Jordanians gain new perspective after one academic year in US

[01-07-2013 10:52 AM]

Ammon News - By Rosie Thompson/ Jordan Times

AMMAN — Jordanian high school students and graduates on Sunday reflected on their experience of spending an academic year in the US, hosted by an American family and how it affected their lives.

“I changed my view about Western culture, but I also gave my host dad a better view about the Arab world and Muslims in general,” Mohammad Halalsheh told The Jordan Times at an event celebrating 10 years of the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme.

“Before, my host dad only knew the Arab world through the Western media. He didn’t have a clue of who we actually are,” the 16-year-old said.

Funded by the US Department of State and administered by AMIDEAST, the YES programme’s scholarships offer high-achieving secondary school students in 40 countries across the world the opportunity to live and study in the US for a full academic year.

Around 20 students across Jordan are chosen each year to join the programme.

“It’s a competitive process and we take only the best students. We look for children who have a strong level of English, high academic grades and social personalities,” Dima Goussous, the manager of the Kennedy-Lugar YES programme in Jordan, explained.

The scholarship scheme was set up in October 2002 to teach Jordanian students American culture and lifestyle, while mutually educating and promoting Arab traditions to the American host communities.

The exchange programme not only develops the students’ English, but also enhances their confidence and independence, Goussous said.

Alumni scholar, Farah Ayaad, spoke to The Jordan Times about her experience of spending a year studying at a high school in California in 2008.

“I met people who changed my life, who made me see the bigger picture, gave me confidence and showed me what I am actually capable of,” she said.

“It let me become the person I really am. It’s like the journey doesn’t begin when you’re there, but when you come back,” Ayaad added.

However, Goussous acknowledged that some students may experience culture shock once they return to Jordanian society.

“They are teenagers; they have to learn how to get accustomed to Jordanian culture again, so we provide them with a reverse-culture orientation when they return,” she said.

University of Jordan medical student Maha Bayayda, who spent a year in South Dakota with an American family in 2009, told The Jordan Times how she struggled to come to terms with her old life back in Jordan and suffered from depression for two-and–a-half years after her return.

“The US opened a lot of doors for me, but coming back closed them. When I came back, I had a whole set of new beliefs and a system of thinking, but I no longer had that freedom,” she said.

“I was bound by tradition and culture and lost everything I had. I found it very hard to fit in, and that feeling continued and developed into severe depression,” Bayayda added.

Since recovering, she has focused on her studies in the hope that she can help develop her community and promote women’s rights.

“I want to teach girls about the opportunities that are out there for them, and them their true potential to let them know that they have the ability to change the world.”

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