Arva Hassonjee is a senior international relations and citizenship and civic engagement major. Through AMIDEAST Education Abroad program, an independent non-profit organization, Arva spent a semester studying and interning in Amman, Jordan. Globalists sat down for a Q&A with Arva to learn more about her stint across the oceans, what she gleaned from her experience and why it was important as a student to learn about a different culture.
Globalists: When did you study and intern abroad?
Arva: I spent January through May 2018 studying in Amman, Jordan through AMIDEAST Education Abroad. I had the opportunity to develop my Arabic language skills, study regional politics, and serve as a Communications Intern at Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), a Jordanian NGO, headquartered in Amman.
Globalists: What was your experience in Amman like?
Arva: As an undergraduate, I’ve spent the past four years studying International Relations with a regional focus in the Middle East and a topic concentration in international security and diplomacy. But my time living and learning in Jordan helped me understand my major and specializations more than any class I have taken in the United States.
I expected to go abroad and learn a lot but I never anticipated falling in love with Amman in the process. Yet that's what happened. My favorite experiences in Jordan are actually the mundane, day-to-day experiences. Going grocery shopping in the local market, visiting my favorite bakery every Saturday morning, and strolling through the downtown area with friends.
Cafe-hopping was also a large part of my study abroad experience. Amman has hundreds of cafes, some on narrow, hilly staircases and others spread across bustling streets. People often spend time in cafes to socialize.
Amman also has a more relaxed lifestyle than I was accustomed to. People work hard and take their jobs seriously, but they also prioritize time with their friends and families. Even on weekdays, people go out and enjoy after work. They appreciate their relationships and put in the time to know people. This type of lifestyle is so much better for mental and emotional health too. I was generally just so much happier while in Amman and I realized that I should prioritize my happiness when I return to the U.S. and that's totally changed how I lead my life now.
On the food…
I also can't talk about Jordan without mentioning the food culture. Over the semester, I ate hundreds of falafels, plate-fulls of hummus, and enough shawarma to satisfy my cravings for the next few years. I also tried dishes like Mansaf (the national dish of Jordan) and Maqloubeh. Still, nothing makes me quite as happy as a handful of crispy, falafel in the rain.
I also developed an obsession with Bekdash, a hundred-year-old Syrian ice cream place with a few newly opened shops in Amman. I was a frequent visitor and usually ordered their traditional ice cream topped with Nutella and pistachios. They also have the best cappuccinos in the city!
Globalists: Why did you choose Amman?
Arva: During my freshman year of college, I took a course on revolutions in the Middle East in which we analyzed the different political and social cultures in countries like Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. Once I started learning about the Middle East, I couldn’t stop, so I took more courses on the region each semester. I decided to study abroad in Jordan my junior year of college so that I could gain hands-on experience in the region while developing my Arabic skills.
Globalists: What are the advantages of choosing non-traditional study-abroad locations?
Arva: Studying abroad in a location with a lifestyle and culture far different than what I was accustomed to is so valuable. You learn things you may have never expected to.
Jordan is a water-scarce country and ever since studying abroad, I have been so conscious about the amount of water I consume, something I never thought about at SU or while growing up in New Jersey.
The academic literature we read in my political science classes stemmed from scholars from the region which was so much more insightful than learning about the Middle East from writers who have never lived in the region.
Studying abroad with a world partner program like AMIDEAST also introduces you to students from across the US with similar academic interests and allows you to form more diverse relationships.
Globalists: What are the difficulties you faced? How did you overcome them?
Arva: I expected my semester abroad to be difficult and I thought I would miss campus, my friends, and my family immensely. But Amman surprisingly never felt “foreign” to me. The hospitality and generosity there actually reminded me of India and made me feel more in touch with my Indian heritage. People would often ask me about famous Bollywood actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai and ask about India so much that I realized how complex identity can be. I feel American and Indian at once but I also feel heavily influenced by Jordanian culture after living there.
I also formed some very meaningful friendships while in Amman, which made the journey so enjoyable and less scary. You can never have too many friends.
All in all, I was very fortunate to not experience homesickness or anything like that. I was also living with my apartment-mate from SU in our apartment in Amman which made it feel like a less drastic shift.
Arva Hassonjee is a senior international relations and citizenship and civic engagement major at Syracuse University.