Students flock to Jordan to study in tamer Mideast

An increasing number of Americans interested in Arabic have been flocking to Jordan” – reports Dave Gavlak of the Associated Press in his article ‘Students flock to Jordan to study in tamer Mideast,’ adding:

Young Americans studying Arabic like to joke that Jordan is “Middle East Lite” — a safe way into a tumultuous region without Lebanon’s violence, Syria’s tense relationship with the U.S. or the Gulf’s conservative culture …

… The capital, Amman, lacks much of the history and color that attract Americans to Cairo, the most popular destination for foreign students who want to learn Arabic. But Amman comes without the air pollution and crowds that plague Egypt’s capital.

Pardon me while I wipe the coffee off my computer screen as I happened to be drinking it when I read that Amman lacks history and color …

… as I recall seeing in a single day in Amman:

  1. Hill of the Citadel
  2. Temple of Hercules
  3. National Archaeological Museum of Jordan
  4. The Roman Amphitheater in Amman
  5. King Abdullah I Mosque

And while I would have like to have seen the King Hussein Ben Talal Mosque this last time around, my group’s close proximity to the Dead Sea and Umm Qais inspired other plans. Moreover, in both my visits, I found Amman a safe place to walk about on my own at night with many of the city’s residents eager to engage in commerce and conversation with me by day.

University of Wisconsin at Green Bay stand w/friends in from of the Jordan University Language Center

University of Wisconsin at Green Bay stand w/friends in from of the Jordan University Language Center

Perhaps is this mix of old and new that inspired the AP writer to describe Liza Hester, an Arabic student from Maine’s Colby College, as follows:

She speculated that places like Egypt and Yemen would be more difficult to navigate and said her college would not give her credit for Arabic classes taken in countries on the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory list, such as Syria and Lebanon.

Jordan, perhaps best known as home of the ancient red rock city of Petra, has generally been safe for foreigners despite an occasional flare-up in violence. A Palestinian gunman wounded six people outside a popular Roman amphitheater in Amman earlier this summer, while triple hotel blasts claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq killed 63 people in 2005.

Hmmm … then again, perhaps Mr. Gavlak hasn’t really enjoyed the famous Jordanian hospitality?

Let me just set the record straight here folks: yes, there have been a couple of incidents of violence in Jordan – some directed at tourists – however as a former resident of both Washington D.C. and New York City, I found Amman far safer and far friendlier than either of my former places of residence.

The AP article goes on to point out other advantages of studying in Jordan:

More than 300 Americans are expected to study Arabic at the University of Jordan in the fall, making up over half of this year’s class of 600 students.

The size of the program has tripled since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, said Tawfiq Omar, the academic adviser for foreigners learning Arabic at the university.

It is the largest of more than 30 Arabic language programs offered in Jordan. Many charge about $2,000 per year in tuition — less than the cost of many programs in countries like Egypt and Syria …

… Jordan’s moderate government has encouraged Americans to visit the country, hoping the exchange will reduce misconceptions about the Middle East …

… A large number of Jordanians in Amman speak at least a little English, which makes the transition easier for Americans who come to the country to learn Arabic for the first time. Also, many signs in the country are posted in both English and Arabic.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me, to others as well as I list below a few recent blog posts and articles bay and/or of students studying Arabic in Jordan:

Oh, and while some, like the the skeptical voices over at the Black Iris blog, might speculate that Americans ‘Learning Arabic In Jordan‘ is simply some sort of covert CIA and/or NSA program – those of us who understand and appreciate the ever growing global economy know that as the Middle East expands into markets other than oil that a knowledge of Arabic will open several doors to several opportunities.

For example, it is not that far fetched that U.S. companies high-tech wouldn’t mind having additional pools of talent from which to draw as countries such as India continue to price themselves out of the market.

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