Cox, William Owen

Name: William Owen Cox
Location of Study: Cairo, Egypt
Program of Study: AMIDEAST Learn and Serve in Egypt (Summer)
Sponsor(s): Susan Scribner Mirza

A brief personal bio:

I am an Arabic major at the University of Notre Dame.  I like to travel and experience new cultures.  I have spent the spring term studying abroad in London.  I have toured around Europe and it has been a wonderful learning experience.  Meeting people from different countries and spending time with them has led to so many interesting insights.  I’ve had discussions and debates on a wide variety of issues whilst spending time traveling and I’ve gained new perspectives from them.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

As an Arabic major, I had been hoping to study abroad in an Arabic speaking country to get a better handle on the language and immerse myself in the culture.  I was supposed to study in Cairo for a semester, but lost the opportunity.  My summer plan to study in Amman is serving as way to get back some of the experience that I missed out on.  I want to use the intensive Arabic program to boost my Arabic speaking skills and work towards my eventual goal of fluency. While I love Arabic and Arab culture, I also want to use my study of the language to help me with my career path.  I want to work for the U.S. government.  I feel that now, more than ever, my country needs understanding of Arab culture and my hope is that I can help facilitate understanding.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I intend to use my time in Amman wisely.  My class time will give me a better understanding of the language.  Learning the language intensively sounds somewhat daunting, but I know that I will be expertly guided in my studies.  I think my speaking skills are fair, but I want to be better.  I want to reach a point where I can say that I speak Arabic, and say it with conviction.  My inspiration to master Arabic comes from a few older Arabic majors at Notre Dame.  Everyone was of the opinion that those students were the best Arabic speakers out of all the Arabic students.  I want to be that guy; not just impress people with how well I speak the language, but also that I can inspire people too.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to recount my experiences while studying abroad, in Arabic, with native speakers.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to demonstrate significant tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to take intercultural risks by engaging in cultural and linguistic interactions that are beyond my level of mastery and comfort zone. (I copied because it is a great goal)
  3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write and listen to Arabic at a level of proficiency higher than that of my former tutors. (The older Arabic majors that I mentioned above)
  4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to place an order in a restaurant, go shopping and haggle, and read and watch news and TV programs, completely in Arabic, and understand the responses.
  5. At the end of the summer, I will be able to hear a native Arabic speaker’s conversation with another native speaker, and be able to understand what the conversation is about and pick up the nuances and colloquialisms.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I have a friend studying in Amman right now.  I plan to take a leaf out of his book and always carry around a notebook and whenever I encounter new words I will write them down, along with their meaning.  Also I will keep a journal.  While here in London, I have kept a journal and detailed my everyday experiences.  I plan to continue this, but I will buy a second journal and write everything in Arabic. Whenever I can, I will talk to everyone I can.  I really want to stroll through a street market and haggle with vendors in Arabic, and (hopefully) avoid getting ripped off.  Luckily, I will be living with a host family, so there will always be someone to practice Arabic with.  And since I am living with a family, and since I like to cook, I want to try and learn some recipes for traditional Jordanian meals and help cook.  I’ll try and find some way to socialize with Arabs around my age and make friends.  My goal is to have casual conversation in Arabic, the same way I talk with my friends back at Notre Dame.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

!انا في عمان! الحمد الله (I’m in Amman!) It was pretty easy landing in Amman. I was so ecstatic. When I got my visa and went through immigration, the officer barely spoke English, so I had to use my Arabic skills to communicate with him. It was SO AWESOME /)^3^(\. I met my host family and I have to go to AMIDEAST’s office at 8:15am tomorrow. I’m really happy right now. Also, it was 102°F when I got off the plane!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Pony feathers! I woke up today feeling TERRIBLE! Achy and coughing with a headache. I think it’s the dry desert air that I’m not used to yet. I had my first classes which were very difficult in the state I was in. After classes we went on a tour of the city. Then we returned to AMIDEAST. I took a taxi with Omar and Jeff (employee/student respectively) to the Holiday Inn. Jeff and I got lost, but a nice Iraqi guy helped us find our way to my house, then Jeff got directions to his place. I hope I don’t feel sick tomorrow.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Our first weekend is here! I found a really funny show from Lebanon called ‘Mafi Metlo’. I couldn’t understand half of it, but I could follow along some of the skits. One of the characters is ‘Mr. Loughat’ (Mr. Languages). The character assumes he knows English really well, but always confuses his words. (ex. He substitutes “tutti-frutti” for “duty free”) It’s actually pretty good practice for me since I can pick up new vocab and listen for words I know. My roommate arrived today, his name is Connor. He doesn’t speak any Arabic, which amuses me for some reason. I went with Connor and his friends to a bar on Rainbow Street. It was pretty fun, but I think I like the folks in my group better. We smoked shisha and hung out. It was a beautiful night.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Quick write up before I read a bit and hit the sack. I can tell I’m learning a lot, but I need to focus on memorizing the vocab thought, so I can participate in class pictionary. Dr. Ali likes to have the class play it a lot, and it’s fun. However, I never get to draw (even though I’m great at drawing) because I get the words mixed up which would hurt my team. I wish my host family would make meat or chicken for dinner once in a while.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Oh man! The excursions we went on were AWESOME! July 1st, we went to the Dead Sea. It was so cool how I floated without any effort. And I was pulling up huge chunks of salt. I’m going to bring some back to mom, since she wanted dead sea bath salts. Me and my friends gathered up the mud and covered ourselves with it, by the end of the day my skin actually felt great. I also went to the place where Jesus was baptized. July 7th: So I just got back from Wadi Rum/Petra. I loved it! Wadi Rum was exciting and spectacular and breathtaking. My keffiyeh was really effective. I kind of wish I wore my dishdasha, but without pants underneath it would have been awkward riding the camels. We drove out to the campsite in trucks, I was in a group with Mike, Ben, Nick and Rob. We made a couple stops then reached the campsite. The camel rides were a bit of a let down since they were just being led around by an old man for 5 minutes. But afterwards, me and the other AMIDEAST students sat on a cliff and just chatted and watched the sun go down. I slept outside the tents with the other students, looking up at the stars. SO MANY STARS! It was beautiful. The next morning I woke up at around 5:30am, before the sun came up. It was so silent I could hear the sand shifting under my feet. It was unbelievable. Then I climbed barefoot up a cliff overlooking the camp and watched the sunrise. My god, that’s an experience I will never ever forget. My pictures don’t do it justice. After a couple hours we packed up and drove to Petra. It was so cool seeing the Treasury like in Indiana Jones. Me and some folks in my group decided to climb up a cliff via stone steps thousands of years old. We ended up being probably 200 feet or more over the valley. Then after lunch, to get back to the bus, I rented a horse and galloped back to the main gate. It was so COOL! It was unforgettable.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

So today is my last night in Amman. I just got back from Jerusalem. It was pretty cool. I packed 99% of my stuff and tomorrow morning I’ll go to AMIDEAST to catch the bus to the airport. MY Arabic definitely got better. When i was getting to and from the border of Israel, the taxi drivers tried to overcharge me, but I called them out on it and negotiated a fair price, all in Arabic. I’m really going to miss this country. I love using Arabic. I don’t want to leave the immersion, it’s so helpful. I hope that some day soon, I can return. My host mom has said a million times to bring my family to Jordan to meet them. I wish I could. Maybe in the future I can fly everyone out there and share some of the experiences I had with them. My travels in the Arab world are not done yet, but it is ending all too soon. I am glad that I am going to see my family and friends, yet I made so many over here as well. Extending my time abroad to go to Jordan was definitely the right decision though. I only wish I could come back for longer, maybe 6 months or a year at least. In shaa Allah.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

I think that living in Jordan really helped my Arabic.  The immersion was not 100%, but I had a good deal more opportunities to use Arabic than I would have had at Notre Dame, or in London.  I think that immersion in the language is the fastest way to improve.  Every day I took a taxi to get to and from school, and I tried to engage the driver in conversation during the ride.  I don’t think I hit my goal of fluency, but I definitely improved.  One of the most helpful aspects of the program was the colloquial classes, which made casual conversation in the city easier.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

I’ve learned to be more self-reliant.  I’ve definitely gotten a much better handle on different cultures.  Before I left, I was confident that I could be comfortable with dealing with new cultures.  I was right; I came into the program with an open mind and I readily learned more about Middle Eastern culture.  It was nice to be in another region and not see an ‘America-centric’ spin on events and news.  I would suggest packing properly, be prepared to bargain fiercely and try new things.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I think that I am better prepared for language classes on campus.  I am also more comfortable engaging in conversation in Arabic, although I need to work on my listening skills (if the person speaks very fast).  I want a career where I can make use of my language skills.  I am working towards getting afitting position after graduation.