Studying Abroad: Jordan and Israel

In the summer of 2012 I was part of a six student group that traveled to Jordan on a study abroad course led by Dr. Heidi Sherman*. Dr. Sherman convinced me it would be a good idea to go, and so I embarked on a journey with 5 other students I did not know, but would come to love. The course, which had a historical and political focus, and would take us all across Jordan, to Israel, and parts of Palestine, is still one of the most cherished experiences I’ve ever had.

As the daughter of Palestinians, the opportunity to go on this trip was thrilling. It had been several years since I had traveled to the region, and I knew this educational opportunity would provide me with knowledge and experiences only possible through a study abroad course. Every day was full of memories, both strange ones and amazing ones. I will recount a few here, but please know there are many more I want to share, but words alone wouldn’t do them justice.

  1. Saw every historical site there is to see in Jordan. Our first stops included Ajloun (an old Crusader castle), and Jerash (a Greco-Roman city), but we also visited Petra (an unbelievable site to behold), Kerak Castle, and other sites. The same was true for Israel: we saw many holy sites, and learned about the region’s differing historical narratives.
  2. Enjoyed a screening of a documentary that had yet to be released. I was so awed by the connections that Dr. Sherman had in Jordan, and they really came in handy when we sat down with filmmaker Sherine Salama to watch The Last Days of Yasser Arafat.” At that point, few people around the world had seen the movie, and Sherine was kind enough to let us join that exclusive group. It was an eye-opening documentary, and led us to more opportunities to learn about the history and politics of the region.
  3. Met and learned from experts. Our trip took place the same summer as the first Egyptian election since their revolution. We got to sit down with a professor of political science, Dr. Bader, and listen to him give his analysis of the situation and his prediction for Egypt’s future. We also met historical experts at each site we visited, and were led on different adventures by locals who knew the land better than anyone else.
  4. Slept in the desert. And it was amazing. We ended up in Wadi Rum for a day and got to experience it in such special ways. We rode camels, saw stone carvings that were created thousands of years ago, ate food that was buried in the sand as part of the cooking process, and slept underneath the stars. This is one part of the trip I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
  5. Visited a refugee camp. Jordan is notorious for having a lot of refugees, and we visited a Palestinian refugee camp that has been around for decades. We spoke with authorities that run the camp, got to see what living conditions were like, interacted with some school kids, and heard the stories of some of the residents. It was a moving experience.

In general, visiting Jordan was amazing because the people there are so kind and always willing to help. Middle Easterners are often noted for their hospitality, and that repeatedly proved to be true during our stay.

After the trip was over, I extended my stay by staying with relatives in Jordan before heading to Palestine. My immediate family joined me, including my dad who had not been back to Palestine in nearly 20 years. I learned a lot about myself, my family, and Palestine that summer, and it has provided me with a goal for my future. None of that would have been possible without taking the leap and studying abroad through UW-Green Bay. Since that experience, I have told every student to study abroad; in fact, I wish it was mandatory and more funding was available for students to do it. Even though each trip will be different, as long as you have an amazing professor, interested students, and help from the incredible staff in the Office of International Education, every trip will be a success.

*Heidi Sherman deserves a special shout-out for all she did to make the trip memorable. Thank you, Heidi, for convincing me to travel abroad, and for being a role model and friend throughout my years at UW-Green Bay. To this day, there are not enough words to describe how grateful I am for your friendship and for all you’ve helped me accomplish through your encouragement.

*The included photo was taken at Ajloun, the Crusader Castle. From left to right: Dr. Sherman, Morgan, Heba, Natasha, Sergei, Ayman (Arabic tutor), Ari, Dr. Khalid (Director of MALIC, the Arabic language center).*

Posted by Heba Mohammad