Studying Abroad: A Long Overdue Listicle

Facebook just reminded me of my first study abroad experience twelve years ago at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan where I studied Arabic with a group of U.S. American graduate and undergraduate students. The program was partially supported by a Fulbright grant.

I left with so many stories and so many life lessons that I have shared with family and friends over the years, and yet I never made a listicle.

I’m not even sure if that was a thing then. 

But since it is an overdone thing now, I figured I should try my hand at it and offer a contribution. You can preface or end every section with “at the time.”

Here we go:

1. A lot of Jordanian men (as so many straight brown men in the world) love love loooove (i.e. are infatuated with) white women.

2. There are sea urchins in the Red Sea.

3. If you crave some semblance of “Indian” (i.e., very basic North Indian, don’t get into regional specifics) food and spice, find and follow the khaleeji. They will know. 

4. The many photoshopped versions of the royal family appear to be endless. In my opinion, the most creative version is the black leather biker-themed royal family.

5. Grilling a skewer of lamb meat with a cube of buttery melt-in-your-mouth fat at the top of the skewer is a great idea. 

6. When necessary and with the right guidance, I’m a boss at debkeh.

7. Unlike Egyptians who insisted I was Egyptian, Jordanians could never figure out where I was from. They said Sudanese. And Japanese. And – when I wore a shalwar kamis and gold and plaited my hair in two braids for a pre-wedding henna party – Bollywood.

8. Find the fruit juicer branded as Lebanese and have all the fruit cocktails.

9. Even when I was about to be humiliated and stranded at night in a city I have never been to before, I found the good people who took me in. Fed me. Gave me a bed to sleep on. And I have never forgotten their kindness.

10. Many U.S. Americans often have a difficult time adjusting and adapting to others’ cultures and require a lot of accommodations especially when  liquor is not easily accessible.

11. Many U.S. Americans have a hard time listening to criticism from non-Americans about their country and its foreign policy in the Middle East.

12. No one is more immature than a drunk Middle Eastern Studies grad student who mocks you because you’re a Muslim who doesn’t drink. Like – I literally skipped that part of bullying my entire public school life in Florida and had to get to grad school to experience it. It was pretty much the dumbest thing ever.

13. And still, the good people found me. In the case of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, they were often the Baha’i and Mormon students who felt personally offended by that line of mockery. We drank fancy juices together. 

14. Local apricots and figs and plums  that are in season and not genetically modified are incredibly fragrant and delicious.

15. It’s possible to get stopped from entering a high-end “cosmopolitan” restaurant/lounge in Amman that caters to an “international” (i.e. white European and North American or upper class Arab) clientele because you wear hijab.

16. The neighbor who claimed to be a doctoral student and lived next door but didn’t have a roommate and offered to upload all my photos from Syria on her computer so I could have room on my camera and continue to take pictures never wrote back to me when I asked for them. I never met or saw her again. If you have, please ask her to send me those pictures.

17. Visiting Syria with my roommate is one of the best decisions I made and remains one of my most beautiful experiences.

18. Apparently, my tolerance for pain is high because I don’t scream when in excruciating pain. Even so, an undergrad carried me on her back up 4 flights of stairs more than once so I wouldn’t have to experience as much pain. I will never forget that. 

19. It’s not easy finding a place to pray as a woman on the road.

20. Book festivals and poetry readings draw humongous crowds even in small towns — and it’s amazing.

21. A lot of refugees pass through Jordan. U.S. Americans who speak of their fear of refugees until today fail to recognize they have never been the ones to bear the brunt of the costs of all their wars.

22. It’s possible for some folks to live off of hummus and pita everyday for months.

23. It’s also possible your cab driver might pull over to buy some watermelon. Or an entire trunk of groceries. Or grab some roadside tea. And chat with a few friends — but not before offering you a tea to sip on or a bite to eat and getting back in the car to take you to your destination.

24. Don’t ever compare your stamina to mountain herders and their goats.

25. I could tell my Arabic teachers in the program – who all lived in Irbid – were surprised by me and how familiarly Muslim I was.  They were curious about my family and community in the U.S. I could see how much affection they had for me. And I loved them. 

If you have questions about studying Arabic abroad, ask me. All the cool kids do anyway – even if they don’t tell you.

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