like till you try it. It's exactly that approach that leads millions of people to immigrate to the United States and millions of others to set out around the world to explore how they can be members of a global community beyond geographic and cultural borders. Its why I cherish my annual summer visits to India, and why I am skeptical of forfeiting my Indian passport when I am up for American citizenship in a few years (don’t worry this hasn’t all just been a ploy to get India to offer dual citizenship). Finally, it is why I made a conscious decision to make studying abroad a key component of my college education. What better way to learn how to be a universal thinker than by exploring the way people think all around the world?
By Emily Golden
In your original post, you defined yourself in your own words. Review this post and reflect on your own internal changes. Do you still identify in the same way? Has your time abroad given you new insights into your own identity? Has anything changed? If so, what? What do you think will be the hardest part of leaving your international community? How do you think you will stay connected to this community?
Noticing the changes I’ve gone through since my first post was surprising for me. While I did expect my outlook and perspective on my identity to change, I did not expect it to change in the way that it did. The lack of confidence in my language ability and my fear surrounding my conversational skills is quite evident in the tone of my first post. I remember feeling that anxiety in the beginning but I feel so detached from that now. I think that fear stemmed from me going about my abroad experience trying to trick everyone in China into thinking that I was not Chinese American. Not only did I have the language skills to explain how I’m Chinese, but not really, and how I moved to the US when I was 1 year old, but how I have a single white mother, but I also felt embarrassed and burdened to answer the inevitable question of “where are you from?”
But now, having taken an honest survey of my language abilities and having 3 months of being asked the same thing, I approach the question with a whole new attitude. Instead of dread, I take it as an opportunity to start a dialogue. For many Chinese people I am challenging what that think an American looks like to them and I look at it with this perspective now instead of thinking they’re going to judge me. I also understand that I’m not going to become fluent overnight and it’s ok to not understand when people engage you in conversation but its important to try. While this isn’t a change in identity, the pretty obvious realization has changed the way I carry myself here.
I also thought it was interesting how I identified strongly as an New Yorker in my first post. While I’m still impatient as the next person and dare to cross intersections while others wait, this identity has become less and less important. I’ve heard that identity is all about locality, so when I’m in America I feel the need to call myself a New Yorker but when I’m abroad, especially for a longer period of time, American is the only “marker” that I feel is super important. But I can tell, the moment I step back on American soil that part of my identity will probably change again.
For me, I think the hardest part of leaving my international community is acknowledging that it’s even happening. Just 4 months ago I didn’t know anyone coming into the program, didn’t have any of these amazing people in my life, and didn’t know how fast the semester would fly by. Now, just 4 months wiser it is going to be extremely difficult saying goodbye to the people I just met but who have become family so quickly. You build your community bonds so quickly when you’re abroad, and I can’t believe how many lifelong friends I now have when only 12 weeks ago I didn’t even know who they were.
Beyond the social media that everyone relies on here to stay in touch, I want to visit my classmates at their homes around the country. This journey would take me North, West, and South and I can’t wait to see how our relationships will grow from here on out. Regarding my teachers who I also consider my friends, they’ve shown how they still stay in touch with students from over a decade ago. I hope to be among that group too and stay in touch as the continue to change the lives of study abroad students likes me.
It is truly impossible to put into words the speed in which this semester has flown by and yet how many lessons, activities, and friendships have been fit in at the same time. Having my perspective on identity to guide me has been instrumental in my experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
As my semester abroad comes to an end, I write this last blog post with a heavy heart and a great load of wonderful memories. Reminiscing on my first post, I realize my identity has not changed much but it definitely grew stronger and by that I mean that my pride in it has multiplied. Experiencing such a diverse and welcoming scene where people from all over Asia and many European natives, now expats, have built an environment of respect and discipline and have proven that this cohabitation is not as difficult to achieve as other areas of the world have portrayed. I have realized that my identity as a global citizen has deepened and affirmed further than ever before thanks to my several opportunities to travel, explore and familiarize with such different cultures. I have been around so many nationalities and languages such as regional Malay, Mandarin, Bahasa, Tagalog... Moreover, I have had the incredible honor of visiting some areas of Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Australia and Thailand. This thirst for discovery and wanderlust has grown insatiable as I constantly battled between classes and expanding my array of foreign visits and cultural knowledge to learn from. The hardest part about returning home would definitely be leaving this City-State hub called Singapore—connecting you to so many other amazing places, a literal door for travel lovers as myself. Another hard reality is putting an enormous distance between friends that you developed special bonds with but will become dispersed all over the world. The good side is that I now have a global network of friends and we can visit each other. Indeed, plans and dates have already been reserved for reunions in the coming future. I have also shared contact information with my professors to keep in touch with. Although I have had an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I’m happy to find the comfort of home in Morocco for a few weeks before heading back to GW and finding a certain stability for one last semester where my weekends will look like Gelman library dates and not Singapore Changi airport meetings en route for yet another adventure.
By Chizuru Uko
Since I got back from fall break Lisbon has started to feel like home, I find myself falling into a routine here and working towards set goals. While I was away I missed a sense of home because I visited so many places and bounced from hostels to staying with friends.
It is also a bitter-sweet feeling because it is my last month in Lisbon and I am not ready to leave Portugal but I am also excited to get reconnected with my family and friends in Nigeria. I am in Nigeria only twice a year and miss being around the people I love so much. I think going to London and getting a little of the warmth and familiarity of home and travelling with my Nigerian friends also made me miss it more. However, I am very grateful for all the lifelong friends I have made here and for the experiences and actually chose to extend my time in Portugal by a week.
I am becoming so much more appreciative of the little things like having conversations with locals in Portuguese and getting to familiar places through muscle memory. Lisbon will always be a special city in my heart, I hope to be back here and spend more time here, also hoping I remain disciplined with Portuguese after Lisbon. Até já.