Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Greetings from Amman

While my colleagues and students at Saimt Michael's College are hitting the books and the hiking trails, enjoying all that fall has to offer in New England, this fall (and winter and spring) I'm based in the capital of Jordan, Amman, as a visiting Fulbright scholar at the University of Jordan.  I have my own personal blog that I'm keeping during my ten months in the Middle East, but our political science blog keeper, John Hughes, has also graciously suggested that I could do a monthly post on our departmental blog.  Since this is my first post, it seemed appropriate to to use it introduce a bit about my life here in Jordan, and my students at the University of Jordan.

I find it's always nice to start with a map, so here it is. 

The first thing that might jump out at you is that Jordan's in a mighty newsworthy neighborhood.  With borders with Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Iraq AND Syria, there's a whole lot going on in this region. The Arab Spring, Palestine's bid for statehood at the United Nations, and the flood of refugees that Jordan has hosted first from Palestine, later from Iraq and now (unofficially according to the newspaper here) trickling in from Syria, makes this a very interesting place to be -- in it's own rite and in it's position as a vantage point from which to view developments all around. As the year progresses and I get to know people and various news sources here better, I hope to be able to blog a bit on some of these issues.

Today, though,I thought I'd just start with a simple personal question, namely, what's it like to be a Fulbrighter in Jordan? There's a lot of ways I could answer that question, but I thought I'd focus on what I actually do here.  My main assignment while I'm here is teaching, but because the courses I could teach weren't a good match with what needed coverage this semester, I am only teaching a single course in the graduate American Studies program.  Next semester that will change, and I will be teaching at least two courses, possibly in one of the other graduate programs as well as American Studies.  This is actually great for me, because in addition to being a teacher I am finding myself a student again, as I begin the study of Arabic.  Arabic, for those who have never studied it is very hard! About a third of the letters are sounds we don't have in English, the alphabet is completely different, and most letters can take one of four possible forms (depending on where they are in a word).  In addition there is modern standard Arabic (MSA), which is what everything is written in, then there is the spoken language, which is different for each country in the region. Thus, I take one class (ammiyya) two nights a week to learn to speak to cab drivers and vegetable vendors here, and have a very patient tutor, Ghada, for weekly meetings to learn how to read a street sign or newspaper headline and speak MSA.

I teach from 5-8 on Tuesday nights, and have a small (4 person) class.  Because the class is so small, we've started holding it in my office instead of the larger lecture hall we were assigned. Last night I brought my camera, and my students kindly agreed to be photographed for this blog entry.  Here they are:
This is Rola sitting at my desk in my office.  She had brought me some wonderful homemade stuffed grape leaves during my office hours, and I had shown her the latest entry on my personal blog.

Here are Eman and Israa.  Eman has four kids (and a job and is taking three classes!) and Israa is expecting her first.

Here are Rana and Rola.  This is Rana's first semester in the program, and Rola's second year.

Snapped this as I was leaving last night.  I work in the Faculty of International Studies. My deficiency in Arabic makes me unable to teach a class in the political science department because the language of instruction for the undergrad programs is Arabic.

So, I guess that's enough for now.  On my personal blog I've been keeping track of the daily trials and tribulations of getting used to living in another country, and also cataloguing the adventures that have come my way in this first month.  There is a large cohort of fellow Fulbrighters here (almost all students -- right now there are only two scholars, my friend Tess and myself -- in Amman), and they are terrific people.  Though we live in various parts of the city, we keep in touch and get together socially and it's fun to have a great group to be going through the expereince with. So, till next month, here's hoping that everyone is enjoying a lovely Vermont fall!

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