AJ Naddaff

Davidson College

I studied abroad in Jordan for two academic semesters spanning from August 2017 until May 2018. Invariably, my Arabic language skills were greatly strengthened through my academic experience, the language pledge, and my initial homestay, where the family became like my second set of grandparents.

At the University of Jordan, I took a number of classes taught by Middlebury Language expertise staff that would not have been possible to take anywhere else in the world - such as courses on Forced Migration and Refugee Issues, Economics of the Middle East, and Arabic-English Translation. However, by far the greatest asset from my year abroad was the emancipating stage I quickly reached where I came to view experiential learning as more worthy than the confines of traditional academic study. For me, this meant fully engaging with the local culture with an open mind, a good sense of humor, an insatiable curiosity and a pocket notebook at all times.

Jordanians are known for their frown, so it became a personal goal of mine each morning to crack that. Beyond the surface level, I met some of the most hospitable and caring people I’ve ever known, and drank more tea than I would have ever imagined. Since Jordan has consistently been the nexus of displaced populations, I also befriended Gazans, Egyptians, Syrians, Armenians, and Iraqis. During my free time, I interned at Radio al-Balad, Jordan’s first independent media organization, developed and syndicated my own stories with Al Monitor, taught French classes to a group of mainly Syrian refugees at Souriat Across Borders, learned and performed some basic Dabke (an Arab folk dance native in the Levant). My local friends brought me to a traditional Islamic funeral for three days, Jordanian weddings, taught me how to cook and wake up each morning listening to Fairuz. Not to mention, I gained quite the contacts with the Bedouin community in both the center of Jordan and the south, where I’ve now slept in the Petra caves. The truth is that Jordan has become like my second country; I’m indebted to some of the people here who took me in as family and I’m excited to return in the hopefully near future. For this coming summer, I'll be taking another leap into the unknown, where I'm headed to Kosovo for two months to report on Islamic identity and combatting radicalization through the support of a Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grant.