Joyce, Nancy

Name: Nancy Joyce
Location of Study: Amman, Jordan
Program of Study: Qasid Institute
Sponsors: Susan Scribner Mirza & Stacey Yusko


A brief personal bio:

I’m a sophomore from Akron, OH majoring in Arabic and Economics and minoring in Peace Studies. I fell in love with Notre Dame at age 8, but I never could’ve guessed how many opportunities I’d be afforded here. As a member of the International Scholars Program, I work as a research assistant to Professor George Lopez. I’m a member of Student Government, I played tennis for Notre Dame, and I’m actively involved in the Arabic Club, among other things. I’ve been living the dream at ND, and I’m trying to soak up all that Notre Dame has to offer, both on campus and abroad!

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

As an Arabic major, my goal is to be proficient in Arabic by graduation. Studying Arabic in Amman will challenge me to speak Arabic constantly, to make Arabic part of my everyday life, and to learn how to live the language. Aside from my coursework, Arabic plays an important role in the research I carry out. As a research assistant for Professor George Lopez, I use newspapers and open-source media. I have discussed with Professor Lopez the value of using Arabic-language material, and studying at Qasid—particuarly enrolling in a Newspaper Reading class will greatly increase my researching skill set.  Eventually, I hope to work for the State Department, a Washington, DC-based organization, the UN, or an international organization where I can travel and use my Arabic skills and lessons learned from my Peace Studies major. Ideally, I would love to focus on international development to facilitate peace in the Middle East. Having a firm grasp of the Arabic language and exposure to Arab culture is critical to this goal; language is the most basic means of expression that humanity has, and peace can only be enhanced by demonstrating respect for other cultures and undertaking to learn new languages.

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

After studying Arabic in Amman, I hope to achieve a greater sense of confidence in my speaking abilities. In the classroom setting, I have been successful in writing in Arabic, but I hope to attain a greater level of comfort with using Arabic in an everyday setting. I hope to be well-prepared for Arabic IV (Media Arabic) upon my return to campus, in order that I might be able to use Arabic news sources in my research.  My greatest hope while studying in Amman, however, is to gain a greater understanding of the Arabic culture. Though I will be living and studying in Amman for a short time, I hope that this summer is the first experience of many to come that will allow open my eyes to the world around me and give me a first insight into the commonalities that connect humanity around the world.

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

  1. By the end of the summer, I will feel confident in my ability to converse in Arabic about daily life and current events.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will have more familiarity with Arabic media sources that will allow me to return to campus and use first-hand Arabic news sources for various research projects.
  3. By the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at the level of Arabic IV, equal to two semesters of proficiency beyond my current coursework placement at Notre Dame.
  4. By the end of the summer, I will have had a significant number of challenging linguistic and cultural experiences outside of my comfort zone that will have served to further motivate me in continuing to immerse myself in new languages and cultures.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Working towards proficiency in Arabic is my primary goal this summer, but one aspect of that proficiency is to directly expose myself to the rich Arab culture I will encounter in Amman and throughout Jordan. Trips to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba would be incredible chances to interact with Jordanians while getting a flavor for the history and culture Jordan. After researching volunteer opportunities, I hope to explore various opportunities to work with the Red Cross, the UN, Habitat for Humanity, or another organization that will put me in direct contact with native speakers of Arabic. In my experience, sports are an excellent way to connect with individuals of all ages, cultures, and genders, so I also hope to take part in a local sports league or to get involved in unorganized sporting events.          Finally, my goal is to operate under a 24/7 Arabic policy, meaning that I will only speak Arabic (unless it becomes absolutely necessary to speak English) for the duration of my stay in Amman. If I discipline myself enough to do so, I believe I will have maximized my language-learning experience in Amman.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

While in Amman, I am living with several other women who are also studying at the Qasid Institute. One of them is a PhD student studying Muslim-Christian relations, and from her, I’ve learned about a community of ultra-conservative Muslims living together in a neighborhood in Amman. I have also heard about this community from several other students at Qasid, but I really wanted to find out more from a native Jordanian. I decided to ask one of my teachers what she knew about this community and what her opinions were on the subject. First, I began by asking her what some of the rules were in this community, and she explained that all women in the community had to wear the niqab along with the burqa; thus the only part of the woman that shows is a thin rectangle between the eyebrows and underneath the eye. Men and women living in this community all study under a sheikh and his wife. Next, I asked my teacher what her opinion of this community was. I was not sure whether this kind of community was typical of Jordanian Muslims, so I was curious about her opinion. My teacher explained to me that the customs practiced by this particular community were the minority among Jordanian Muslims; rather, she explained that mainstream Muslims tended to be much more moderate than this group. She expressed disappointment in the way that the sheikh and his wife were teaching their students, because she believed this led to the kind of extremism that divides people of different faiths. I also asked a second person about this religious community. This time, I asked a neighbor whose store we frequented if he had heard of the community. He hadn’t, but he asked if I knew whether the community studied in a mosque or in a school. When I told him that the sheikh and his wife taught in a mosque, he responded that he did not hold this kind of “school” in very high regard. Based on my conversation with him, I got the impression that the kind of mosque school that the sheikh and his wife led were not very well-respected. Interestingly enough, both of the people I interviewed have spent some time in the West working and studying. My teacher, who had more of an official role, was very concerned with emphasizing that the practices of this community were not mainstream and were uncommon among most Jordanian Muslims. My neighbor, however, was less concerned with the reasoning behind the community and the differences between it and most other Jordanian Muslims; rather, he was very dismissive of the community, as if it didn’t carry enough weight or legitimacy for him to even be concerned about it.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Since I’ve been in Amman, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know the family of a friend from home. These friends were all born and raised in Jordan, and some of them have spent time in Canada, the US, and elsewhere to study. They are also practicing Christians, which puts them in the minority in Jordan, whose population is about ninety-four percent Muslim. In various conversations with these friends, we talked about their lives as Christians in a majority-Muslim country. Though these Christian friends of mine said they have many Muslim friends, they explained that life for them is very difficult as Christians. Living in Jordan during the month of Ramadan is especially challenging; their faith does not require them to fast during sunlight hours, but their geographic location does. Since they live in Amman, they cannot eat during the day; otherwise, they said, they would risk being arrested for eating in public, even though they are not Muslim. My friends were even members at the Orthodox Club, which was essentially a country club for Amman’s Christians. There, women and men were free to mingle, women could wear Western-style bikinis at the pool, and food was served during the day during Ramadan. My friends explained that during Ramadan, this country club was especially crowded, because it was one of the few places Christians could get food outside of their own homes during the day. My Christian friends expressed a great deal of frustration with their minority status, and they indicated that they wanted to move to the US as soon as possible (due to several other reasons in addition to living as Christians in a Muslim country).

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Each night at sunset during Ramadan, Muslims share in the “Iftar” meal (or “fast-breaking” meal). My roommates and I decided to invite several of our Muslim friends over to our apartment for an Iftar celebration, and we decided to have a hybrid meal of Mexican and Arabic food. My roommates and I made the Mexican food, and our Jordanian friends brought traditional Arabic food. One of the most delicious dishes I have eaten in Jordan was a special Ramadan soup called “harira”, which our friends brought to our Iftar celebration. They taught us that this soup is the first thing people eat following the Ramadan evening prayers, before eating the main courses of the meal. To make the soup, they first hollowed out a zucchini and a squash and stuffed them with rice. Then, they let them soak in the broth, which is thin and has a tomato flavor. When it was time to eat the soup, they showed us how to ladle the soup, the rice, and pieces of each of the vegetables into our bowls. It was a fantastic way to start the Iftar meal!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

One major issue I have encountered during my time in Amman has been Jordan’s high rate of unemployment, especially among the demographic between ages 18-32. Similarly, compared to low wages and salaries, Jordan’s cost of living is relatively high. Thus, many people I spoke with expressed a desire to move to the US in search of more and better job opportunities that offer upward mobility. One such conversation was with a cab driver. This driver majored in engineering at the University of Jordan, and after graduation, he began working as an engineer. However, he quickly found that his salary was not high enough to support himself and his family, and he decided to begin working as a cab driver. As a cab driver, he hopes to make enough money to move his family to the US, where wants to find work as an engineer. He believes that the economic opportunities offered in the US make it a better place to live than Jordan; thus, he has a very positive attitude toward the US. A second person I asked about their perception of the US expressed a great deal of respect for American work ethic. Unlike the US, young men and women in Jordan live with their parents until they are married rather than moving out of the house during or after college. Many also remain financially dependent on their parents until marriage and, sometimes, even after marriage. The person I interviewed was born and raised in Amman and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Jordan. Until she was married last year, she lived with her parents, and she explained that she really admires how much more independent young adults are in the US (she has visited relatives in the US on several occasions). Based on her visits to the US and on stories she has heard from relatives who have spent time in the US, she said that she believes American young people are more empowered to become successful adults than young people in Jordan. This, she believes, is an important factor in a country’s economic success, and because of this, she has a very positive perception of the US.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

My experience in Amman, Jordan this summer gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in the Arabic language and culture, to experience the excitement of Ramadan, and to meet the challenge of living independently in a big city. Before I left this summer, I set out to improve my Arabic language skills enough to speak intelligently on current events and political issues, to gain a new level of comfort and fluidity in my speech, and to be advanced enough to enroll in Arabic IV as a junior. I was successful in completing several of these goals. I am now enrolled in Arabic IV, I have a new vocabulary set that allows me to speak on a variety of political topics and current events, and I am much less nervous when speaking.One of my strategies for language acquisition was to operate under a 24/7 Arabic policy; looking back, this was completely unrealistic! I lived with four other Americans, and that alone would have made speaking Arabic all day, every day very challenging. Because I attended a language school geared to US students, I also found that I spoke English with most of my classmates.Throughout my language learning journey, I realized how important it is for me to be exposed to Arabic every day. After studying Arabic four hours a day, five days a week for 10 weeks, I found myself instinctively saying simple, everyday phrases (such as “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “sorry”) in Arabic. This constant exposure to Arabic in the classroom, on TV, at restaurants, and on the streets pushed me to try to synthesize the Arabic I was hearing quickly while formulating responses at the same time, a challenge that I rarely face in the US. Thus, my experience taught me the importance of immersion when learning a language.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My experience in Jordan this summer was so much more than a language-learning opportunity. First and foremost, my stay in Amman was a cultural experience of the kind that very few people are fortunate enough to have. My daily encounters with people of incredibly different worldviews, faiths, and perspectives forced me to challenge my own beliefs. Being surrounded by a culture that is so very different from my own pushed me to think about my own values and beliefs and to decide what is most important to me. At the same time, living in a culture that is so outwardly different forced me to also try to find similarities that would allow me to find common ground with the people I met. This is an important skill which will serve me well in the future: finding common ground is essential to building friendships. Secondly, my summer experience was a great opportunity to learn how to live independently. Notre Dame is very much a comfort zone for me, and the SLA Grant gave me the opportunity to live outside of that comfort zone and push myself to be successful in a new and different place.

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

I plan to continue studying Arabic as an undergraduate student, and I also hope to use my improved skills to listen and watch Arabic news sources. Beyond college, I hope to keep up with my study of Arabic throughout graduate school and to use Arabic in my future career(s). Although I am not entirely sure what direction my career path is headed, my SLA Grant experience will absolutely shape my direction moving forward. More importantly, my experience in Amman has given me the confidence to travel to new places, to live in a new culture, and to be successful in unfamiliar and challenging environments.