Thursday, June 9, 2011

An American in Amman


Only a few days left before the biggest adventure of my life ... so far! I'll be traveling as a U.S. government exchange scholar with the Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship program. They're sending me to the Middle East for two reasons: one, for me to learn Arabic by being immersed in an intensive language institute; and two, to be a cultural ambassador of sorts for my own country--a grassroots sort of diplomat, if you will. :)

I've had a lot of interesting reactions from people when I tell them about my upcoming trip. Either they just don't really get why I want to go, or they assume I'm going to get kidnapped. Some family members and friends have only thinly veiled their disdain for the region and their distrust of its occupants. I don't necessarily blame them, because if one's only source of information is western media, then it's hardly surprising that one would have this impression that the Middle East is populated solely by barbarians. How interesting it is that a service meant to inform people's perceptions of the world becomes nothing more than a shady business that distorts them.

I say, all the more reason why it's so important to get out there, to meet the people and see the place for oneself before jumping to conclusions. I wish that more of my fellow Americans would make a concerted effort to get to know the Middle East, instead of casting it off as some amorphous entity defined only by danger and terrorism. I wish more Americans could look at this region and people the way I do, to embrace those cultural differences that do exist while still embracing its beauty, its history, and especially its people. At least based on my impressions of my friends from the region, there's a lot more to it than meets our limited eye. I guess I'll just have to see for myself!

So here's to stumbling through a language I still don't know very well, and learning lots, and academically getting my butt kicked, and new friends, and scholars and travelers, and Arabic coffee, and most of all to life. It's pretty big and beautiful when you open up to it. Ma'a salaama ya Chicago!

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