Author Archives: Sofia in Jordan

About Sofia in Jordan

Hello! My name is Sofia Sinnokrot and I am a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I will be studying in Amman, Jordan for the 2018-2019 academic school year. I am currently on the road to running my first marathon as I push to train on the hard hills of Amman. Overall, my goal is to improve my Arabic language skills and knowledge on middle east history and affairs. I am particularly interested in international human rights with middle eastern refugees and the laws surrounding this topic. Inshallah I will travel and explore bordering countries as well!

Dreams of Jordan and Struggling With the Meaning of Home

It is half past midnight and I am sitting in my favorite cafe in first circle finishing up an overdue blog post. The music shuffles between soft Arabic music and covers of random American songs, and the whift of Turkish coffee programs another three hours of energy into my body. My best friend is blowing up my phone to come outside so we can start our night. I close my laptop and say goodbye to the waiters I have grown close with, and the graphic walls that have witnessed many tears, laughters, and creations. The best part about late-night blogging is the adventures that start afterwards: the shawerma runs, the chai karak stops, and the blasting of disco Turkish and Arabic music as we ride through all of the circles that make up the great city of Amman.

Or at least I wish.

It has been three weeks since I have returned to the States, and having to reflect on being back is something I hoped to procrastinate for as long as possible. I am currently sitting at a Starbucks on 35th and State Street in Chicago, as I try and talk myself into a state of satisfaction. Amman spoiled me with their intricate and unique cafes, and this cookie cutter coffee shop is far from an environment that induces writing creativity.

Reverse culture shock hit me the second I got through customs in O’hare airport and not a single person came to help me as I struggled to load three overweight luggages onto a cart. Sixteen hours before I was at Queen Alia International Airport, where no Jordanian man let me lay a finger on any of my heavy bags. Chivalry definitely fought against the perpetuating stereotype of women treatment in the Middle East. Coming out of baggage claim, the first thing I see is my mom waiting nervously for me, and immediately, the waterworks hit. But these tears weren’t just because I was happy to see my mom after nine months, there was something unnerving that vibe against me. Feeling like a stranger in a city you grew up in, to this day, is hard to explain to anyone who asks. Going home to a place that no longer feels like home was not something I was able to put into words as I cried the whole ride home while my mom wondered why I was so unhappy to be back.

I felt terrible to have my very excited mom question how I could be sad after being away from her for nine months, but there was no dictionary in the world that had the word bank to string together the confusion and tangled up emotions I was feeling. I spent months creating a new life and a new home for myself. I wasn’t just studying abroad anymore, I was living abroad. It was hard to close this chapter of my life, but it was even harder to say goodbye to everyone and everything I was leaving behind: my host family, my teachers and staff, the owner of the mini market next to my house, my doormen and his cute family, the coffee stand I went to every morning, and most importantly, my best friend Laith. Jordan witnessed a lot of growth from me, and I am thankful for each and every person I met along this journey that taught me love and strength.

I don’t want to get into a long spiel about the deteriorating capitalistic lifestyle we lead in America, but I miss the simplistic way of life that I lived in Jordan. There is nothing better than knowing that purchases I made from mini markets or small shops downtown went to supporting a local family and a local business. A sight that hit me the hardest was seeing the vast homeless population in Chicago again. People sleeping on the streets, begging for a meal, is not something you see in Jordan. Arab culture has a very strong sense of community that leaves little to no room for one to be without a pack. Jordanians are very hospitable people: always welcoming others and making sure, very thoroughly, that no one is hungry in the slightest bit. It is disheartening to come back to a place where the economy is much better, but the value of life is seen as much less.

One thing I will say I am happy to see again is public transportation. Jordan is still working on an effective method of public transportation, but it is a difficult topic to juggle with when taxis provide a good income for a significant percentage of Jordanian families.

It is hard to compare two things where they don’t compare, and even though I have begun to adjust to being back in the States, Jordan will always hold a big place in my heart. Now, as most students do when they return from abroad, I am looking for ways to go back. I have two more years left of undergrad, and after that, I plan to return to the Middle East; whether I am advancing my Arabic studies again, teaching English, or doing research, the journey does not end here.

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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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How Jordan Reshaped My Running and Writing

As a runner from the midwest, Jordan’s terrain has inexplicably taken a toll on the ease of my runs. I have been running long distance for the past six years now, and for the past year and a half, I have been recovering from runner’s knee. Runners are possibly some of the most adventurous people you will ever meet; no matter what situation we are facing, we always find a way to run and we always yearn to run. Since high school, running has occupied most of my little free time. However, when I was badly injured last year, I had to find a new hobby. Running is my outlet and it is my way of clearing my head and coping with my emotions. Without this outlet, I grew very anxious and agitated, and that is when I took up journaling and found my passion and love for writing. My writing ranges from day to day reflections, polaroid memories, and poetry. Studying abroad in Jordan has reshaped and propelled the runner and writer that I am today.

Running

Amman is a city built on seven hills. I come from Illinois, a state where I have to go out of my way to find a hill to do hill workouts. The hilly terrain of Amman, Jordan, has made my easy runs extremely difficult. What I would normally consider an easy 5-mile run, I now have to account for it taking longer with all the hills that tire me out. On top of the hilly terrain, there are no sidewalks in Amman. I am often times finding myself running on the street with cars (a habit I picked up running in Chicago is to make sure I am running opposite the direction of the cars). Because of the terrain and lack of sidewalks, walking is not common in Amman, so you can only imagine how much I stick out while running. This often times leads to cars honking at me, slowing down next to me, and other general harassments. To say the least, being a runner in Jordan has been a physical and mental challenge for me.

On September 1st, 2018, I ran my second official half marathon in Petra, Jordan. The course of this race was breathtakingly beautiful –emphasis on the breathtaking– and it was truly an amazing experience. I ran through the desert, alongside camels, Bedouins, goats, sheep, etc., and ended up climbing 142 floors throughout the race (the Sears Tower in Chicago is 110 floors to give an idea of the mountains I had to climb).

I am now currently training for my first marathon that I will run in March. My training, as I stated, has been difficult on many levels, but nonetheless, I will persevere, as running my first marathon while abroad is one of my goals. Living in Jordan has challenged the role running plays in my life, but I will without a doubt return to the U.S a stronger and more confident runner.

Poetry

Writing has always been something I enjoy, but it was not until recently that I started identifying as a writer. Coming from marginalized backgrounds, my identity is inexplicably important to me, and it is even more important that I have my voice heard. I have had numerous heartwarming and jubilant experiences while studying abroad, but I have also had many dark moments that took a toll on my time here. That being said, I would not change anything from what it is. The bad moments have pushed my growth and have shaped who I am and who I am going to be and are equally as important as the good experiences that filled me with joy. Everything this past year has influenced my writing. I never realized how much I love writing poetry and I would have never imagined sharing my deepest words and most sacred feelings to anyone. If you asked me six months ago who I was, I would have never told you I’m a writer, an artist. I would have never shared with the world (about 60 people, a mixture of expats and locals in a small cafe located in Jordan, a very tiny country in the Middle East) my vulnerability and fear of public speaking. I never would have imagined that sharing my work at poetry slams in Amman would play a big role in my study abroad experience, but it is the things you do not expect that reap the biggest reward.

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Finding Balance

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” 

-Cesare Pavese

Study abroad is strange in the sense that you immediately begin to build a temporary life with people you have met just days before. This temporary life, I have found, does not necessarily coincide with the life I live back home. As a matter of fact, the life I live now is completely different from life as I knew it. Because of this, I am constantly in a state of inconsistency. I am so used to the comfort of conforming with a rigid daily schedule: wake up, go to the gym, go to class, eat, do my homework, go to sleep. Now, everyday is a new adventure. What part of the city will I explore today? Which country will I travel to tomorrow? What people will I meet? What sights will I see? The best outcome to all of these questions never requires a rigid plan or structure. All of these adventures, relations, and experiences form spontaneously.

The days began to pass right by me starting from the Golden Triangle Trip where we traveled to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba.

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We hiked through one of the world wonders, rode camels through the same desert that Aladdin is currently being filmed in, and snorkeled in the Red Sea. The weekend after, my fourth weekend here, I was already traveling to Beirut, Lebanon, with my established friend group – people who I had just become close with a week or two before. 

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Traveling to Beirut felt like I was traveling outside of the Middle East. The heavily French-influenced city was very lively and filled with way too much to see and do than our three day trip allotted.

The beginning of October was when the off-balance really took a toll. I became anxious with time and my inability to time-manage without being on a rigid schedule; inevitably overtaking my emotions. How am I nineteen years old, living 6,000 miles away from my parents trying to manage school, an internship, social events, and marathon training, along with doing groceries, cleaning, and spending hours a day commuting? I grew frustrated over simple things like not being able to find liquid chicken broth in the grocery store, or not being able to have a normal monthly phone plan like I do in the U.S.

I accepted the fact that it takes patience to live this new “off-balanced” life I am now living. My days here will never be the same and that is privilege in itself. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to travel and to grow outside of my comfort zone, while most people never get to move outside of the small town they were born and raised in. Every day I am faced with a new challenge, and every challenge I overcome is a testament to my long journey of growth. There are many moments in life that are breathtaking. A recent breathtaking moment of mine was seeing my second world wonder, the pyramids of Giza.

 

My entire trip throughout Egypt in Cairo, Luxor, and Hurghada was filled with spontaneous adventure and breathtaking sights and experiences. But all of these breathtaking moments and experiences are opportunities to self-reflect and to simply take a breath. It is not easy to start a whole new life abroad at nineteen years old. I want to do and experience everything, I want to learn and excel in all of my classes, and I want to remind myself to take time for myself. The greatest lessons I will learn are derived from the thoughts I collect when I, just for a moment, find the perfect weight to balance my life and take a long, deep breathe.

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A New Beginning and A New Lifestyle

Marhaba! My name is Sofia Sinnokrot and I am a second year student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the 2018-2019 academic year I will be studying abroad in Amman, Jordan. Being half Palestinian and visiting the Middle East several times in my life, I do not share the culture shock that many of my fellow peers have experienced from the moment they saw the McDonald’s sign written in Arabic.

McDonalds

However, visiting the Middle East and living in the Middle East are two completely different situations; the latter in which I was not prepared for. In the United States, we take for granted many aspects of our daily lives that are additional privileges in other parts of the world. For example, Jordan is one of the poorest water countries in the world. That being said, my apartment is only given a measurable tank of water for the month. Once that water runs out, we have to wait until the next refillment period or pay a large amount of money to get a new tank before. We are not able to drink the tap water from our kitchen sink, and have to pay for additional water jugs once we run out of drinking water. It is emphasised that laundry should only be done on the first day that our water is refilled since a load of laundry requires a significant amount of water. Water alone is a major change for me to adjust to while I am here. Being a runner, I consume at least 3 liters of water a day. Not having access to water fountains in buildings is something that is actively on my conscious and an adjustment I have had to account for in my daily routine. Coming from Chicago, unlimited drinkable running water was a norm for me that I took for granted. The same goes for electricity. Electricity in Amman is very expensive, and drying machines are rare household items. Instead of having my laundry done in a few hours, I have to hang my clothes up outside and wait two days for them to dry.

porch

Life in Amman is very different compared to life in the United States. Most of the food in the supermarkets are imported from nearby countries. Thus, grocery shopping can become very expensive. Vegetables that are imported are sprayed with an extreme amount of pesticides and the chemical taste of them has made eating food an unpleasurable experience. Although I could go on forever comparing the simple life of living in America to the more complex adjustment of living in Amman, there are many positive aspects to each scenario. For one, I have become water conscious. With global warming on the rise, gaining environmental friendly traits is NOT something that should be talked about in a negative way. Jordan being a poor water country is extremely unfortunate, but I am now conscientious of my water usage. As well, instead of buying from supermarkets where goods are imported, I have learned to buy from local sellers. Not only is the food comparably fresh and cheap, I am helping the seller’s family as well as the Jordanian economy.

veggie stand

It is the little things that I do not normally think about that make adjusting to life in Amman a little bit more difficult than I expected. Nonetheless, I love my life here so far and I am very excited for the next few months!

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