Jordan 2005: Looking Back A Decade Later

Monday, August 31, 2015 | Jordan (map)

Petra, Jordan, September 2005. Standing (left to right): Rob Lowell, Ian Lee, Matthew Southard, Andrew Farrand, Ben Jones, Emily Antoon, Jessica Ehresman, Mike Myers, Tom Hojem, Taylor Luck, Hayden Weiler, DeAnna Arabaty, Julia Robbins, Austin Branion, Lauren Gentry, Ryan Lospaluto. Seated (left to right): tour guide, Andrus Ashoo, Craig Hansen, Kristen Nivling, Lindsey Stephenson, Lindsay Zoeller, David MacDonald, Mariam Banahi, Sami Jarrah, Molly Langer, Emily Wright. Not pictured: organizer Sally Shalabi, Morgan Nilsen.
"I cannot put it simply enough: Jordan shaped me into the man I am today. Those few months would later lead to me finding my religion, my profession, my wife, and personal happiness. A semester well spent."

Taylor, a Chicago-born journalist living in Amman, Jordan, wrote those words last week in response to a survey I sent to 26 fellow Americans.

Exactly ten years earlier, almost to the very day, Taylor, I, and the rest of that same group—then just skittish college students—had been sitting awkwardly in the continental breakfast bar of an Amman hotel, sizing each other up out the corners of our eyes during a crash course in Jordanian culture, all the while eagerly awaiting our host family assignments and the start of Arabic classes a few days later.

I had hopped a taxi there from Damascus. Others had flown from California, Florida, Maine, Missouri, or Wyoming. Some would stay a semester and others a whole year, through a study abroad program run by CIEE in conjunction with AMIDEAST and the University of Jordan.

All of us came to Jordan from different backgrounds, shared several intense months together and, for the most part, went our separate ways. As the 10-year anniversary of our arrival in Jordan approached, I was curious to know where we all ended up. And while it can be fun to play "Where Are They Now?", another question intrigued me even more: How did those few months in the Middle East shape our lives?

To mark the anniversary, I invited my companions in Jordan to help me answer that question. I sent them a brief survey, and received responses from over half the group (16 in fact, with an almost even split between men and women, and between those who stayed one semester or a full year). Perhaps not everyone's life was as transformed as Taylor's was, but this exercise—while far from scientific—revealed a range of experiences even more formative, varied, and fascinating than I had imagined.

Bourek Meets World

Saturday, August 1, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Lucky dog: Several days after his adoption, Bourek has put on weight and gained confidence.
My sister, Maggie, was 8 and I was 11 when our family dog, Ilex, died.

The loss of our childhood companion and protector left an instant void in the house. So the next Christmas, I didn't hesitate in listing "puppy" at the top of my holiday wish list. I wanted a dog of my own so badly that it ached. My mother, mercilessly practical, tried to talk sense into me, pointing out how little time our increasingly busy work, school, and sports schedules permitted us to be home.

Today I can see that she was right—it would have been unfair to the dog. But at the time, I wasn't interested in listening. Until the day I got a puppy, I swore to the whole family, I would call my sister "Puppy". Unfortunately for Maggie, the innocent victim in this battle of wills, I have continued to execute the threat faithfully ever since—long enough for the nickname to stick of its own accord, long