Alyssa Stenson '13 originally hails from Warwick, Rhode Island but is spending fall of 2011 thousands of miles away in Amman, Jordan. Here, she tells us about the factors that led to her decision to study abroad and her time in Jordan so far. Be sure to check out her blog as well!
How did you select your major in Middle Eastern Studies?
The Middle Eastern Studies major is very flexible and allows me to combine my interests of language study and international politics - specifically within the Middle East. Often, Middle Eastern Studies students have a double major in Political Science, Economics, or International Business. When I return to the States, I would like to shift my focus from Middle Eastern politics to Arabic translation. After graduation, I hope that my BA in Middle Eastern Studies will help to land me a job in as a translator, particularly in the field of immigration.
You are currently studying abroad in Amman, Jordan. What led to your decision to study abroad in Jordan?
I came to college to learn Arabic and start a career founded on my language ability. However, while my courses at UMass have prepared me well, I can never become fluent in Arabic simply by studying in a classroom. I need to get out into the world – the Arab world – and practice! That being said, Jordan is by far the safest, most stable country in the Middle East (especially for women). My goal is to become fluent in both Modern Standard Arabic and Jordanian Colloquial Arabic by the end of this semester.
As well as being a study abroad student, you are also representing the Gilman International Scholars Program. How was the application process for the Gilman Scholarship and how did you hear about it?
I am honored to have been selected as a Gilman Scholarship recipient! I found out about the Gilman Scholarship program through one of the periodic e-mails sent out by the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. The application process was relatively simple, but the awards are typically of high value and there is decent award rate; about 1/3 of students who apply for the scholarship receive it. I would definitely encourage all HFA students to apply! A Gilman Scholarship is more than just a check in the mail; it also grants recipients exclusive access to conferences and lectures in their area.
All recipients have to complete something called a “Follow-On Project.” The purpose of the Follow-On Project is to encourage other American students to study abroad. Some students choose to teach a class, hold a conference, or in my case, keep a blog on the UMass HFA page!
What inspired you to start a blog about your time in Jordan?
Keeping a blog is a great idea for many reasons. First, it keeps friends and family updated about my life in Jordan. There’s nothing worse than having to repeat the same story ten times to different people. In addition, my blog is a personal record of all my new experiences in Jordan. A few years ago, I went to Australia with People to People high school Ambassador Program. People to People required that we keep a journal while were there, and once I got back to America, I was so glad I had written often! It’s amazing how much you forget after being home for just a little while! Keeping this blog will allow me to remember my experiences long after they happened.
How well you do think your language classes here at UMass prepared you to study abroad?
UMass students have unique access to the language programs and Fulbright scholars of five of America’s top colleges. In addition to my regular FusHa courses (Formal, Shakespearian-like Arabic) at UMass with my advisor Tayeb el-Hibri, I enrolled in two spoken Arabic language courses offered by the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages. My UMass classes focused on grammar, while my Five College Center classes focused simply on getting used to speaking the language. I found that the combination of both types of classes gave me quite the edge once I landed in Jordan. I have had little trouble talking to cab drivers, ordering at restaurants, and getting to know my host family (who only speak a few words of English).
What has been your favorite class so far at UMass?
My favorite class is still Linguistics 201 – Introduction to Linguistics with Professor Kyle Johnson. During my first semester of college I had French (10:10-11:00am), Arabic (11:15am-12:05pm) and then Linguistics (12:20-1:10pm). I was on a language overload! I had to learn three whole new alphabets in my first two weeks of college!
That linguistics course really helped me compartmentalize Spanish, French, and Arabic into different areas of my brain so I didn’t mix them up while I was speaking. In addition, it helped me understand some of the more difficult sounds and grammatical structures of Arabic.
Anything you miss about UMass now that you’re away?
There are so many things I miss! It’s easy to forget that America is one of the most advanced countries in the world, and that we, as Americans, take a lot for granted. First and foremost I miss clean drinking water! It’s taken two weeks for my stomach to finally get acclimated to the water quality here. In regards to UMass, I miss UMass hockey games, the Procrastination Station, and French Meadows iced mocha soy lattes! And of course, I miss all my UMass friends. Take a look at my latest entry for a list of American conveniences that I’ve learned to appreciate since I came to Jordan!
Be sure to check out her blog here!