I am currently sitting on an Oman Air flight from Muscat, Oman to Casablanca, Morocco, officially marking the end of my semester study abroad period in Jordan. It is crazy to think that three months and a half ago I was sitting on my flight to Amman starting a blog the same way; it feels as if that was yesterday. Time flew by in a split second! At least I am completely satisfied with my experience and feel like I made the most of my time in Jordan.
When looking back at the blog post I wrote before arriving to Amman, I can say that most of analysis about the implications of my identity on the study abroad experience was accurate. In that post, I don’t think I emphasized the similarities between Arabs and Latinxs enough, though. This is a topic that came up at least once every two days, whether it was with my program’s staff, taxi and Uber drivers, my host family, or just people I talked to on the streets. We spent copious amounts of time addressing hospitality, importance of family structure, food culture, and more. As the conversations got deeper, we started talking about our regions’ shared history of foreign intervention and topics along those lines. I think this connection definitely impacted the way I related to Arabs (for the better).
Something I did not necessarily address in the first blog (I touched on it in one of the in-program blogs) was the influence that my physical appearance was going to have on my experience abroad. One of my Arab friends at Rollins constantly jokes about how I look more Arab than him, and before going to Jordan I did think I was going to have a few interesting encounters regarding this, but little did I know it was going to completely shape my Jordanian experience and my everyday life. Not a single day went by without me being addressed as locals as an Arab, some thought I was Jordanian while others thought I came from the Gulf region, especially Qatar. Interactions included asking me for directions, talking to me in super fast Arabic, and even showing surprise when I handed a Dominican ID instead of one from an Arab country. This had the advantage of allowing me to experience Jordan quite literally as a local. When I talked to my fellow students, it was clear that our experiences were different, and I am very glad I got to interact with the country the way I did. It also helped me practice my Arabic way more often. Nonetheless, it could be overwhelming at some points.
Besides being the only one in my program that looked Arab, the countries we came from also shaped the way we experienced Jordan. Besides myself and one student from China, everyone in the program was from the United States. They all had very open minds and knowledge of the region, but it was still interesting to see how the portrayal of the Middle East in the U.S. and Western media in general got challenged by the reality lived in the countries there, specifically Jordan in our case.
There are multiple other ways in which nationality affects your mindset and traveling in general. Nationality is not an identity we choose, but one we carry with us nevertheless. In my case, coming from a small developing Caribbean island definitely brings difficulties when traveling, especially regarding passport strength. I always had to meticulously check for visa requirements and other things before making any plans, even when it came to having a layover in France, for example. However, coming from a country that does not play a huge role in global politics also benefits in a way. Many of my friends from the U.S. were frustrated because they could not go to Iran (for quite obvious reasons), whereas with my Dominican passport I do not even need a pre-arranged visa to enter said country.
In the end, I definitely learned a lot about my own identity and about others’ through my semester in Jordan. I was delighted by that, because it was one of my main purposes for studying abroad. From challenging my own internal preconceptions to seeing in person the immense diversity among Muslims and their practices (instead of the horrible generalization that people commonly resort to), this semester allowed me to go on a journey and meet both myself and others. It is always nice to be completely aware of one’s positionality. It is unbelievable to think that my time in Jordan is over, saying goodbye to a country that has perfectly served as a second home for over three months is very hard. Nonetheless, my journey is not completely over, I still have time in Morocco, Israel, Palestine, and hopefully Egypt to go. I am pretty sure that there I will continue to challenge myself and learn more about the advantages, disadvantages of my identity, and how it shapes my experiences overall.