Scenes from Israel

Rachel Fidlow is currently a third year who studied in Israel at Ben-Gurion University this past spring semester. Check out some of her stunning photos from her time there!

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Exploring the Middle East

Logan Brich is a third year studying Global Public Health and Middle Eastern Studies. He is studying at Ben-Gurion University this spring to better explore the Middle East and study in a completely unfamiliar, exciting environment.

 

http://www.bgustudyabroad.org/student-author/logan/

Sights from Jordan

Emmaline Herring is a second year who studied abroad in Jordan in the Fall of 2017. She participated in a course studying Geopolitics, International Relations, and the Future of the Middle East.

A pastel partition

One of the little buildings we stayed in during our week in northern Jordan

People from across the world come to this ancient religious site to leave prayer ties to this tree
From the roof of Ajloun Castle in Northern Jordan, Syria and Palestine can be seen in the distance
Ancient columns still stand at attention atop a hill in Jerash
A horse carriage pulled a friend, who recently broke her foot, to the ancient city, and lapped us in the process
The Treasury awaits just behind the surrounding canyons
Worn, carved building facades blaze orange in the sunlight
A view of Amman taken opposite the British embassy
An assortment of reading materials atop the best bookshelf around
A friendly game unfolds in front of this picturesque café on Rainbow Street

 

Thanksgiving in Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello attended the 2016-2017 CET: Intensive Arabic Language in Amman, Jordan program as a Third Year. He studies Middle Eastern Language and Literature and Global Security and Justice. As we prepare for break here in Charlottesville, let’s look back a year ago to his experience celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.

Out of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite. We celebrate it simply back home, but I still love gathering friends and family together and gorging myself on delicious food. However, I’ve never considered Thanksgiving a real holiday or celebration of anything meaningful to my life. To me it’s just a good excuse to bring people together and eat. And for that reason, explaining Thanksgiving to my Jordanian friends was rather difficult, since Jordanian families tend to be closer and don’t need a non-religious holiday as an excuse to gather.

Nevertheless, this past week we held a Thanksgiving celebration at the CET building, complete with all of the traditional Thanksgiving staples like turkey (probably the best I’ve ever had) and mashed potatoes. The day started early, with a couple of students slaving away preparing dishes while the rest drank and milled about. Although most of our language partners, teachers and Jordanian roommates were present, I noticed that they largely stuck to themselves, in large part, I suspect, due to the presence of alcohol. And as the day wore on, I noticed that the separation between the two groups became more acute.

Although none of the Americans were belligerent or exceedingly annoying, it was obvious that many were intoxicated and that the Jordanians felt uncomfortable because of it. Additionally, none of them could relate to the topics of conversation or to the shared cultural knowledge of the Americans, for lack of a better term. For example, when “Country Road,” the ubiquitous song in all American college parties, came on over the speakers, practically the entire group stood up and began to sing along lustily, while the Jordanians looked on in confused amusement.

To be entirely honest, I didn’t enjoy Thanksgiving this year. Although it was fun to let loose and enjoy some of the comforts, activities and foods I associate with home, I felt like I was under a microscope and that the Jordanians were judging us the entire time. In my opinion, opening up and celebrating or discussing your culture in a foreign country induces a considerable amount of pressure and makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. I think a large part of it is due to having lived overseas before and being one of the only Americans in a school full of Italians and Brits at the height of the Iraq war when anti-American sentiment was really common in Europe.

To me this Thanksgiving was a reminder that cultural dialogue and exchange are not something that just happens, nor is it an entirely innocent process. You have to make an effort to share your culture and be open to learning about another person’s, but at the same time you’re also aware of your own role as an unofficial ambassador, which inserts a tremendous amount of pressure into interactions and events that you would never notice normally at home. For this reason, living overseas can be really exhausting and stressful, even if you’re just going to the grocery store or doing something mundane like that.

I wonder if immigrants in America feel this way, especially immigrants from non-Western cultures. Because no matter how welcoming or accepting another culture is, there’s always a pressure to conform and change your behavior to the cultural norms of your host country, while at the same time challenging stereotypes and misconceptions. And if I’m feeling this kind of pressure as an American student in Jordan for a year, I can’t begin to imagine how tough it must be for Arab immigrants in the U.S. (or for anyone who gets lumped in the same group), especially in light of our post-9/11 society and attitudes.

Unhinged in Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello spent the entire 2016-17 year studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, participating in CET’s intensive Arabic language program. He shares an experience navigating social norms.

 

In an effort to compensate for all of the carbs I’ve been eating and the hookah I’ve been smoking, I decided to get a gym membership a couple of months ago and to my surprise, I’ve found that I actually really enjoy it. The gym I go to is called Troy 24/7 even though it doesn’t open until 5PM on Fridays and Saturdays. It sits on the main street, right on top of a hookah store and a barbershop staffed entirely by Syrians. The gym itself can politely be described as worn…for example, all of the pads on the machines are ripped and several pieces just seem to be held on by black electrical tape. It’s not the cleanest gym in the world, and the owner’s attempts to spruce it up, like painting blue triangles on the wall, only serve to emphasize that fact. Nevertheless, the staff are super nice and helpful, and the gym members – a weird assortment of foreigners, mostly Koreans; out-of-shape older men, and tattooed gym rats – have become a familiar community for me.

The other day when I went to the gym; however, I had a weird experience that left me a little wiser. And although I generally tend to hate blog posts where X-encounter taught me Y-valuable lesson about myself/culture/life in general, I really want to talk about it since it helps me simply articulate a concept that I’ve been struggling with.

Usually when I go to the gym, I bring a bottle of water; however, this time I forgot and so I went to the front desk, paid for a bottle of water, and watched as the owner used his fingers to unscrew the hinges on the door of the broken refrigerator where the water bottles are stored. No big deal. The next time, I also forgot to bring a bottle of water, so I put some money on the counter, went to the fridge and started to unscrew the hinges. The employee on duty, Abu Noor, an Egyptian working in Jordan because the economy is better (which tells you all you need to know about how awful the situation is in Egypt), saw me as he was walking past and cried out, “Stop! What are you doing? You can’t do that!”

He marched up to me and I started to explain myself, but he cut me off, “No you can’t do that. It’s not your place. When you go to the store and there’s something you want but can’t reach, you don’t climb the shelves, do you? You ask whoever’s working there.” Abu Noor kept getting more and more agitated as he tried to explain this concept to me. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. But it’s not your fridge, just because Muhammed (the owner) did it doesn’t mean you can!”

At this point, I was extremely confused and could not figure out what he was getting so worked up about. I’d apologized, it was an innocent mistake, and not even a big deal to begin with! Realizing this, Abu Noor grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “I know you’re a respectable guy, studying Arabic, and that you want to learn as much as you can. But you need to know that when you study a language, you’re actually studying three different things: language, culture, and behavior.” It then dawned on me that he wasn’t actually mad at me, rather he was offended by the way I had just assumed that I could go about something, which in his mind wasn’t my place to do.

Although those words aren’t innocent, particularly “behavior” in a patriarchal society, I think that they’re really insightful. Learning a language, especially when you’re overseas, isn’t just about grammar and vocabulary. The ultimate goal of language learning is to be able to use that language to communicate with and connect with other people. Additionally, every word, phrase and interaction is shaped by an enormous amount of implicit cultural, historical and social knowledge. We take it for granted, but every time we interact with someone else from our own culture, we’re drawing on an entire lifetime’s worth of interactions and operating within a very firm, defined set of social norms. It’s a reminder that you need to get out of the classroom to gain a full understanding, and it doesn’t just apply to language learning, but to every field of academic learning.

First impressions of Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello is currently studying abroad in Amman, Jordan participating in an intensive Arabic language program. Below is his initial post while abroad.

 

Nothing compares to the feeling of stepping off the plane in a new country. It’s a strange cocktail of relief, exhaustion, trepidation, and most importantly, excitement. Right off the bat, you’re confronted by new sights, smells, and sounds. From the signs in a different language, to the accented English of the customs officers, to the building itself, everything is just familiar enough for you to navigate, but so foreign as to overwhelm you and key you into what’s about to come.

This isn’t my first overseas adventure. I was born in Germany, lived in Mexico and Bolivia as a young child, and spent my middle school years in Italy. But this is the first time I’ve lived overseas on my own, and the first time I’ve ever been to the Middle East (it’s also the first time I’ve tried writing a blog post).

It’s hard to say what exactly compelled me to exchange my friends and life at UVA for nine months of living and studying in Amman, especially considering that I’ve never been exposed to Arab culture or the Middle East outside of the classroom. However, as much as I love UVA, I was hungering for an adventure and I know there’s no better way to master a language than to actually live in a country where it’s spoken. So…for the next nine months, I will be studying Arabic full-time at the University of Jordan with CET Academic Programs and calling Amman, Jordan my home.

Everyday here poses a new challenge and a new adventure. Whether it’s learning how to play Jordanian card games, having an in-depth political discussion with my professors after class, getting a haircut, or simply ordering food, I’m constantly pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to set aside my own habits and ways of thinking. I may seem like a total idiot most of the time, but I’m gradually becoming more comfortable speaking, moving around and engaging with Jordanians. Just the other day, for example, I was literally pulled off the street into the wedding celebration of a random stranger. The man noticed me and my friends photographing the gaudy glowing tent that had taken over the street, but rather than chasing us away, he welcomed us into the party, where we listened to live music and dubke-ed (the traditional Arab dance) hand-in-hand with a large circle of men and boys until the late hours of the night.

More than anything else, it’s these small interactions (and occasional victories) that making living overseas so fun and rewarding. Not only do these experiences provide a window into the cultural differences and unique perspectives of others, but they also illustrate the universal normality and mundaneness of everyday life across the globe. Oftentimes, our only exposure to other cultures and ways of life comes from the news, and we don’t realize that beneath all the problems and conflicts, most people want the same things from life, even if they conceptualize them differently. At the same time that living overseas exposes you to other cultures, it also makes you more aware, critical and appreciative of your own.

In this blog, I’m going to try to record my experiences in Jordan and my impressions about Jordanian culture. I don’t want this to be a journal or a litany of my activities, but rather more of a place where I can grapple with and hopefully articulate the contradictions, challenges and joys of being immersed in a foreign land.

Journey to Israel: January 2016

Amanda Elfman is a UVA student who is spending the Spring 2016 semester at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. Check out her photos from her first month abroad! 

 

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View from El Al airplane window landing in Tel Aviv.

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Jan2016_3Monument to the Negev Brigade, overlooking Be’er Sheva from the east.

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Tel Be’er Sheva (Abraham’s Well): archaeological site thought to be the remains of the biblical town of Beersheba.  
Jan2016_7Guard dog, Tel Be’er Sheva.

 

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Jan2016_9View of the Negev desert in Sde Boker.

 

Jan2016_10Mediterranean Sea, Jaffa.

 

Jan2016_11View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

Jan2016_12Suspended orange tree in Jaffa. Artist statement: “Is ‘Deracinement’ the big sickness of our times? Can uprooted existence, established so definitely through international economics,communication & technology produce anew, lighter genuine aesthetic? My‘growing sculptures’ do not try to answer these questions. They rather show a ‘rooted  uprooted’ state while going on living, much as we do, growing into an unclear future.”

Jan2016_13Alleyway in Jaffa’s old city.

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Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

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Walking through the streets of Tel Aviv on a rainy, ‘winter’ day.

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Nahum Gutman Fountain mosaic depicting the establishment of Tel Aviv and the state
of Israel.
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Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv.

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Old City, Be’er Sheva.

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The British imported cats into Israel in the 1930’s to combat a rat epidemic;now it is estimated that there are 2 million stray cats. They are everywhere.  
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Ben Gurion University Gate of Peace.