It’s barely past 4 a.m. and the citizens of Amman, Jordan, begin to stir and prepare for adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. This first Morning Prayer concludes as the sun’s rays just touch the horizon. The Islamic call to prayer, which will occur four more times before the day ends, is a daily centerpiece of Middle Eastern culture, a culture that Communication Arts and Sciences senior Andrew Joseph experienced first-hand this summer.
While participating in the “Arabic in Jordan” study abroad, sponsored by Michigan State University's College of Arts and Letters, Joseph confirmed his belief that such an experience does not "magically" improve oneself and skillset, instead it provides the tools and means to reach one’s full potential.
"This trip reinforced that idea and made me realize how important the experience was as a whole to my growth and education," said Joseph, who further expressed that the study abroad met his expectations in regards to learning about Jordan's culture, dialect, people and viewpoints and he “wouldn't trade this experience for anything.”
Arabic in Jordan is an intensive nine-week study abroad program that focuses on the Arabic language and culture. Students in the program receive around 200 hours of exposure to the Arabic language and Levant dialect at the Jordan Language Academy (JLA) in Amman.
A double major in Media and Information and Arabic, Joseph is working to be fluent in Arabic so he can perform "hands-on research with media and Internet use in the Middle East, as well as help conduct business in Arabic when necessary."
"For both my personal and professional goals, it's important to be able to speak in another person's language when I am trying to learn from them, do business with them, or just simply communicate," said Joseph, who recognizes that using someone’s preferred language is more genuine and leads to stronger relationships.
It was the building of relationships that Joseph could not emphasize enough, as he made a handful of Jordanian friends during the study abroad and “learned infinitely more with them than in a classroom."
"Hanging out and interacting with them forced me to think on my feet and under pressure, but allowed me to do so with people I could laugh with when mistakes were made," he said.
During his nine-week study abroad, Joseph stayed with a Jordanian Christian family.
"They were extremely welcoming and even insisted that I call them Mama and Baba," Joseph said.
The host family's older children, who live in the same apartment complex, visited often. A common practice in Jordanian culture, families and extended families often will rent or buy apartment complexes or numerous floors.
"It took me a while to get used to all the noise from having them all over,” Joseph said, “but I now believe I can study with any volume of noise."
Noise, weather, customs or even world perspectives, Joseph had no problem adjusting to it all, and when it came to food, he was particularly receptive. His favorite dish came while camping in Wadi Rum when the Bedouins prepared a traditional meal for his class, which consisted of meat, potatoes and various vegetables all baked and steamed in an underground oven using coals as the heat source.
"Later that same night, we laid out under a clear sky and I can honestly say I have never seen so many stars fill the sky," Joseph said about the class excursion and noted the pleasure of sleeping in tents and waking up to pure desert silence.
Beyond Wadi Rum, the study abroad exposed students to the rich history of Petra, Aqaba and Madaba while leaving them time to learn on their own. Joseph’s most memorable moment came when he and another classmate were invited to visit a newly acquainted friend's home located north of Amman in the city of Jerash.
"The night was truly the most memorable and fun that I had while in Jordan," said Joseph as he recalled the stories, jokes and food shared that night. "I learned so much and had such a great time that I can only hope to pay back the kindness and hospitality they showed me in the future."
Following his time in Jordan, Joseph continued his travels and is presently on a 41-day trip through Europe. He will return to MSU in the fall to start his senior year when he will participate in the Presidential Fellows Program.
"I think the Presidential Fellows Program is a great opportunity for both current and future leaders of various fields to present and learn about their individual interests tied to the presidency and Congress," Joseph said. "It is a hotbed for new and innovative ideas because it allows myself and the other participants to perform mentored research."
The Presidential Fellows Program offers up to 75 top undergraduate and graduate students from leading colleges and universities across the country a year-long opportunity to study the U.S. presidency, the public policymaking process and presidential relations with Congress, allies, the media and the American public.