“Welcome to Jordan!”

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Nighttime photo of the Red Sea in the city of Aqaba

By Tom O’Connor

You hear that phrase a lot when you enter the Hashemite Kingdom as a Westerner. Your senses are overwhelmed by an Eastern symphony of sights, sounds, and smells. You walk out of Queen Alia International and encounter a squadron of taxi and bus services calling at you, convincing you they’re going exactly where you are and for the best rate in town. That’s when you’re truly in Jordan.

I spent the 2014 spring semester of my junior year in Jordan, studying through CIEE Language & Culture in Amman. I stayed in an apartment in the neighborhood of Shmeisani in West Amman and attended Princess Sumaya University for Technology.

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Southeast View of Amman from the Landmark Hotel

At first, getting the extracurricular experience I sought in Jordan proved a bit difficult. It certainly helped that one of my roommates had studied in Jordan the fall semester and had local friends. My knowledge of the language also benefitted me in communicating with Jordanians. Still, it wasn’t for a few weeks that I met a solid group of people whom I would spend my entire semester with.

It’s easy to go to Jordan and stay in the company of Americans. It’s your first instinct to find group of like-minded people. Through this group, you may even encounter of number of Jordanians who want to drink, go out to clubs, and take you throughout the city. While I had a great time with that, I also learned it’s important to remember that this is just a section of the Jordanian population, often more liberal-minded and wealthy.

Some of my best nights in the kingdom were spent smoking shisha, playing cards and watching soccer in Tabarbour’s cheap cafes, not listed on the student handbook, or possibly anywhere else. I also found some pretty awesome Jordanian bands. Getting to this layer of Jordan takes a bit more willingness to exist far outside your comfort zone.

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“ad-Deir” or “The Monastery” in city of Petra

Speaking Arabic helps greatly, but most important is mastering another kind of foreign language you encounter anywhere so far from home. There is an unwritten system of beliefs and values to every country and Jordan is certainly no exception. This lexicon includes men sitting in the front of the taxi and respectfully declining gifts Jordanians may offer you (presenting things for free is polite in Jordanian culture, so at least say no once or twice before accepting). The more fluent you become in navigating social situations and communicating both verbally and nonverbally, the greater your experience will be. This I guarantee.

I say this as a male. This article would be disingenuous if it did not mention the social gender gap in Jordanian society. Not a single woman walked into these cheap cafes I’m speaking of. While I’ve known many women to fall in love with Jordan just as I have, as a female, you need to be prepared to abide by certain social restrictions and face verbal harassment deemed inappropriate by Western standards. These are things that 100% of me disagrees with, but I would be hard-pressed to change it.

Instead of outright condemning, your best bet is learning about it. You should consider your time in Jordan an educational experience, and when immersing yourself in a new environment, you have to take in what you perceive as good and bad. You’re simply out of context. You don’t adapt completely, you don’t submit your beliefs and values, but you apply them in a way that is understanding of how a country’s own convictions were developed.

Jordan is a beautiful country. I’ve recently booked my ticket to return for New Year’s. Its political and social stability along with the quality of its education make it attractive for foreign students. You’ll find incredible historical sites, sprawling nature reserves, breathtaking music, and even beaches. I truly believe there is something for everyone. Many Westerners enjoy the country, but a lot less of them make a true effort to understand it. I challenge you to do just that. What you get out of it might just bring you back for more.

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