As unusual as it may seem, this week we would like to acknowledge not one, but several campus celebrities that have caught our attention.
This past summer, ten very brave and dedicated students (Zachary Balomenos ‘14, Max Nichols ‘14, Molly Vatis ‘14, Bo Clay ‘15, John Daniels ‘14, Sarah Huckins ‘14, Claire Brennan ‘13, Nicole Moomjy ‘12, Jack Chory ‘14, and Laurel Wolf ‘14) traveled to Irbid, Jordan to study the Arabic language at Yarmouk University - an excursion led and conducted by Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies Professors Waed Athamneh and Muhammad Masud. Despite the option of University Housing, Professors Athamneh and Masud insisted on providing the students with shared apartment living spaces in order to provide a better learning environment and overall experience.
Three of the students, Claire Brennan, Molly Vatis, and Max Nichols were able to share a little bit about their experience. Let’s see what they had to say.
How much time was spent learning Arabic and doing the additional work?
“We spent the entire day doing Arabic”, says International Relations/Human Development major and Middle Eastern Studies minor Claire Brennan ‘13. “We had class all day and had to do homework all night when we went home. Irbid is a smaller city than Amman, so less of the Jordanians there speak English. We were forced to use Arabic "in the streets" as well as in class, so it ended up being six weeks of all Arabic all the time! Seriously though...”
What were the different types of cultural excursions you went on throughout your stay?
“Every weekend we went on a different excursion. Jordan is a small country, and I can safely say that I saw a lot of it” Claire states. “The excursions were great because we usually stayed in 4 or 5 star hotels. They provided a necessary break from the intensive classes that we took during the week.”
What were your favorite parts about your experience in Jordan?
International Relations major and Middle Eastern Studies minor Max Nichols ’14, reveals “My favorite part about the trip had to be every time I would surprise somebody by speaking their native language. There is nothing like completely destroying someone's preconceived notions about what an American student's interests are and how much respect we are capable of demonstrating to another language/culture.”
Claire dishes on her favorite weekend. “It was when we went to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. Petra is one of the wonders of the world, so it was obviously amazing. Wadi Rum rocked because we went around on four wheelers and I got married (details later) and Aqaba was a (very hot, but) an amazing beach. That being said, the BEST location was definitely the Dead Sea - it was like nothing I ever experienced before…you floated like a buoy and really couldn't swim if you tried. Ask the boys to elaborate on that one...”
Now, what were the most difficult parts about your experience in Jordan?
“I think the hardest part for me was learning the dialect and trying not to confuse that with Modern Standard Arabic”, remarks International Relations major and Middle Eastern Studies/Arabic minor Molly Vatis ‘14. “Two of our courses were taught in Standard Arabic and the other two in spoken, but when we talked to people on the street it was confusing at times to distinguish between the two. It was especially challenging at the beginning when we hadn't learned the dialect yet, so I would try to speak to people in standard Arabic and I think they probably thought I was very weird. Luckily everyone understands standard Arabic so I was able to get by until I learned the spoken lingo!”
Molly Vatis '14 explores the beautiful view in Petra, Jordan.
As for Claire, it was the temperature. “It was unbearable, and there was no air conditioning ANYWHERE. That's a lie, but it was very hard to find, and was not in our apartments or classrooms.”
What advice would you give for someone interested in traveling to the Middle East and learning a Middle Eastern language?
“I would really recommend traveling to Jordan” says Claire. “With the Middle Eastern/Global climate of today, it's one of the remaining places that our (or at least my) parents will let us (me) go. I spent a semester and the rest of the summer in Morocco, and I really think that Jordan (particularly Irbid) is a better place to learn Arabic. I am very appreciative of this experience, especially in terms of language-learning.”
“JUST DO IT!” exclaims Molly. “It's simultaneously the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done. It's so important these days where there are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings with regard to both language and culture. If you really want to learn the language, I would recommend going somewhere like Irbid, where we went, where you will really be able to speak Arabic. Cities like Amman make it more difficult because so many people speak English and it's harder to get that authentic experience. I would also say that you should visit as many sites and talk to as many people as possible! Every experience, small and large, contributes to a broader understanding and appreciation. Everyone is extremely welcoming and genuinely interested in helping you, so take advantage of that opportunity even if it means stepping outside of your comfort zone!”
After your experience, what were you able to gain from the trip and bring back to the college?
“I came back to Connecticut College a married woman. John Daniels and I got married in a Bedouin wedding in Wadi Rum during one of our excursions…” Wow, what a spontaneous decision, Claire! Jordan sounds pretty romantic..
John Daniels '14 and Claire Brennan '13 get married!
“One of the biggest things of course is a better grasp of the language (one would hope so considering the number of hours we spent in the classroom and dedicated to homework)! Being surrounded by Arabic and being forced to use everything I have learned has really helped me as I begin my second year of Arabic. As with any kind of travel, I also gained a new lens through which to view my studies. As an International Relations major this is invaluable, but it has also shaped my interest in environmental issues because I saw and learned about problems in the Middle East, especially concerning water. I am incorporating everything I learned into my major and my Goodwin-Niering Center project, and in general I hope to share my experience with as many people as possible!” You’re doing a great job, Molly!
Overall, how has this experience influenced your future plans/goals?
“First of all, I am already planning my next trip to Jordan. If all goes as planned I will have an internship in Jordan next summer and hopefully will return many times after that. As I mentioned before, I have a better idea of what I would like to focus on now in my remaining time at Conn and also in my potential career. My dream job would allow me to use my Arabic in order to work on international/environmental issues, and I see my time in Jordan this summer as a stepping stone that has helped me integrate my interests.” - Molly
“I always knew that I was interested in the Middle East, but this Jordan program really put the spark back in it for me.” - Claire
Bo Clay '15 shows some camel love.
Despite the vastly different culture, long hours of intensive language learning, and unbearable heat, these students demonstrated an incredible amount of dedication to expanding their horizons to a world and culture unlike their own. As the Arabic program grows here at Connecticut College, you can see this group of students at the forefront. As Max states, “It's always great to get the word out about the Arabic program.” It’s no surprise that with the hard work of Professors Athamneh and Masud, and all the supporting students, the Arabic/Middle Eastern Studies program at Connecticut College will become one of the best in the country.