Sierra Kaplan-Nelson

Stanford University
chose the Middlebury program to study abroad in Jordan because it has a reputation of being the most rigorous in respect to language learning and cultural immersion, and it lived up to that reputation. From the fifth day of being in Jordan until the last day, with only a few small breaks in between, we pledged to speak only Arabic - with each other, with our host families, with taxi drivers, with Jordanian friends, and with our teachers. I came to Jordan perhaps the least prepared of my peers; my fusha was tragic and my 3amiyya (spoken dialect) nonexistent. Luckily our language classes were both rigorous and forgiving, and my professors for both fusha and 3amiyya expected a lot from us but were patient when we forgot words, stuttered out the wrong thing, or horribly conjugated a verb. My friends Lubna and Muhammad, both mentors for the program, let me embarrass myself again and again but still continued to speak to me. I discovered it was possible to have social interactions by going to tea shops and hookah lounges using only the minimum amount of Arabic. Never before was I so motivated to learn anything than when my power to communicate was taken away. Soon I was having brief but satisfying conversations with my host mom over breakfast, talking about my future life plans and asking about her son. Speaking with taxi drivers almost every day provided some of the best random language practice - it was always a surprise what someone wanted to talk about, from the Nakba to Islamic theology to food in America vs. Jordan. Honestly the language pledge was really challenging and I was terrified of not being able to get the most out of my experience because of it, but in the end it was the most empowering part of the program.