Category Archives: Writing Prompts

Acquiring Acquaintances Abroad: An Arduous Assignment

For me, as a devastatingly taciturn individual, it is difficult to develop friendships, regardless of where I am in the world.  I have this horrible tendency towards silence—the more people gathered in a room, the quieter I become.  It is not a conscious choice either.  I do not stand there and think, “Well, I’m just not going to talk.”  My lack of loquacity is really something that just happens to me.  My brain, it seems, decides on its own to take a short vacation.  Words escape me.  And while I stand there, not quite (but almost) literally lacking mental functioning, a person comes up to me and makes the attempt.  They try to engage me in conversation (read: small talk), and whatever small bits of thinking ability remained before have now disappeared entirely.  My mouth produces words instinctively while a red light in my brain flashes and blares incessantly; it is a warning—Get yourself out of this dangerous situation, immediately!

I know, of course, that my social anxiety isn’t something that many people reading this blog will endure themselves.  However, it is something very real for me, and indeed something that has played a very large role in my study abroad experiences.  In a lot of ways (and certainly the most obvious), it hinders me.  Friendships are gained by means of social interactions, and often they are begun by the dreaded small talk. Unfortunately, I go through this horrendous process of 1) not knowing what to say, and 2) not being able to say it anyway. For whatever reason, in social situations, I become a completely different person. The voice, thoughts, and opinions that come out of my mouth are never my own. They are filler words, phrases chosen not conscientiously, but accidentally, spur of the moment. This is true even in English, so you can imagine my ability to converse in Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, or Lithuanian.

Even I, though, have managed to find friendships while living abroad. In Costa Rica, I worked with a small NGO dedicated to protecting the rights of HIV/AIDS-infected persons. Much of my time was spent at La Casa de Paz, a shelter for drug addicted women, and oddly enough, these people—the employees and the women themselves—became my closest friends. It’s because of them that I learned to speak Spanish and really it’s because of them that I understood Costa Rica as something more than a popular tourist destination.

In India, my greatest friendships came in the form of my host family, an ironic twist of fate. You see, I’d had two host families in Costa Rica too, and though they certainly had their merits, I did not want to repeat the experience in future travels abroad. Being my socially awkward, naturally introverted self, host families are a less than ideal setup. After a full day of classes and conversations and public outings, the last thing my brain wants to do is return home for a few hours of “obligatory chitchat.” Is it great for language learning? Absolutely. Is it great for my sanity? Probably not.

When I learned that I was to have a host family in India, then, I was less than pleased. And it’s not that I worried my new family would be particularly mean or disagreeable either. Honestly, I was more worried that they would be too nice. Yes, I recognize how strange that sounds. How could I possibly have that concern? Well, like I mentioned above, after a full day of social interaction, I prefer to return home and be alone. Without those few hours of almost total isolation, I feel exhausted in such a way that I struggle to convey accurately in words. It’s not a physical exhaustion I feel, but rather a mental and emotional one. Few people understand this personality quirk of mine, and I expected that my Indian host family would fall into this category. After all, hosting a study abroad student is an exciting opportunity. It’s as much an opportunity for the hosts to learn about American culture as it is for the guests to learn about the hosts’ culture. I feared that I would be a disappointment for my host family.

I was fortunate, though, in that the woman and her daughter (my Indian family) never made me feel out of place. They offered their home to me entirely. They taught me how to eat like an Indian, demonstrating the proper scooping hand motion, something that took a good two weeks to perfect. They told me what they thought of the Indian government, the education system, and the media. For some reason, the three of us (and our personalities) worked well together. Over time, our relationship deepened—first from roommates to acquaintances, and then from acquaintances to friends, and finally from friends to a makeshift family.

China was an altogether different experience from Costa Rica and India. For one thing, I lived in a dorm room on the campus of Zhejiang University. My days consisted almost exclusively of two things: attending Chinese class and studying for Chinese class. It’s difficult to incorporate friendships in your life when you’re immersed in the Chinese style of education. As it turned out, my professors and classmates became my best friends. I should tell you that I didn’t recognize this at first. In the beginning, my mind distinctly demarcated the words classmate and friend. But it’s quite difficult for them not to overlap when class feels like your life. In fact, the forced Chinese conversation homework proved to be an excellent way to avoid small talk. I learned about my classmates’ lives in the most raw, simplest form because, well, I could only understand Chinese in its most raw and simplest form.

Now onto my friendships in Lithuania, where I am to “study” for the next three months. Note the quotation marks around the work study. They’re there to indicate the uniqueness of my study abroad program in Lithuania. It feels insufficient, the phrase study abroad, because I don’t really feel like a student here. Much of my time is spent as an intern at the American Embassy in Vilnius, or participating in activities and attending outreach events that are in some way affiliated with the U.S. Department of State. Evenings and weekends here are my schooldays.

So much of this blog entry has concentrated on my shyness and introversion. You’re likely wondering how I fare as an intern in the Public Affairs Section of the American mission to Lithuania (responsible for all embassy outreach activities, public events, social gatherings, media, etc.). Well, I can assure you, it has been adjustment. Small talk is no longer that unfortunate thing I must endure every now and again; it is my life. And truthfully, even months into my internship, I’m just as dreadful at it as I was in the beginning. Here’s the deal: I’m no suave, debonair diplomat, and I never will be.

Unlike many of those with whom I work, I don’t have the natural ability to talk about anything and everything, and successfully feign interest. You can talk to me about your yarn factory as much as you want, but I can only think of so many questions about it before you realize I really couldn’t care any less. You might think of this as a weakness in a world where “stage presence” is a must at all times, but I’ve not found that to be the case. In my short time here, I have already found my fair share of friends (both Lithuanian and American and almost every other nationality you can imagine), and  it’s really because of my poor acting ability that I’ve done so. Guess what? Hating social functions is actually a reliable ice breaker because, for the most part, nobody enjoys them. They are simply a necessary evil. Thus has been my experience here anyway.

Before ending this blog post, I do want to make it clear that making friends abroad is difficult, more so even than in the U.S. The language barrier is one difficulty, of course. But so is finding common interest. Sometimes it’s even a struggle to find someone with a similar sense of humor. In the end, though, the struggle is worth it. When people tell me, “You’re not like the Americans on TV” and I tell them, “Well, you’re not like the [enter nationality here] I see on TV either,” a bond forms. I’m not quite sure how to explain it. Perhaps it’s something one must experience for themselves.

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Here’s to Growing Up

It would be a terrible lie if I dared say China has not changed me. It has, and what I have learned here will guide my path in the future. Not only will the knowledge of the Chinese language help me, but the general insights into a country so vital to America’s and the world’s future will be exceptionally invaluable.

Since I have arrived in China, I have learned a lot about what it means to be Chinese. Beijing has been good to me, since it is the cultural hub of China, a place that has long been the capital, and along those lines has famous buildings to accompany a profound history. By visiting the Great Wall 长城 and the Forbidden City 故宫, I get to witness the strength of imperial China and observe a culture distinct in the world’s collage. It has humbled me and expanded my knowledge beyond the typical Western history most know in the United States; I get to put into perspective modernity and the shifting dynamics of East and West interactions.

I had the opportunity to travel in China to see just how big the country is. I stayed for a weekend at an oasis in the Gobi Desert of Inner Mongolia 内蒙古, a province in China that borders Mongolia. I also took an overnight train to Xi’an and back, lending me the chance to see the world-famous Terra-Cotta Army 兵马俑. Every journey I get the chance to make only further embellishes the depth of history and culture in China. When riding a camel in the Gobi, I could not help but wonder who might have come before me in China’s 5,000 year history, or when I finally saw the Terra-Cotta Army and realized that it was 2,200 years old – that is simply unfathomable!

Additionally, I have learned what I want to do in the future, from my study abroad experience. I am from a rural town in Maine that no one knows of outside the state, a town so small I had never heard of it until I moved there, yet I have survived in one of the largest metropolises in the world, Beijing. I feel like I could live anywhere in the world after this and be happy there, too. I have also met some great people from all over the world, forging some bonds that will never die. Life, success, money – what would it matter without companionship? It is something I realize now that having companionship is an integral part to achieve a happy life.

It is indubitable that my career path post-degree will be impacted by my experience here. The Gilman Scholarship provided me with a positive mark on my résumé, which will help towards future employment in study abroad field. Additionally, if I choose to continue studying literature or philosophy, I will have to look at China’s contribution to the fields. I have already taken an interest in the philosophies of Confucius, Mencius, and Lao Tzu, and why would I end this interest?

There are still many more days here in China, but I can already confidently say that this country has bettered me, perhaps even more than I an aware. With every milestone I achieve, I am able to self reflect and I will always be grateful for this experience and how it has impacted me.

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Arriving in Spain

As I sit here at my desk, I can’t help but think about how nervous I was about coming here to study for five months. I’d never been overseas before now, and though I was excited, I was afraid that something would happen: I’d be robbed while abroad, I’d get lost, or I’d forget something important back in the United States. I enrolled in a short 1/2 credit class at my university to prepare myself for going abroad, and I tried my best to remember everything they’d told me regarding what to pack and what to leave behind.

I packed light, as my adviser had suggested. A few t-shirts, a couple sweaters, jeans, and a formal outfit, along with my jacket. My host family is really good about doing laundry, so there was no need to over pack. If you find you need an extra shirt or something, you can easily buy them once you get to your destination. Packing light also avoids going over the weight limit in airport security. Space bags are also a great useful to help fit everything in one suitcase (with my airport, I was only allowed 1 suitcase and 2 carry-on bags without paying an extra fee). Make sure you pack any sort of necessary adapters and cords for electronics. I’m a huge fan of my iPod and laptop, so I purchased two plug adapters (European wall plugs are different from the US) really cheap from Amazon. I would advise that you make sure your adapter functions with voltage up to 220 as well. If it only works up to 110 (like some US chargers do), you’ll need to buy a voltage converter.

When I first arrived in Spain, my initial thought was, “Oh my god, they speak really fast!” Honestly, after being here for two weeks, you get used to it. To them, it’s not fast at all; it’s just normal, casual speech. Most Spaniards can tell when they’re not talking to a native Spanish speaker. They are really friendly and willing to slow down, or repeat themselves so that you can understand them. My host family is really good about speaking slowly, and whenever they start to speed up, I just ask them to repeat. They know that I’m here to learn and are here to help me do that. Another one of my fears was that I wouldn’t know how to say something, and therefore would not be understood. Well, it happened. Being able to circumlocution(using words you know to get to words you don’t) becomes your best friend. There are times in conversation, however, where even that doesn’t work. I remember once I was trying to figure out how to get to “marshmallow” using circumlocution with my host mom for 20 minutes. Eventually, we gave up. Fun fact: There is no exact word for marshmallow in the Spanish language.

The Spanish schedule is very different from my US schedule. For example, at home, I ate breakfast around 9am, lunch around 1pm, then dinner at 6pm. Here, breakfast is served promptly at 9:30 am, lunch is at 2:30 pm with an afternoon nap right after, where literally everything will close until around 5 pm! Then, dinner is around 9-10 pm! It’s definitely taken some getting used to, but snacking is also okay here, so that does help a lot.

In almost everything as well, the Spanish are almost always fashionably late. My class here is scheduled for 9 am, however, every day it has started closer to 9:15 am, which works in my favor, as I’m not the fastest person in the mornings. A major difference for me as well is the schedule of classes. At my home university, my schedule varied based on the day, and I would go to several different rooms for different classes. In Zaragoza, Spain at the Centro de Español como Lengua Extranjera, classes start everyday at 9am Monday through Friday with grammar. Then you have a half an hour break at 11am if you need a snack or something. Then you go back to the same classroom until 1:30pm for a cultural class with the same professor. It’s nice being done with most of the day left to see the city, do homework, or just relax.

I wouldn’t say that I’m homesick yet, but I do miss the familiar faces of my friends and family back at home. My host mom also doesn’t have any pets, so I also miss seeing my two dogs everyday back home. Skype and Facebook are really good ways to keep in touch with everyone though, as well as a personal blog to let everyone know what I’m up to while abroad! I’m certainly enjoying my time here, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store!

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Study Abroad and My Future Career: How They Relate!

When I decided to attend a four-year study abroad college, I didn’t do so with any specific career path in mind. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and had never traveled farther than Washington, DC (a three-day trip in the eighth grade). I felt like I didn’t know anything about the “real world.” I watched the news and saw footage from war-ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq; I read my history textbooks and learned about the Holocaust in Europe and the poverty in Africa; I spoke with my neighbors, immigrants from Australia and Estonia and Somalia. The “real world” felt as real to me as Hogwarts or Panem. I recognized this ignorance in myself, but I didn’t seem to have any way to rectify it.

My senior year of high school, I’d settled on studying Modern Languages in college. I would probably attend the Ohio State University, located about twenty minutes away from my house, and graduate early. If you had asked me (or even if you ask me now) why I wanted to study languages, I really couldn’t give you an adequate response. I suppose that it was my way of making fictional characters real. After all, until you’ve met them, Italians and Germans and Argentinians are fictional. Seeing is believing, as they say. Languages would serve as my bridge to this fantastic outside world, to the abroad.

In the end, I didn’t attend the Ohio State University. I chose LIU Global, and in so doing, chose to live a four-year nomadic existence. During my freshman year in Costa Rica, I dedicated myself to a HIV/AIDS NGO. Again, I wasn’t thinking about a prospective career. I saw my classmates taking up so many noble causes—women’s rights, calls for environmental change, indigenous land protection, etc.—and I wanted to have my own. I chose AIDS awareness more out a desperate plea for meaning than any real, logical reason. It was a wonderful experience, and I continue my advocacy for the disease to this day, but I learned then that neither medicine, nor social activism is my life’s calling.

By the time I’d reached India, I knew that I needed a solid career plan, or at the very least a direction. I sat down one evening and made two lists of potential careers: one list that reflected careers for which I would be qualified upon graduating and another that reflected careers I would like to have. Two paths stood out most to me—journalism and international politics. On the one hand, I wanted to write about what is going on in the world from a firsthand perspective. On the other, I wanted to be able to participate, in some way, in actually shaping what is going on in the world. I tested the former in India by working as an intern at a local newspaper.

In China, most of my time was occupied with Mandarin classes and homework. In my spare time, I read about international relations, specifically those between the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. Intrigued by the idea of a possible career in international diplomacy, I applied on a whim for an internship with the U.S. State Department. And thus I came to live in Vilnius, Lithuania, as an intern in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy.

I’m frequently asked the question, “Have you always known that you wanted to be a diplomat?” to which I reply, “I still don’t know if I want to be a diplomat.” Without realizing it, I’ve amassed a set of qualifications that seem ideal for a U.S. Foreign Service Officer—international travel, languages, NGO work, and experience working in foreign media. But skills on paper, I know, are not indicative of one’s aptitude for success.

Today, I’m supposed to talk about how study abroad has influenced my career ambitions. And I assure you, my study abroad experiences (including this internship in Lithuania) have absolutely influenced my career goals. Do I know, unequivocally that I want to become a U.S. Foreign Service Officer? No. First of all, I now know just how competitive the hiring process is. It’s a wonderful dream career, but certainly not one that I can obtain immediately with any degree of realism. Perhaps in a few years, with a few more life experiences, I’ll feel differently. But I undoubtedly want to work in the field of international affairs. Perhaps I’ll become a contributor at a think tank, or maybe a political analyst. I don’t yet feel comfortable proclaiming a definite career choice, but I am sure that my future profession, whatever it may be, will involve international relations work of some kind and hopefully some cultural work too. Time will tell. . .

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Culture Shock, Traveling’s Unforgiving Accompaniment

If you’ve ever studied (or traveled) abroad, then you know about culture shock. Everyone talks about it and most people, I’ve found, pretend as if it doesn’t affect them. “Oh,” they’ll tell me, “you know, I don’t find [let’s say South Africa] so different from America. I love it here.” Perhaps they are telling the truth, I don’t know, but I have my reservations. I’ve spent the last three-and-a-half years abroad, with a different home every ten months or so, and I’ve yet not to experience culture shock.

Before continuing, I do want to say that I don’t think culture shock is always immediately noticeable. For me, when I step off the plane, I don’t have this sudden moment in which I’m overcome by emotion. To be honest, the disembarkation is always a bit anticlimactic. “Really? I’ve traveled nineteen hours only to end up somewhere that looks exactly like home?” Let’s face it: airports are indistinguishable from one another.

Sometimes, the drive from the airport to my ultimate destination is more striking. Even that isn’t always the case. After all, I’m in a car on a road, usually a highway. We have all of this at home, so it’s not so exciting. Occasionally, I’ll see things that are unusual—a slum in India, a monkey in Costa Rica—but nothing that makes me feel out-of-place. For a short period of time, everything feels natural. For me, culture shock doesn’t make itself evident for quite some time.

In India, I distinctly remember the moment I fully realized I was in a different country. I was riding in a rickshaw, zipping through the streets of Bangalore, coughing because of the pollution. Tears cascaded down my face, not from sadness, but because about a dozen different spices were wafting in the air. Meanwhile, twenty or thirty children were running behind, some of them missing limbs, begging me and my friends for money. The sign at the airport didn’t do it for me; this was my welcome to India.

Nowhere else have I experienced culture shock in quite the same way, but it has nevertheless been a part of  one of my trips abroad. In Lithuania, though, I find that it is a shock of a different variety. See, while much of my time is spent in the culture, much of it is also spent around Americans. I can’t even begin to explain how startling it is to realize you feel uneasiness around your own people. Having spent the vast majority of the last four years overseas, I’d forgotten some things about American society. I’d forgotten about my culture. In another post, I mentioned that I had to re-learn how to use Western utensils properly. I also had to re-learn how to respond to basic greetings, like “How are you?” This question is not an invitation to say how you actually are. Acceptable responses are “fine” and “well.” Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but we Americans have programmed such responses into our heads. They are as natural for us as breathing.

The Gilman Scholarship Program gave me a diagram (pictured below), which essentially states the nine stages of culture shock. For the most part, I agree with it, but my culture shock doesn’t match the diagram precisely. Though I have my moments of depression and homesickness, they tend to be rare and occur in bursts throughout, not Stage 3, as the diagram suggests. Moreover, most often, when it is about time to return to the United States, I don’t feel ready for it. Butterflies host a fiesta in my stomach. It doesn’t make sense, I know. Why should I be nervous going home? I guess it’s because after a year away, home doesn’t feel like home anymore. Thoughts begin to creep into my head: “What if I’ve changed? What if my friends and family have changed?”Culture Shock GraphOn my first return trip, when I was coming back from Costa Rica, I would wake up in the middle of the night and experience this strange sensation of loneliness. I was in my bed in the home I’d always lived with my family all in their own beds, and yet I felt completely and totally alone. I felt like the stereotypical misunderstood teenager. The feeling would eventually pass and I’d drift off into sleep, but the process would repeat itself again and again. I think it took about three months for the episodes to cease entirely.

Neither of my return trips from China or India produced such results. I think it’s because I could mentally prepare myself. In other words, I already knew what to expect. It’s true what they say, what the study abroad orientation people warn you about—the experience changes you. And you return home, feeling like a completely different person, but nobody else seems to notice. You’ve underwent one or two or three transformational, life altering moments. You want to tell everyone about them. Then you get home and find yourself inarticulately conveying that incredible moment to a family member or friend, and you become frustrated with yourself for your inability to do so satisfactorily. These are moments that live with you, and only you, forever. No matter how many people you tell, no matter how many photographs you show them, they’ll never understand quite the way you felt at that moment in time. It’s this inability to effectively translate my experiences to others which produced my nightly episodes upon returning home.

Hopefully, this post doesn’t dissuade any potential study abroad-ers from actually going out and studying abroad; it’s certainly not meant to do that. But feelings of isolation do affect study abroad students. I don’t think we discuss them enough because they manifest themselves in the midst of feelings of confusion and excitement and busyness, but they are just as real, and affect us just as much. In fact, I almost think that the isolationist feelings are beneficial, that they serve as a reminder—this is our experience, one that (for better or worse) cannot be taken away from us.

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Doing My Best in Beijing

After living and studying in China for the past three months – it is going by so fast! – I have had to deal with some ups and downs, a few odd experiences, and the typical feelings encountered by a person abroad, that of homeward desires and foreign adventures. Just like normal life, life as a transient expatriate entails ups and downs that I have had to learn to ride like a spiteful wave, and my reactions are reflected sometimes by the descriptions of culture shock. However, I have been to China before for two months, and so I have not undergone any severe culture shock like the chart accompanying this blog suggests. Nevertheless, I will go through each phase and address how I experienced or did not experience its effects.Culture Shock Graph

As with any new adventure, in the beginning of study abroad I, like everyone else, was excited to begin what at the time seemed like life afresh – or at least college life. In our orientation I got to see many of the most famous places in Beijing, namely the Forbidden City 故宫, Tiananmen Square 天安门广场, and the Great Wall 长城, and stayed in a nice hotel while all the activities were preplanned for me. I was carefree and I loved it; the purity of freedom was exhillerating. I was also lucky to get a few crystal clear days to see some sights, like the Olympic Park. Life is good when you need not do anything but relish beauty!

Of course, after about a month of living in an apartment buying my food and taking care of my life and academics again, I dropped down from this proverbial high, but I did not begin to get annoyed with parts of Chinese culture or become homesick. Instead, I got depressed because there was a period of about five days where the Beijing smog got so bad I could barely see some of the buildings outside my room’s window. I felt trapped inside my apartment and soon my will to go out and see parts of the city began to fade. It took some effort and timing to get out of this state, namely by monitoring weather and making sure on every good day each week to go and see the city. I made a point of this, and for about a month every weekend I would visit another famous part of China for the day, such as the Temple of Heaven 天坛, the Summer Palace 颐和园, or the Temple of Confucius 孔子庙. This lifted me of out the smog induced depression because it gave me something to look forward to each week.

I have been lucky to not feel homesick so far. Of course I have missed my family and especially my girlfriend, who is difficult to contact because she is studying abroad in Paris, but I have never felt helpless or even thought about going home early or giving up Chinese. I feel that this is because I have been away from my family for two months before when I lived in Sichuan, China – if you can even call two months ‘living’ in China. But I am happy that I am completely comfortable living abroad. Not only does it benefit me now, but it also means that I am open to living abroad sometime in my future, if I so choose.Right now I am comfortable in a routine of work inspired by a saying from Confucius: “Rotten wood cannot be carved” (真是朽木不可雕也). By rotten wood I think Confucius means someone who is idle and non-diligent, someone who cannot be taught because of the way they live and study; someone who is unlearned only because they are too lazy to work for knowledge. I was inspired by this quote and have been trying hard to purge myself of my ‘rottenness’ and learn as best I can. I used something I love – philosophy – and wove it into a purpose while in China, connecting me to Beijing and Chinese culture while honoring my own interests, and now I have found my place.

I think that as long as I am purpose driven and remind myself every day why I came to Beijing in the first place – to study Chinese! – it is difficult to have homesickness, even if I miss the people I love, because by doing my very best I honor them. In the end I must not forget myself or the purpose I came here for: my friends will not, my family will not, nor will my girlfriend. If I genuinely care for them, I must honor my original purpose. And I honestly would not have it any other way.

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Making Friends in Jordan

Wast Al-balad; what a wondrous place.  I strolled through the narrow, overstuffed streets and alleyways, keeping an eye out for pickpockets, and soaking in the sights, smells, and sounds of my new home for the next four months.  It was my first week in Jordan.  Any confidence I once had in my ability to speak and understand Arabic had already been shattered by the Jordanian who stamped my passport in the airport.  Now I just resigned myself to the fact that I had no idea what was going on and attempted to act as if I knew exactly what was going on.  “Just be cool and act like you belong” I thought to myself, “just blend in; you got this.”  This calm assurance did not really help my nerves, but it seemed like right thing to do was convince myself that I had everything under control.

 I was in downtown Jordan.  I mean downtown downtown. The heart of the city in the country’s largest market which surrounds the nation’s central mosque, masjid Malik Hussein (King Hussein’s Mosque).  My task: to find someone to talk to…for two hours…in Arabic.  Needless to say, this was a little intimidating, partially because we focused our studies on Modern Standard Arabic, which is the formal Arabic largely used in written or presentation form only, and the Egyptian dialect, which is quite different from Jordanian, and partially because that was to become part of my daily homework for the semester.  Two hours a day of conversing in Arabic with whoever I could find.  Essentially, I was required to find friends.  This was my purpose in coming to Wast Al-balad, to find somebody that would not mind chatting with an American who spoke very broken Arabic.
“I need a watch” I thought, “I will start there.”  I found a makeshift table with a young man named Alaa’ sitting behind it.  As I browsed the selection, I made small talk with him.  He was genuinely impressed that I spoke ANY Arabic and soon invited me to sit with him behind the table so we could chat.  I ended up staying for several hours; he bought me a Pepsi and endeavored to teach me the Jordanian dialect.  He eagerly introduced me to all of his friends and associates as soon as they came near.  He promised that the next time I came, he would give me the watch of my choice and that is precisely what happened.   Every time I returned, I would have to practically fight him to let me buy HIM a soda or snack.  He always insisted that I was HIS guest and he would treat me as such.  This was the routine for our weekly visit.
This same type of experience repeated itself many times over.  I cannot count the number of times I tried to pay for a good or service and was rejected saying that it was a gift.  No amount of insisting would change their minds.  I cannot count the number of invitations I received to enter friend’s homes for a full-fledged meal or for a simple snack and a bit of conversation.  I was a guest in their country and they were going to be hospitable.  End of story.
The moral of the story: In my experience in Jordan, friendship is often more important than turning a profit.  They value friendship and they demonstrate that the relationship comes before anything else.  I admit that this quality does not always manifest itself in my life back home, and I hope that is one thing I can change.  Of course, some of the invitations are only offered to be polite and are not intended to be accepted, the vast majority of the invitations I have received have been very sincere.  Frankly speaking, Jordanians are great hosts.

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