A seattleite in jordan


Erin Flemming tells us about learning to get along with limited Arabic while working for The Jordan Times.

I had no idea what to expect moving to Jordan. Like any good reporter, I did research beforehand on Jordan– looked at photos, read news and travel articles, and spoke with people who had lived there before. But while researching a place before you go can make the transition go a bit smoother, moving to a country halfway across the world is going to be challenging, no matter what. I was eager to learn, explore, and experience during my summer abroad, but I really had no idea what to expect when the plane wheels touched down.

Looking back, I had a great time. I got to experience so many cool things, and met some truly amazing people that I’ll never forget.

Foreign Intrigue is a unique learning experience– and boy, did I ever learn some memorable lessons this summer. I learned that you should bring at least one pair of jeans to Amman– even in the summer. I became a novice candlelight chef due to an an electrical problem in our kitchen. I realized that I am very much allergic to mosquitoes, which led me to constantly reek of bug spray. I found out firsthand how dark the desert gets at night when my roommate and I had to pay for donkey rides to get back to the parking lot in Petra.

For me, the most valuable part of the Foreign Intrigue experience was being self-dependent. I am grateful for the help from friends I met in Amman, but they weren’t always there to help out. Even taxis in Amman are different.

Knowing only limited Arabic, I could communicate basic directions– “left,” “right,” “straight,” “here.” This worked well when the taxi driver was familiar with my intended destination, but oftentimes I wouldn’t know until we were driving down the road that he didn’t actually know where we were going.

After a clunky exchange of Arabic I didn’t understand and English he didn’t understand, I’d attempt to direct him back to the place I needed to go. After I realized no one could understand my pronunciation of “Jarideh Al-Rai” (Al-Rai newspaper, the same building as The Jordan Times), I carried a clipping of top of the Arabic newspaper to show in case of confusion.

Fortunately, I was always able to make things work, and I think that is what Foreign Intrigue is about. If the people I wanted to interview knew limited English, I found a way to work it out. If I couldn’t find where I was supposed to meet a friend, I kept asking and wandering around until I figured it out. When my roommate’s iPhone GPS sent us on a two-hour wild-duck chase in the twisty streets of Amman on our way back from shopping, we drove around until we made it home.

If you’re a blonde caucasian girl in America, you don’t stand out much. But in Jordan, it was obvious I was a foreigner. This made me realize how huge the world is, and helped shake some of the US-centric mindset that comes naturally with spending 21 years in a country.

Oftentimes, Jordanians would apologize to me that their English wasn’t good– but many of these times, they spoke English far better than I spoke Arabic. I was constantly surprised by the apologetic nature of these interactions, when I was coming from a country where many people still think if you don’t speak the native language, you shouldn’t be living there. Their tolerance and kindness stays with me today, as I encounter others from different countries.

Foreign Intrigue changed me for the better. Living out of two suitcases made me realize how little I need to be happy. Being the minority in a country gave me a broader perspective in life. And I believe most importantly, my experiences gave me confidence in my abilities as a journalist and person. I am very grateful for this experience, and I am excited for all to come who will participate in the Foreign Intrigue program.