Finding Self-Love and Growth in the Middle East

A frazzled me August 12, 2018 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport!

As I enter my last few weeks in Amman, I ponder the important questions of return: What will I eat for lunch when there is no 1 JD shawarma or 70 cent hummus options? Where will I go for sporadic 5 JD for 2 Mall Pharmacy ear piercings? Who will I drive around with during the late hours of the night while listening to music and drinking chai karak?

This semester, I was growing excited to return home. I have been in the Middle East since the middle of August, and it has almost felt like my real life has been on pause for a second while I have been living out this sort-of fake life. But, as the days draw in closer and closer, I have become extremely sad, anxious, and hesitant to return to the States. It has been nine months, and within these nine months I have built a whole new life here.

With study abroad comes many adventures; traveling with friends and exploring hidden parts of the city, meeting new people and finding unique items, but the adventures that are less often talked about are the ones you take by yourself. Before coming abroad, I was very co-dependent on friends and family. I hated being alone, and actually feared being by myself. I came on this journey due to the ever-so overbearing need to find solitary contentment, and I can truthfully answer that I have accomplished that goal. Whether I pass time playing with the colorful art of makeup or the intricate science of fashion, try out different handwriting as I write timeless poetry or indulge in historical fiction, it is time just for me where I get to explore the realms of my creativity. The people you meet during your time abroad all shape you in many different ways, but, the person you find in yourself is always the person you least expected to meet.

One of the most important skills I have developed while being abroad is my confidence in speaking and using my voice. Because I came to Jordan with very broken Arabic, it took a lot of confidence to use my voice to talk to people and ask for things on a normal day to day basis. But, one does not acquire a language by being shy to speak it, and because my desire to be able to speak Arabic is rooted in deeper identity reasons, I took it upon myself to always practice no matter how much I failed to express myself. The best part about this was that because this country grew to feel like home to me, I became extremely comfortable speaking Arabic. Even Jordanians will agree that Arabic is an extremely hard language to learn, and because of this, instead of laughing at you for saying or pronouncing something incorrectly, they are proud that you are learning Arabic and politely correct you. Furthermore, I decided to take it upon myself to improve my general public speaking skills. I began performing in poetry slams and stomping on my anxiety. Coming from marginalized backgrounds and having an identity that is undoubtedly politicized puts you in many situations where having a strong voice is not a skill, but a requirement. Being told by friends and colleagues that they admire how confident I am is one of many rewards in the arduous journey of building my voice.  

Additionally, I have always had the plan to go to law school straight after undergrad. But, since being here, I have come across many people who have graduated undergrad and are doing a year abroad, either taking their language studies to the next level, teaching English, or doing research. I have become aware of so many post-graduate opportunities that exist that I would love to indulge in to provide myself with more experiences and more knowledge before entering law school. That being said, studying abroad as well has strengthened my desire to be an international human rights lawyer. In regards to visiting several neighboring countries in the Middle East, child labor and access to education has become a consistent developmental issue I have noticed, especially in areas that are more poverty stricken or refugee populated, and it is my career and personal goal to be able to make a change in that area. 

Being a runner in Amman, Jordan, meant having to run on very hilly streets. As a runner from the Midwest, the first few months here were inexplicably hard. I tried to find flat land that I could run longer distances on, and after realizing that that is actually impossible to find in this city, I had to activate my quads and work my runs up those hills. As well, since the running scene here is borderline non-existent, I had to accept the fact that not only was I going to be stared at, I was going to be harassed by cars passing me on the street. Of course this was annoyingly frustrating, but persevered, and most importantly, proud of myself for not succumbing to the discouragement. I ran my 2nd official half marathon while abroad in Petra, Jordan, and, my 1st official marathon in Bethlehem, Palestine!

Accomplishing my goal of running my first marathon abroad shaped my experience here in a very unique way. This semester I was in an intensive Arabic program, where I had Arabic classes for six hours a day on top of hours of homework at night. This meant that I had to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning everyday to train for this marathon. Training abroad taught me diligence and made me physically and mentally stronger.

As I look back on my time here, there is not a thing I would change. I am beyond grateful for every bad and every good experience I have had here. The other day, I was reading over my journal entry that I wrote while sitting in the Frankfurt International airport during my layover on my way here. The last lines of the entry wrote:

“It was now time to board my next flight. This flight lead me towards nine months of growth and an unimaginable amount of knowledge. The only thing left that I had to do to get there, was simply scan my boarding pass and cross the gate.”

With tears in my eyes, I now unwillingly have to close this chapter and continue trekking forward. Adjusting to life back home is my next big task, and until then, I will be giving all of my last love (and money) that I have left to give to Jordan. My time here is up, and as astounded as I am, I am not surprised at how fast these nine months went by.

It is ma’a salama for now, not forever.

-Sofia

Me nine-months later in my 2nd home, Jordan!

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