Name: Angela Lopez
Location of Study: Amman, Jordan
Program of Study: Qasid Institute
Sponsor(s): Susan Scribner Mirza
A brief personal bio:
I am from West Virginia, now a junior at Notre Dame studying Arabic and Art. I am currently studying abroad in Spain and I am proficient in Spanish. I am not a native speaker although I have roots in Puerto Rico. I am very proud of my Appalachian heritage as well–sometimes there’s just nothing better than a bluegrass song. I love music, and I am a leader of MariachiND as well as Coro Primavera de Nuestra Señora on campus. I have obsessive love-hate relationships with both of my majors, but in the end typography is my nerdiest passion, and language in general blows my mind.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
I was very self conscious of the fact that I did not speak Spanish when my last name is Lopez. I realized though, that language is an attainable thing, and that once you have it, it is a gift that is yours forever. The SLA grant will grant me the opportunity to work for something that I very much want. I want to be able to understand Arabic speaking people and work in an environment that fosters understanding between cultures. I would love to work for a design firm, even somewhere like National Geographic, as someone who can truly communicate between English and Arabic. Arab culture is one of the oldest and richest on our planet, and I am fascinated by the Middle East’s history. I hope that by becoming proficient in Arabic, I can dig into the culture and thoughts of Arabic speaking people and help relay positive messages between my own culture and theirs.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I want to be conversational in Arabic. I want a comfortable grasp of the pronouns, everyday vocabulary, present tense and past tense. If I can pick up an Arabic children’s book and read it without google translate after this summer I will be extremely happy. I also want a full on immersion into the culture, and I hope to come away with a good taste of the people, the food, the daily life, and how people express themselves through language, music, and art.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- I want to be able to read an Arabic children’s book with everyday vocabulary.
- I want to be able to read the newspaper.
- I want to be able to talk to local people about everyday issues (the weather, food) and get around on my own.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I plan to take some of the extra classes offered at the Qasid Institute to round out my academic study. I would love to be able to volunteer at the deaf institute near Amman if possible. Also, I want to find a native speaker with whom to have an English/Arabic exchange once or twice a week.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
It’s been a really interesting time so far, here in Amman. Four hours of school everyday (except for Fridays and Saturdays) is giving me a much needed review of the Arabic I missed this past semester while in Spain. The thing that is really kicking my brain into Arabic mode, however, is just being out and about. Simple things like reading signs and hearing other people converse puts the language into context for me, and helps me apply and remember what I’ve been learning in the classroom. Arabic language learning is made twice as difficult by the differences between the standard language which we learn in the institute and the Ammiya dialect that is spoken in everyday life, but I’ve found that the two are reconcilable and understandable through just listening and repetition. The first leg of my time here has been a productive review…now to find a way to apply what I’m learning. P.S. As always, the food is amazing.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Deep into classes, I feel like I’m starting to understand and retain the grammar a little better. Every little thing helps when it comes to retaining the language: reading signs, small phrases at the store, talking to the landlord about ice cream. I’ve met some interesting new people here in the city, one of whom is from Cleveland. He spoke no Arabic before moving to Jordan five years ago, and though he still doesn’t read or write the language, he is fluent in the Ammiya dialect. I asked him about how much time it took him to get to where he felt comfortable in most situations with the language, and he said 6 months. It’s so encouraging to be here and feel the progress I make day by day, and meet new people who have been able to learn the language.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Still trucking here in Amman. It’s been a beautiful experience from day one, but now Ramadan has begun! It really feels something like the Christmas Spirit in the air. I’ve been making lots of friends from around here, going around with them and listening to them speak the local Ammiya dialect to each other. To be honest it is discouraging that I can barely understand them at all, because what I have learned so far as been classical Arabic. However I am slowly picking up on their slang words, and the movement and flow of the language as they speak it. It really blows my mind sometimes how different Arabic is as a language. As I was learning Spanish, it was difficult at first to understand. But once I could understand, I realized that almost every thought, word, and structure has a direct translation in English, and I was able to pick it up quickly after that. Arabic, however, is such a different animal. There are so many thoughts, structures, and verbs that we simply don’t have in English. It’s slow going, trying to break the code, but I know I have already made some progress.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Having been in Jordan for the full summer now, I am happy to say that I completed my program with a passing grade and made some really wonderful relationships with both locals and fellow Qasid students. The program itself, academically, was truly a struggle for me; I often have trouble learned complex things such as a language in the classroom. I was able to get out into the community is different ways and exercise what I could of the Arabic language, and it was always a joy to do so. I had a number of small victories that have encouraged me to continue with my study of the language.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
One thing that I have definitely been observing in my time here is the typography and graphic design. I have been inspired, shocked, horrified, awed, and disappointed at my findings (a little dramatic I know), and I am so in love with the possibilities presented by Arabic script. I have collected many samples (magazines, packaging, bottle caps, match boxes, books) of the design work from Amman. I would like to work on my understanding of Arabic design and especially typography; I would like to understand better the reasons for what I’ve found, and dig deeper into the design ethic and methods that I’ve seen in my time here.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
The differences between Fuhsa and Ammiya continue to baffle me when it comes to the practical learning of Arabic. I would like to learn Ammiya, but I don’t want to be limited in my communicating with people from different regions of the Arab world. In class I struggle to relate what we learn to what I hear and see; it’s difficult for me to practice my speaking when I know it’s not the common language of the people. My hope for the future is to be able to come back to this area, possibly Amman specifically, and work in design while picking up more of the Ammiya that I’ve missed out on this summer. I feel as though I have a much stronger grasp on the Fuhsa, or at least I’m beginning to understand how the language works. But in a practical way I would love to become simply more fluent in the daily language, I want to be able to communicate with people more easily and express myself clearly.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
I was able during my time in Jordan to gain really valuable insights into Jordanian culture. My eyes were opened to just how different a culture can be, while at the same time the people within different cultures can be very similar. I made some new friends and was able to see how language affects thought, action, and society. My language goals were not met, but they were redefined. Arabic is really a beautiful challenge and I struggle tremendously with it in the classroom. However, I did find myself slowly being able to pick up more of what I heard on the streets and talking with people in daily contexts. I hope to be able to go back soon and do less classroom learning, and more learning from day to day interactions.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
From this experience, I brought back a better understanding of the history of that region, and how it affects life today. This historical context helped me to see better the issues, problems, and beauty of what is going on in small and large ways in Jordan and most of the Middle East. I greatly enjoyed learning how people think, how different generations view things in Jordan, and how class divides run through the population. My advice to anyone trying to get an SLA grant would be, don’t worry too much about the class time. Go out and see everything you can, speak with everyone you can. Find someone who’s English isn’t great and live with them if possible. One sure way to not learn a language is to live with people who speak your language.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
From here, I am seriously considering going back to Jordan to live and work for a year or so after graduation. I want my Arabic to be fully conversational, and I know the only way I can do that is through countless conversations. I have been networking with people I met this past summer through the SLA grant and looking at job options. Through this summer’s experiences, I realized that Arabic IS in fact attainable, but it will require probably years of immersion. My experience helped me decide that I do want Arabic, and I am currently looking at ways to immerse myself for a longer time in an Arabic speaking country.