Name: Jacob Kildoo
Location of Study: Amman, Jordan
Program of Study: Amideast
A brief personal bio:
I am a junior (rising senior) double major in Arabic and philosophy, from Grove City, Pennsylvania. I have had the privilege of running for the University’s cross country and track & field programs. I also enjoy playing and listening to bluegrass music, writing, and the outdoors.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA Grant is important to me for a number of reasons. Thanks to this funding, I am able to maximize my college academic experience by learning more about my field of study in a very practical, hands-on way. I will have the privilege of being taught by native speakers, interacting on an everyday basis with native speakers, and observing the culture in a first hand way. Not only will this experience enhance my intellectual life through its rigorous academic focus, but it will also allow me to view the world through a completely different lens. I have never spent time outside of the “western” world before and I know it will be extremely valuable to interact with and learn from people who have grown up seeing the world from a very different, often very opposite angle. This experience also contributes to my academic/vocational future significantly, as I hope to attend graduate school to study some form of linguistics—surely direct experience in speaking and learning foreign languages contributes to this skill set. On the whole, I hope to come away with improved linguistic abilities and a keener cultural prowess.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
First and foremost, I intend to learn. On one hand, I plan on learning Arabic as well as I can in the short time I spend in Oman. Not only do I want to take advantage of the professors’ expertise and teaching abilities, but I also want to take particular advantage of the opportunity I have to practice my speaking skills with native speakers. This is why I am so excited to learn colloquial Arabic, especially while I am around Arabic-speakers—I really want to use my skills outside of the classroom for once. On the other hand, I plan on learning as much as I can about the local culture, particularly via direct interactions. Furthermore, I hope that the interactions that I have can be more than just learning experiences—I hope that long-lasting friendships can come from them as well.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
By the end of the summer, I will be able to speak colloquial Arabic at least well enough to hold small conversations with native speakers.
-By the end of the summer, I will understand what it would be like to live elsewhere in the world with a totally different mindset.
-By the end of the summer, I will have Arabic-speaking friends from nearly halfway around the world.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
There are many opportunities that this experience will provide me with that I could scarcely encounter elsewhere. I plan on learning as much as I can from the Omani professors I will have, as they are surely extremely talented and learned in the subject. Furthermore, I will spend a significant amount of time interacting with native speakers, whether in the classroom or in an everyday setting. I will especially take advantage of the latter sort of interactions, as I cannot only learn valuable communication skills this way, but also develop friendships. I hope that through my everyday interactions with Omani natives, I can give perspective to myself and to those I come into contact with through our uniquely different experiences and views of the world.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Journal Entry 1: Today is July 7th, which means that my flight to Muscat will leave in just three short days. This is not my first time out of the country, but it will be my first time outside of what many would call the “west,” so although I am not particularly nervous about the traveling routine and whatnot, I am definitely a bit anxious about interacting and getting along well with my schedule and classmates and other things once I arrive. After I get there, I am scheduled to have a fairly rigorous, daylong orientation, which I am quite thankful for–it just feels like there is so much to go over and remember. Frankly, I am most nervous about how proficient my Arabic will be. I have been reviewing a bit over the past few weeks, but I tend to be a perfectionist and I just want to be so much better than I currently am (I guess that’s partly why I’m doing all this!). I was just thinking a few days ago about how nearly all the fears we have boil down to one thing: fear of the unknown. This experience is no exception. I love adventure though, and as much as I am nervous and scared and hesitant, I am equally ready to dive right in and get my hands dirty, make some mistakes, learn as much as I can, and do some adventuring. Anyone who reads this, please pray for me or send me well-wishes! I will send updates as my internet-connection permits.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Marhaba! So I just arrived in Muscat four days ago, and I have already experienced so much in this short time. After a long, brutal day of travel, I arrived in Muscat around 10 pm very tired. After packing my things away and getting my room all set up, I set my alarm to wake up in the morning to go for a run very early while it was still cool (I also needed to be ready by 8 o’clock for our orientation). I woke up feeling a bit disoriented and jet-lagged and put on my tee shirt and long pants to stay modest and respectful and got out the door. 45 minutes later, I was more than done. Ordinarily I would run for between 75 and 90 minutes at once, but there was no way I could manage that in this sort of heat–the morning and nighttime is practically no better on account of the humidity. But I have an obligation to Notre Dame to be fit for cross country season this fall, so I had to deal with a few brutal runs out in the heat until I discovered that there is a reasonably priced gym close by with treadmills! I joined yesterday and had a gloriously “cool” run. I will continue to train there and appreciate this hot, muggy Gulf weather from a safer distance!
The orientation day was quite long, but extremely interesting and fun! After a plethora of meetings on issues of safety and cultural adjustment and other things, we were given a tour of Muscat, which was incredibly fun! The city is organized basically a straight line, sandwiched between the ocean and a range of mountains. As I’m sure you can imagine, the area is quite beautiful, but certainly in its own way. It isn’t quite a desert, but it’s not quite tropical or beach-like either. We drove through all the embassy buildings, stopped to see the opera house, drove through old Muscat, and finally ended up at Muttreh Souq. This was my first truly cultural experience since my arrival. The souq (which translates to “market”) was nearly sensory overload as there were dozens of stores with all sorts of clothing and perfumes and spices and other knick knacks. I spoke a bit of Arabic with some of the shopkeepers, but it was hard to practice too much, as many of them are Pakistani and Indian and often speak more English than Arabic.
The following morning we had our first day of classes. Classes have been quite intensive, but also fun and manageable. I have 4 hours of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and 50 minutes of colloquial Omani Arabic Sunday through Thursday of each week. Both of my professors are extremely nice, helpful Omani natives who are patient and effective teachers. We have a lot of homework per night, but I can definitely manage it. It is good though, because it is engaging me with the language nearly constantly. I practically breath Arabic anymore!
To be totally honest, I must admit that I’ve felt extremely homesick since I’ve been here. There truly is a big difference between the U.S. and the Middle East, to the extent that even with dozens of nice people around, it is still possible to feel very alone. I have had a very difficult time sleeping since my arrival, due in part to jet lag but mostly because of stress and anxiety about being away from everyone I love while feeling so alone in a foreign land. I don’t mean to complain whatsoever, but I want to share the whole of my experience, good and bad, and I have had a few very stressful nights and out-of-proportion anxieties. Thankfully, I have been feeling a bit better each day so far and trying not to think in terms of days until I go home, but rather in terms of how I can learn to fit in and live more happily in such a different place, and I really think it is working.
To add to the cultural experience, we are in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan right now, which has certainly been interesting! All the Muslims here fast from around 4 in the morning until around 7 in the evening, refusing to take either food or drink (even water). Once the day’s fast ends, however, the city really comes alive, as restaurants and coffee shops reopen and everyone anxiously gets food and drink. Most people tend to stay up very late (often 3 a.m. or so!) and go into work a bit later in the morning, then nap in the afternoon, to my knowledge. It’s such a different schedule during Ramadan!
Anyway, for anyone reading this while I am still here, please wish me well or pray for me.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
So we just finished with our second week of classes, and now we are in for a gloriously long break for the end of Ramadan, which is called Eid Al-Fitr, which roughly means “The Holiday of Breaking Fast.” This means that we get all of next week off of class! Needless to say, we are all pretty excited.
Since I last posted, my experience has gotten infinitely more enjoyable. Classes are going fantastically, and I absolutely love my professors Nabhan and Faisal (hopefully I am transliterating their names the proper way). Despite the long number of hours in class each day and the blistering pace at which we’re moving through our textbook, I am undoubtedly learning Arabic faster and more effectively than I ever have before. Furthermore, I’ve been sleeping extremely well, enjoying running in the gym I joined, and have felt all around blessed to be part of this experience (thanks to all my friends and family who have been keeping me company via the internet and praying for me!).
As for experiences I’ve had since my last post, last weekend we ventured out to this place called Qantab, which is sort of a small town on the sea. We had to take a taxi, and despite the very short amount of time we’ve been taking colloquial Arabic, I was surprised at the amount of quality communication we were able to have with him, and with how well I was able to understand him. He liked our group and gave us his phone number for future rides (although, this may have been because he had a crush on one of the girls in our group…). Qantab was great! We ended up paying a man with a fishing boat to drive us out to one of the very small islands with an extremely small, quiet beach in a cove. It was glorious. The water was clear and warm, the sand was soft and white, there were fish and crabs within sight at all times, the view of the mountains and the cove itself was glorious, and I was with good people–not much more you could ask for.
Also, in that same weekend, we ended up going to an Iftar at a local Omani’s house, whose name is Salim. Iftar (coming from the same word as Fitr, i.e. breaking the fast) is the time at the end of the day when Muslims are finally allowed to eat and drink again during Ramadan. Iftar involves eating some small, lighter things such as fruits and drinking water and laban (which is sort of like liquid, plain-flavored yogurt. Certainly an acquired taste) to break one’s fast before the evening prayer. Then after the prayer is finished, there is a full meal. We sat on the floor (as most Omanis do when they eat) and while we ate we talked about our thoughts on Omani culture and our experiences so far. I could not help but feel so welcomed and loved by our hosts for so willingly hosting us in their house and feeding us from their own table. After they finished praying, we had a delicious meal of probably a dozen sorts of traditional Omani food, which mostly consist of meats, bread and rice, with some spicy sauces and a few vegetables, punctuated with coffee and deserts, including date-cake and a flan-like dish (which was all delicious, by the way). They even sent the leftovers home with us!
Last night, I just felt another taste of Omani hospitality, as our professor Nabhan took us all out to dinner at a more traditional restaurant. At this restaurant (whose name escapes me), you sit on a floor in little individual rooms for each party, with pillows lining the walls and eat from the floor. The best part: you’re supposed to eat it all with your hands (well, I should probably say “hand,” as it is considered impolite to eat with your left hand). This is the traditional way here. My mantra lately has been “when in Oman.” It was a bit difficult to eat the rice with you hand, but you get used to it after a little while! Afterwards, we drank some delicious clove-tea and just talked with Nabhan about life and Arabic and thoughts on Oman. He’s certainly one of the better people I’ve ever met in my life.
Reflecting on everything that’s happened so far, I can’t help but just be impressed and inspired at the way Omanis live. They aren’t focused on their jobs and their success and “getting ahead” in the world like so many Westerners are. They’re constantly focused on their faith and their families and their relationships with people. That’s the way I want to live my life. They rearrange their entire life schedules to allow for their fasting obligations, they love to get to know new people, they love their families and their chests swell with pride when they can talk about their family or faith. Lord willing, I have much more to learn from those around me in the weeks to come!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Eid Mubarak all!
Today is the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan! I’m very interested to see the shift in daily life, as the Muslim community will now be able to eat and drink during the day, and the night will not be the prime time for most businesses and restaurants to be open anymore. Frankly, I’m just excited to be able to go out to get some coffee in the mornings now!
So a couple days ago, I went on a trip with a few friends and one of our program advisors to the historic city of Nizwa, then to the mountain known as Al-Jabel Al-Akhdar (which means “The Green Mountain”). Nizwa is a old city that is home to one of Oman’s most important forts, along with a great, extensive Souq. We went to the souq first, which as I mentioned, was quite large, but extremely well organized. They had a large section for fruits and vegetables, another section that had coffees and spices and things like this, then another section that had trinkets and postcards and textiles and the like. The best part about this souq was that they carried hundreds of Omani “khanjar,” which are these interesting, curved daggers attached to a belt. The “khanjar” serves as a symbol of the Sultanate and is the country’s national emblem. These things are so cool. Sadly, it was very difficult to find any of them for a reasonable price, so I might have to leave Oman khanjar-less…
In addition to touring the souq, we also toured the fort, which was well-restored and made into a bit of a museum. From missing steps, to zig-zagging stair cases, to holes to pour hot date syrup down, this fort was extremely well defended in its day. Also, the view of the mountains and city and mosque from the top was beautiful.
After leaving Nizwa, we drove another 45 minutes to Al-Jabel Al-Akhdar for a short hike and some sight-seeing. We parked in a small parking lot next to a very old, quaint town on the mountain side, found the path we wanted to hike and got on our way. The mountain was perhaps the most beautiful geographical sight I’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s more like a group of mountains, rather than just one (like I was expecting), so as you are on the side of one mountains, you can look out and see the sides of all the others. It truly lived up to it’s name, as there is a multitude of trees and bushes and plants all over the mountain side. This is thanks to an extensive irrigation system the inhabitants have used for hundreds of years, called the “falaj.” The “falaj” is simply a small canal that carries water all across the mountain, then later down it, to be used for irrigation, bathing, washing clothing, and all sorts of purposes. Looking out over the mountainside, you can also see that the mountain has been cut into steps, or terraces, each of which serves (or used to serve) as beds for planting crops. We hiked down the mountain a ways, then left the beaten trail to walk along the “falaj” to the next mountain-town, then after seeing the town, we turned around and retraced our steps back to the vehicle. Someday I would love to come back and hike Al-Jabel Al-Akhdar extensively.
Outside of this trip, we have all mostly just been enjoying our short vacation from classes relaxing. Yesterday, I finally broke down and decided that I should get a haircut (I was looking a bit shaggy…) so I went to one of the Turkish barber shops in our neighborhood, one of whose barbers I was told could “speak English.” My information was about 95% incorrect. So now I can gladly say that I’ve gotten my hair cut by somebody that really does not know English at all. Frankly, I was a bit scared when he followed up his “Hello my friend! How are you?” with “know English very little!” But I was feeling confident and didn’t want to be rude, so he and I did our best in some strange combination of English and Arabic to articulate what I wanted my haircut to look like. I just kept saying “Aqsar houna wa houna (motioning). Nefs ash-shae bis aqsar!” which means “Shorter here and here (motioning). The same thing, but shorter.” When he finally understood my amateur explanation, he confirmed by nodding his head, saying “Same-same style but shorter?” I felt quite accomplished! Then he took about 5 minutes with a comb and a pair of scissors, and did a fantastic job. This man was a professional if ever I saw one. And he only charges 2 Rial, which is equivalent to slightly over 5 USD–Can’t beat that!
I will be excited to see how the celebration of Eid goes and how things change after Ramadan these next few days, so I will report on that when I check in again.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Well, this is it! We just finished our final exams (which went spectacularly well!) and have said most of our goodbyes, and I must say that the goodbyes just made me love Oman all the more. As much as I am excited to get home and be around familiar people and places, I can’t possibly express the extent to which I have come to love the people that live here. Their willingness to open up their country, homes, and arms to us foreigners is unbelievable.
As far as recent experiences are concerned, last weekend we took a bit of a snorkeling to see some Omani coastal marine wildlife, which included some dolphin watching and snorkeling. It was absolutely beautiful. I could write tomes on the beauty of Oman’s geography and it couldn’t possibly come close to expressing its extent. You simply must see it for yourself. This was my first time ever snorkeling, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Studying has gone very well too, despite a bit of sidelining with some seafood that seems to have made me a bit sick… No matter, it was only a short bout. Either way, we had a reflection session today, and it just occurred to me that I have learned a ridiculous amount of grammar and vocabulary in this short time. It has truly been extremely enriching, simply from a linguistic standpoint. Then, later on, my professor Nabhan invited all 11 of us in the program out to eat dinner with him and a few of his Omani friends at the same restaurant we went to before. It was delicious, just as before, and the conversations with him are always extremely honest and as open as ever. And what’s more, I was able to understand his Omani friends extremely well when they spoke Arabic! It’s sad that I’m leaving, in that regard, because I really feel like I’m getting the hang of these interactions in Arabic.
I leave tomorrow late at night, so I’ll spend one short day here tomorrow with little to do but pick up a few last minute gifts, pack my bags, and say some final goodbyes. I will truly miss this place. It’s been adventure.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
After a grueling 30 hour traveling session, I arrived home to my family and girlfriend on Thursday evening. After having been home for a few days now and having reflected on my experience, I am quite glad to be back around what is familiar. I must admit, though, that I really do want to go back and visit Oman again in the future. Looking at the changes I experienced from the day I arrived until the day I left, I certainly experienced unprecedented growth linguistically and culturally. I knew next to nothing about Omani culture whenever I arrived, and I feel like I left with a keen appreciation for the people there and their mindset. They are a quiet, peace-loving people. They pride themselves on being the quietest country in the Middle East. They have no conflicts between the Sunni, Shiite and Ibadi Muslims in their country, and they love that they don’t. They are culturally and politically aware enough to propound their religion and culture, while also stepping back and seeing the issues that a Muslim-dominated culture can raise and critiquing the people and groups who have not been careful and peace-loving enough to prevent these issues. In short, their attitudes are incredibly wise (clearly I’m generalizing, but this is simply based on the experience I had).
Linguistically, I went from understanding formal Arabic at a low level of proficiency to being able to understand nearly entire lectures in formal Arabic, in addition to going from having no understanding of colloquial Arabic to being able to converse with taxi drivers proficiently in the dialect. Compared to the steps I’ve been making in my language acquisition, this Summer I made a tremendous leap. And it just got my pallet wet. I certainly plan on returning to the Middle East/North Africa to learn more. It’s simply a question of when the next opportunity will arise. I would love to travel on my own, somehow, outside of an organized program. That way, I can spend a significant amount of time interacting with locals instead of just being in class. Certainly after the coming schoolyear, my grammatical foundation will be enough that I ought to be able to pick up the language very well simply from exposure thereafter.
The hardest part about coming back to the States is worrying about how I will continue to be able to practice as much as I was able to in Oman. I hope to have speaking opportunities with my Arabic-speaking friends at school, and to surround myself with as much Arabic as I can elsewhere. I simply hate the thought that I would lose the progress I have made. In fact, I aim not to.
Still, I am glad to be back around the places and people I know and love. It is wonderful to travel and see new places and meet new people, but it is even better to have a familiar place to return and familiar people to share it with.
I can’t wait until it all happens again.
Thank you for reading,
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
I feel that I accomplished far more than I even realized possible in the short time I was abroad. Over the course of five short weeks, I came to understand that the mixture of intensive classroom hours and constant immersion makes for extremely fast language acquisition. In fact, I legitimately feel that if I could spend just one full year doing exactly the same, I could be nearly entirely fluent. I interacted with my Omani professors constantly in Arabic, I spoke Arabic in restaurants, barber shops, stores, taxis, on the street–everywhere. It had me constantly thinking about what Arabic words I ought to use and how to formulate my sentences. Furthermore, our professors were extremely open to talking about intercultural differences, and often encouraged us to express what we both liked and disliked about our experience of Omani culture. They would then engage in both discussion and explanation with us regarding their culture. The whole experience was truly a fantastic way to learn.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
My best advice is to approach any study abroad situation with no small amount of humility. Be completely prepared to be open to any differences, at least at first, until you understand them. Being abroad is like kayaking down a river–you have to paddle to avoid obstacles and issues, and to keep on course, but the experience mostly carries you on its own. Let it, and be thankful and accepting of every bit of help, knowledge and wisdom you get. My time in Oman has taught me that people have the same hearts wherever they are from. Sure, people’s worldviews are formed differently based upon their environments, but we can still relate to them as human beings, even if not as Christians or Americans or whatever else. For anyone planning to study abroad, just remember to be open to learning and understanding what you see elsewhere.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
My goal all along has been to have the ability to relate to a group of people I would otherwise have precious little in common with. In fact, I still have very little in common with many Arabic-speakers. However, at least I can (somewhat) communicate with them now. Frankly, my interest in learning Arabic has at no point been vocational. I am more interested in learning about how to relate to people from a part of the world that so many make hasty judgments about. Academically, I do certainly think that learning a new language and adapting to a new culture is a fantastic pedagogical exercise, and I hope it adds to my overall skill set. I just hope that I can continue to use intercultural experiences and foreign language acquisition to make myself a more well-rounded person.