Service-Learning in Jordan

After reaching a decision to study abroad in Jordan, and only after researching a multitude of programs, I applied to International Studies Abroad (ISA). ISA, as a fairly new study abroad program, seemed to satisfy both my academic and personal endeavors, and my budget too. Upon a further look into the program, I was surprised by the overall options ISA actually offered, in terms of its locations, sessions, courses, and opportunities. I decided to enroll in the Fall 2015 Jordan program, and noticed many course options that are similar to courses offered at my home institution in the U.S., including Arab/Israeli Conflict, Gender in Islam, U.S. Foreign Policy, and Arabic Language. Although these course descriptions were surely more advanced and detailed than that of my home institution’s, I envisioned a similar academic experience throughout my time in Jordan as in the U.S.. This predetermined vision would soon prove to be wrong, in the best way possible.

Although I had first settled on ISA’s basic Fall 2015 program in Jordan, I later decided to look into other options offered. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon something called “service-learning.” This component, in addition to regular coursework, is an add-on option to a semester abroad with ISA, one that is only offered in a limited amount of countries, and takes students “beyond the classroom experience” to provide them with the ability to work with local non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). After having discovered this opportunity, I immediately emailed ISA staff, and added the service-learning component to my program in Jordan. This was probably one of the best decisions in my life.

Currently I am dually enrolled as a student at The University of Amman Ahliyya, and as a volunteer English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at my placement NGO. My specific placement NGO is called The Family Development Association. This association works under the umbrella of the Ministry of Social Development in Jordan, and serves as a kindergarten school and host for various other programs, including an ESL workshop. My participation at The Family Development Association allows me to work with a variety of target groups, including a kindergarten group (ages 4-5), a “Youth @ Risk” group (ages 8-14), and older English Language Learners (ELL) groups (ages 10-14).

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I volunteer three days a week at the NGO, and my responsibilities have allowed me to serve as both an assistant student teacher, and as an ESL teacher. On each of the three days I arrive at the NGO in the morning, where I first spend time with the kindergarten group until the end of their school day at 1:00 P.M.. During their session, my responsibilities are fairly widespread. I help facilitate various activities such as breakfast, recess, and lunch time. In addition, I am given time to host my own English lesson plan where I introduce the children to English letters and/or numbers and help them trace those letters/numbers (they are still learning to read and write). In cooperation with the staff at the NGO, we also facilitate story time, and arts and craft sessions as well.

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After the normal school day ends at 1:00 P.M., and after the kindergartners all go home, The Family Development Association opens its doors to the other two groups I mentioned above, from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P. M..

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My involvement with the Youth @ Risk group in particular has been a one-of-a-kind experience. These kids are often victims of financial, family, environmental, and social threats. Most of the kids in this group have parents or family members who are refugees, and in most cases a lot of these kids stopped attending school at an early age. The Family Development Association offers counseling specifically for this group, through its Save the Children NGO affiliate on site. I was lucky enough to even sit in on one of these sessions with the kids, where we created our own name tags and talked about ourselves and our interests in Arabic and English. I also work extensively with this group to teach them English in a fun, approachable manner. I have received amazing feedback during my sessions with these kids, and one of the young boys even stopped me after a class to personally ask if we could hold an English session every day.

In terms of the older ELL groups, my English lessons are facilitated in a more advanced fashion. I am able to do so because most of the members in this group have learned the basics of the language, which allows me to build off of their previous knowledge. In contrary, my lessons in the Youth @ Risk group focuses on the very basics.

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My experience with ISA’s Service-Learning program has truly been a humbling and rewarding one. Throughout my short time volunteering at The Family Development Association, I have established great connections across the all-women staff, and all of the groups of kids. So much so, the staff even asked me to attend a field trip with them, the kindergartners greet me with a high-five every morning, and the young boys often stop to talk to me after our sessions.

I am so glad to make such a positive impact on the lives of these children, especially since they have already made one on me. I could have never imagined my semester abroad as an ESL teacher, and having no prior teaching experience, I was a bit worried at first. In spite, I quickly built relationships with staff and students alike, and received great feedback from all of the groups at the NGO. This experience has made me appreciate the importance of an education as the gateway to a successful future. It has also opened ideas for my very own future as an ESL teacher abroad. I want to thank both ISA and The Family Development Association for exposing me to this wonderful opportunity, which has enhanced my study abroad in Jordan unimaginably so.  

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