Whether through writing, speaking, or simply listening, communicating with others helps us learn more about each other and ourselves. That proved true for Sela Dombrower, a Lawrence University junior from Boulder, Colorado, who used her growing Arabic skills to get the most out of her study abroad experience.
Dombrower studied in Amman, Jordan, from August through December. A math and linguistics major, she found it to be a new and exhilarating opportunity to learn colloquial Arabic and gain confidence in communicating.
While in Jordan, Dombrower wrote several blog posts about Jordanian culture and Arabic linguistics. Her blogs were a part of Amideast Abroad’s scholarship, and Dombrower seized the opportunity to not only fund her trip but share it. Writing for the blog helped her synthesize her adventures, feelings, and challenges in a way that made the trip even more memorable.
“It was an amazing opportunity to process my abroad experience and share it with people who didn’t know what to expect or were curious about what it was like,” Dombrower said.
Dombrower’s blogs can be found here.
Dombrower, who had never traveled outside the United States before, said she went in with goals rather than expectations. She took the adventure day-by-day, which she said helped ease initial culture shock. She was able to appreciate Amman for what it is rather than what she’d been told it was.
“It’s beautiful,” said Dombrower. “There are little pockets with Byzantine gardens, old Roman architecture, and white or stone houses. There’s a lot of great street art as well.”
One of Dombrower’s goals was to learn the colloquial dialect of Arabic to communicate effectively in Jordan. Arabic regional dialects differ greatly, but she learned Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which was her foundation for learning Levantine Arabic, commonly spoken in Jordan. Although learning was sometimes frustrating, Dombrower relished the opportunity to learn the language from the people who contribute to its evolution every day.
“When you’re there, you’re constantly pushing yourself, constantly extending yourself in new situations, extending yourself to communicate,” Dombrower said. “I learned to trust the progress I had made. …I can communicate using this language more than I thought I could.”
Examine how language works. Understand how it is used and how it shapes identities, communities, and culture.
Though speaking is a large part of learning to communicate, Dombrower was careful not to neglect listening, and recognized herself as a visitor within an unfamiliar culture. Dombrower put Western preconceptions of Jordan and the Middle East aside and focused on learning from her host family and other Jordanians, and found her goals slid into place.
“The whole experience of learning a language while immersed in its culture and talking to people who are contributing to the evolution of that language is amazing,” she said.
Her favorite thing about being abroad? The food. Jordan has many unique foods, but lots of Jordanian food is integrated with foods from other cultures, too. She and her host family ate a lot of kabsa, an Arab chicken and rice dish. Downtown, Dombrower would often get falafel with her friends, though it’s usually a breakfast food in Amman. Another favorite while out and about was manakeesh, a flatbread dish.
While Dombrower learned a lot while in Jordan, being abroad also gave her a taste of the knowledge she has yet to master.
“There’s still so much to see and learn, and there’s so many languages in the world,” Dombrower said.