Grace is from Meridian, ID and an alumna of the 2019 Arabic summer program in Amman, Jordan.
I grew up in Meridian, Idaho, where I had limited exposure to other cultures, religions, and ethnic groups. In my geographic bubble, the only information I ever received about the Middle East was from the lens of 9/11 or what I heard my family members discussing at the dining room table. For the longest time, I didn’t even know Arabic was a language. However, since beginning my Arabic learning process five years ago in high school, I have since found a passion for the culture, language, and identity of the region. While I have always loved studying Arabic, it wasn’t until my NSLI-Y experience that I truly knew I wanted to pursue Arabic into higher education.
I was accepted into the summer 2019 cohort to Jordan through AMIDEAST. I began my trip feeling very shy about using the language, for fear of saying something wrong or offending my host family. Yet, my time abroad has strengthened my language skills better and faster than any course I have ever taken. Not only did my Arabic improve, but I gained confidence through learning the Jordanian dialect and applying it in everyday situations. I made local and program friends that I still talk to today, I developed a connection to the local culture through exploring the city, I tried lots of new food, I traveled the country seeing amazing sites I never dreamed of seeing, and I fostered a lasting connection with my wonderful host family. Yet while all these amazing experiences helped to solidify the importance of Arabic in my life, it was my struggle during the trip that impacted me the most.
In Jordan I was out of my comfort zone, I was the eldest on the program and I was teased for being from the potato state (Idaho) amongst kids from Washington D.C and California, leaving me feeling ostracized and lost. In addition to struggling socially, I didn’t have access to any previous Arabic program at Middlebury or STARS like the other kids, so I felt behind and that my language skills weren’t progressing as fast as the other kids. I remember that during one of our unit tests all the other students had finished and left, while I was still sat in the room struggling over one question. I had spent the entire day before studying, so I felt frustrated and ended breaking down crying during the test. My amazing professor, Ustatha Wafa, pulled me aside and told me that I am one of the most committed students she had ever met and that my struggles are not my weaknesses, but rather opportunities to learn and that I need to engage more in class. That conversations single-handedly changed the projection of my Arabic studies. After that moment I made more of an effort to speak out in class and ask questions, finding myself progressing quickly in class; I got individualized help after school, I became more outgoing with my host family and got invited to more private family events, I became more involved in the language peer sessions, and I began developing friendships with the other kids on program. By the end of the program, I had developed a close connection with my professor and host family- both of which I still talk to today-and I became more confident in my language skills, increasing my OPI score by three levels.
My NSLI-Y experience taught me that I am stronger and more equipped to take on challenges than I previously thought and that I can become fluent if I don’t let the voices in my head telling me ‘I’m not good enough’ or to ‘give up’ get the best of me. After my NSLI-Y experience, Jordan felt more like my home than Idaho, thus I knew that I wanted to return to the Middle East by continuing my studies into college. I got accepted into some of the best Arabic schools in the country, but I decided to stay in Idaho due to financial reasons. While my current university doesn’t offer an Arabic or Middle Eastern studies major, only an Arabic minor, I’m continuing my Arabic experience in any way I can. As a freshman in college I have already been awarded an alternate position for the CLS summer 2020 scholarship, I studied abroad in Israel, I am the president and founder of the Boise State Arabic Club, I am an Arabic tutor, I received the Arabic FLAS scholarship, I finished my Arabic minor as a freshman, and I’m continuing my studies online through Qasid during the regular semester. So while I’m not able to continue my Arabic journey at Boise State University through my degree, I’m not giving up on Arabic.
In the end, my NSLI-Y experience in Jordan made me realize just how passionate I am about Arabic and what I’m capable of achieving in the future, but most importantly, it taught me that Idaho potatoes are best served with tahini.