I applied for a Boren Scholarship to study Arabic in Jordan for several reasons. First of all, I have always had a keen interest in language study, and Arabic is spoken by over 220 million people around the world, and it is one of the official languages of the United Nations. Because of my interests in the social and political problems of the Middle East, fluency in Arabic is indispensable to my professional future. In addition, Jordan’s geo-strategic position (it borders Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq) and its influence in the Arab and Muslim worlds continue to make Jordan a vital diplomatic partner for the U.S.
I first studied in Jordan in the summer of 2008 for a six-week language and cultural immersion program at Yarmouk University Language Center. I was impressed with the quality of instruction at Yarmouk, and in 2009 I won a Boren Scholarship, which allowed me to return. During my Boren Scholarship, I conducted an independent research study of the Arab-Israeli conflict while taking courses in Arabic conversation, grammar, reading, and media. My language skills improved significantly, in large part because of the quality of instruction and the dedicated, experienced faculty at Yarmouk. Thanks to the one-on-one tutorials, I was able to complete a semester’s worth of Arabic in a month and half. I was also able to improve my Arabic language skills through informal tutoring and conversation exchange with university students. Prior to my Boren Scholarship, I had some difficulty expressing and understanding basic ideas, and I placed novice-mid on the ACTFL scale. After my studies in Jordan, I was able to reach the advanced level on the ACTFL.
I lived in Irbid, which offers a unique opportunity for language acquisition and cultural learning. Although Irbid is the second largest city in Jordan, it does not feel like a big city and very few people speak English. Many residents come from surrounding villages and Irbid is considerably more conservative than Amman. This offered me the opportunity to experience traditional Jordanian culture, and to see the tensions between local traditional values and aspects of Western culture. I forged many friendships and learned about the language, culture, and people through my everyday interactions within the community. I talked to people in different walks of life, including the security guards and other students at the university, the fruit and vegetable vendors, and the “regulars” of the city’s coffee shops. Everywhere I went people were very hospitable and sociable.
After college graduation, I plan to pursue a dual degree in law and diplomacy. I also plan to apply for the Boren Fellowship and the Critical Language program so I can reach a level of professional proficiency in Arabic. I would like to work in the Department of State in the field of public diplomacy, and I am particularly interested in the transformational diplomacy initiative. My experience abroad as a Boren Scholar reinforced my career goals and made clear the importance of the Boren programs and others like them. It is important that more American students and future policy-makers learn about the cultures and languages in critical regions and, in the same process, that they work toward deconstructing the many misconceptions about the American culture and our way of life.
Written: November 2010