There are officially 8 days left until I arrive in Amman, Jordan! I am a firm believer in the quote by the one and only Oprah Winfrey: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Some may call me a control freak, but I like to think that preparation makes life easier down the road. In lieu of finally making it through the “planning” stage of studying abroad, I will summarize the last six (or more! Who’s counting?) months of stress, worry, and general anticipation.
Step 1: There are approximately 196 countries in the world. Choose one.
I’ll admit, Jordan wasn’t my first choice. Anyone who knows me knows that I have had three major obsessions in my life: owls, cupcakes, and Russia. I think my love for Russia and the USSR stemmed from my favorite model, Andre, on “America’s Most Smartest Model.” I had magical dreams of wandering the snowy streets of Moscow, passing wild eyebrowed Muscovites on my way to a warm coffee shop with friends. Spending a semester in the desert was the farthest thought from my mind. However, after meeting with DU’s study abroad advisor, I learned that DU was changing its Russian programs and they now required two years of Russian language knowledge – a knowledge I do not have. I was back to the drawing board!
My next idea was Semester at Sea (not to be confused with Sea Semester which is 10 people on a sailboat.) One of my coworkers from Cherry Hill had enrolled in Semester at Sea and loved it. You attend class and live on a cruise ship with thousands of other students and every 3 or 4 days, you arrive at a new destination. It is the ultimate cruise around the world. Sounds great, right?! Alas, after some research, I learned that SAS has a reputation as a “floating mattress” and is infamous for its out of control parties. Plus, isn’t the point of studying abroad to LIVE in and become integrated into a new culture? Constantly being a weekend tourist doesn’t seem to mesh with those goals.
Finally, I stumbled upon CIEE’s program in Amman, Jordan by accident. After feeling discouraged by SAS, I decided to look at every program DU offered with an open mind. I knew I wanted somewhere that didn’t speak English, wasn’t in Europe, didn’t require a home-stay, and didn’t require previous language knowledge. This narrowed my main choices down to Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Oman, and Japan. Once I had these options, I decided to choose the most “extreme” one! I always go for shock value, after all. Besides, when am I going to have the chance to live in the Middle East again? I read the blog of a fellow DU student who had gone to Amman the year prior and I was hooked. I knew I needed to experience the Middle East for myself.
Step 2: Attend a lot of Meetings and Prove You Won’t Be a Drunken Mess Abroad
I had to attend numerous meetings during the application process (first to DU and then to the CIEE program itself) and, while they honestly began to blend together after awhile, here is a brief summary of each…
Study Abroad 101: Don’t worry about the application essays. They only exist to make sure you don’t think studying abroad is a vacation.
General Pre-Departure Orientation: Don’t get drunk in a foreign place. It will not end well. If you don’t believe us, this picture of a scantly clad girl passed out on a park bench with an old man lurking in the background proves it.
Regional Pre-Departure Orientation: Pack tampons, you won’t find them in Jordan.
As you can see, most of information is common sense or found by a simple Google search. These meetings claimed three hours of my life that I will never get back. When I wasn’t busy being bombarded with “worst case scenarios”, I was completing my application to DU which, thankfully, was accepted!
Step 3: Schmooze a Professor and Win a Recommendation!
The most daunting part of the application to CIEE was the requirement of two faculty member recommendations. The tricky thing about college is that you rarely have the same professor twice. Luckily, during the application process I was simultaneously fulfilling my language requirement which meant I had the same professor all year! Latin was a fairly small class which allowed Professor Snow to get to know me and, thus, she agreed to write me a recommendation. I also asked my geography major advisor. I had only had one class with him but I think he appreciates my self-sufficient class scheduling and is willing to give me a recommendation in exchange for not burdening him with needy questions. In a few short months, my CIEE application was accepted!
Step 4: PAPERWORK GALORE!
CIEE has this really nifty interface (you can see part of it above) that gives you new “tasks” to complete ranked by priority. Each day there seemed to be a new REALLY IMPORTANT!!!! task to be completed. They ranged from genuinely important (filing for a visa, sending transcripts) to really questionable (doctor’s note guaranteeing you are not “significantly underweight or overweight,” pre-registering for classes but not *actually* registering until arriving in Amman.)
I think my favorite was the housing survey in which you determined whether you wanted a homestay or an apartment. Based on the fact that I do not speak Arabic and adults intimidate me, I chose an apartment. However, the interesting part was that the entire application would shut down if you pressed “backspace” on the keyboard. If you made a typo and hit backspace, shut down. If you forgot to capitalize your name and hit backspace, shut down. If you accidentally hit backspace while reaching for the return key, shut down. I filled out the application 5 times before it went through. Backspacing is such a habit that I no longer realize I do it! After that headache, the paperwork slowed and I have finally submitted the last of it!
Step 5: Socialize with Your Peers and Suddenly Feel Inferior
The study abroad advisor at CIEE created a Facebook group for all of the spring students to join and get to know each other. We can also post questions on the group wall and get a sense of who we will be studying with. Most incoming freshman classes do this before entering college and, while I think it is a great idea to exchange information and help each other prepare, it creates an awkward social situation. For example, before coming to DU, I chatted on the DU Class of 2014 Facebook page with a few girls in my hall. We planned all these fun things we would do together once we met on campus. At orientation we met and realized we were not compatible at all. Soon, we formed separate friend groups and never spoke again. Because of that experience, I feel a bit weary about befriending anyone prematurely based on a Facebook group. I’d much rather wait until I am in Amman and see who I am rooming with and who I am in classes with and make friends based on that!
The sudden exposure to everyone in my study abroad group also makes me realize how unexciting my life is. It seems that everyone else has 6 years of experience in Arabic and is studying at Harvard and vacations in Mongolia each winter and Paris each summer. There are some students whose parents are Palestinian refugees and have a personal connection to the conflict in the Middle East! I know I have just as much right to be studying in Amman as they do, but it still makes me feel a bit inferior. Oh well, at least I know what goetta and Skyline chili are!
Step 6: Find Clothes that Hide the Fact that You are a Woman
Several of the pre-departure readings outline what to wear while in Jordan. No, women do not have to wear the hijab, but they do have to dress modestly. This means all shirts must have sleeves to the elbows and have high necklines. Shorts or dresses above the knee are not allowed under any circumstance and all clothing must fit loosely. In fact, many girls wear scarves on top of loose shirts to cover up their chests even MORE. I don’t mind being modest, but I do have a problem with using modesty as an excuse to be unfashionable.
One of my personal goals for studying abroad is to prove to Amman that not all Americans are sloppy dressers. I have spent the last week shopping for cute but modest clothing (blog post coming soon!) and I am excited to wear my new wardrobe abroad! During my trip to Iceland, we were hiking almost every day. Wearing jeans and nice blouses wasn’t feasible, but in Amman, where I will only be attending class and then socializing with friends each day, looking fashionable is easily achievable.
I am currently trying to finish up my last minute shopping and packing. I am quite nervous about my checked luggage not getting lost, but that’s what a carry-on is for! I will try to update the blog tomorrow on the specifics of my wardrobe for Amman. Until then, ma’a salama!