Student: Meredith Ebel
Class of 2012, Major- Global Studies, Minor- Gender Studies
BioMeredith (Merri) Ebel spent the fall semester of her junior year travelling around the Middle East while studying at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan. She has travelled to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria.
Study Abroad Perspective
When it is a clear sunny day and the temperature climbs past 80 degrees in New York City, neighborhood children everywhere run outside to the garbage-ridden streets and kick off their shoes to jump in the water rushing out of old rusted fire hydrants that their older siblings illegally opened with wrenches. This was the world that I grew up in, where water rushes past your feet and in between your toes and flows between the cars and down the hills into the gutters to shower the rats.
The first time I told this to my Conversational English class of Jordanian adult students they were mesmerized. There were only three types of water my students had ever seen: truckloads that were wheeled onto the streets outside of their apartments once a week and pumped into small metal containers on top of their roofs, those that came in bottles, and the large body of water with too much salt and full of history-the dead kind, specifically the Dead Sea. Occasionally I had some students whose families came from tribes in the south of Jordan that ventured down to Aqaba, the Jordanian sea port, once a year to picnic along the side of the road.
Open fire hydrants with an abundant water supply were a foreign concept to my students as much as living with a complete lack of an abundant water supply was to me. There were other things that I could never quite wrap my head around, either: the fact that camels and donkeys lined the highway, that the call to prayer woke me up every morning at 5 a.m., that toilet paper didn't exist unless you carried tissues with you in your pocket or paid the cleaning woman who sat outside the door (and that went for hand soap most of the time, too), that dust and sand always seeped into my apartment even when I closed the windows, that taxis drivers always insisted I was from Russia, and that I felt the need to tell all strangers that I was married with a husband close by-if only for preserving my own honor and protection.
I was constantly, and sometimes painfully, reminded of the things I left back "home", food especially-anything low-fat, organic, meat-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, trans-fat free, carb-free, and genetically modified-but also personal things as well, my mother's hugs when I had a stressful day, my grandmother's Thanksgiving dinner, and my fiancée's birthday party. Before leaving the United States, I had asked some of my international friends what it was like to be an international student, but nothing they said had prepared me for the constant stares that I received, the horn-beeps, the rocks thrown at me, the smiles and the waves, and the "Welcome to Jordan/Lebanon/Egypt/Turkey" greetings in thick accents.
As a single person-a twenty year old student who spoke mediocre Modern Standard Arabic and absolutely no Turkish or Farsi--I became the ambassador of the United States to every person I met while travelling in the Middle East. Every person I met, especially my students, had a comment or a question in regards to American foreign policy, Christianity, and western pop culture. This required lots of research on my part and lots of listening to rap songs. At the same time that they had questions for me, I had lots of questions for them. Some of them were political, like information about the Jordanian parliament election held in the beginning of November, but most of them were questions about practical every-day life in Jordan, such as "what do I do if I think I have a parasite?" and "why does no one flush toilet paper down the toilet?"
All in all I was able to use my experiences of studying abroad to better myself as an individual. Interacting with others in the Middle East has enabled me to view everyone as individuals rather than grouping them together as foreign and different. It has even changed my former perspectives of my country and my life by making me appreciate the things that I have and the things that I don't. I'll never look at fire hydrants the same way again.