“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death.” -Betty Bender

14 Jun

jordan flag faceOne of my roommates I share an apartment with in the Shmeishani neighborhood of Amman recently expressed her open and honest opinion of being initially afraid of coming to the Middle East. Like me, she had never traveled outside of the U.S. So I’m gonna follow her example and be real for a minute. Before I left I had a lot of fears. Not the typical fears of the Middle East I suppose (Jordan is after all probably the safest); I was terrified mostly of myself. We received plenty of warnings as females about the threat of sexual harassment. I was told to dress modestly (out of respect for cultural norms), not make eye contact with strangers (it means something different  over here), and to check the “strong independent female” attitude at the door.

This all got me feeling pretty uneasy. While the warnings did/do serve to keep me safe, they also put a negative, defensive attitude in my head. Which is the last thing you want when trying to experience a new culture with an open mind. So I vented all of my frustrations to my family and friends before I left the states and hoped that’s where they’d stay. Go ahead and laugh here. I know you can’t just decide not to experience culture shock. It turns out I’m still afraid of my own bias preventing me from learning during this golden opportunity. But that’s the first step I guess: admitting that I’m just plain ignorant to their culture and I can’t learn anything until I stop taking personal offense to the fact that people dress differently here.

Another aspect of my identity that I was warned about was my plan to join the military. Learning Arabic is my main goal here…it just happens to be a small goal in the larger goal of joining the United States Air Force, because language skills are highly valued in the military. Not an easy thing to explain in my broken Arabish to a girl I’m meeting for the first time over lunch at the university cafeteria. So I just don’t bring it up. In fact when she asks me why I’m learning Arabic I flat out lie and say that I’m learning it in order to get a good job in the field of my major, airplane maintenance. She gives me a quizzical look and asks if Arabic will really help me. I hesitate and then say yes. I desperately want to be her friend and continue practicing my Arabic. These things take time I remind myself. Maybe by the end of my journey I’ll have figured out how to tell her, how to be a good ambassador of the Air Force, how to change her mind about American girls, how to view her with humanity and be viewed with humanity.

Today marked my first week in Amman and my first real day of class which is difficult but fun. I’m still in the honeymoon phase as they say, walking around starry-eyed and in love with every new thing I see. I’m lucky to be here and excited to make the most of my time in Amman.


3 Responses to ““Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death.” -Betty Bender”

  1. Moe June 20, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Hey there. I am so glad that I am seeing a lot of foreigner students recently coming to Jordan and have this amazing opportunity to learn more about our culture and traditions. I know it’ll be difficult for you as well for many others who really want to get to know everything around here in this limited time-frame, and I totally understand the conflict between what your heart wants (I should really open up and interact with people) and what your mind is telling you (remember what other people told you about how to dress and all). Well, I bet you there has never been any case of real harassment of any kind to ANY foreigner. One thing I am sure of, when people here look at you or stare at you in the eye, what they really want is not to make you uncomfortable (though sometimes it does:P) but they want to see in your eyes how you feel about our country, yes they are more simple than you think. They feel proud and encouraged when they see you smile and would want to impress you with more things! Oh yes trust me, if you can reach deep enough to this level in people, then you my lady have learned everything you need to know about this culture. Have a nice stay!

  2. wallpaper border July 2, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Great post.

  3. kalendarze plakatowe July 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to your blog before but after going through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking
    back frequently!

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