Kent, Matthew

Name: Matthew Kent
Location of Study: Amman, Jordan
Program of Study: Qasid Arabic Institute
Sponsors: Susan Scribner Mirza & Bruce Broillet


A brief personal bio:

Majoring in Political Science and Arabic, I have a strong interest in how these two fields interact with each other. Specifically focusing on International Relations within the Political Science field, I focus on foreign policies maintained between America and Middle Eastern states.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My SLA Grant is important to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, this will be my first time abroad so I will finally have the opportunity to witness and be immersed in a different culture. Secondly, as part of my academic interests, this grant affords me the opportunity to enhance my Arabic language skills. Thirdly, as someone who is seeking to have a career in foreign policy specifically related to the Middle Eastern region, spending a considerable amount of time will allow me to holistically grasp the different facets of the region, which in turn will better inform my decision making in my future career.

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

First and foremost, I intend to challenge myself to greatly improve my Arabic language skills. Specifically, I want to improve my conversational and listening skills. I will challenge myself each and everyday to speak and converse in as much Arabic as possible to accomplish this goal.  Secondly, I want “de-Americanize” my world view and discover what this region and its people are really like. In other words, I want to clear myself of all pre-conceived notions and enter into this experience with a fresh outlook.

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

  1. By the end of the program, I will be able to construct complex Arabic sentences using a variety of grammar and vocabulary
  2. By the end of the program, I will be to communicate with native speakers and classmates, describing myself, circumstances, current events, etc…
  3. By the end of the program, I will understand the intricacies of the Jordanian culture, dialect, and values.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I intend to “hit the ground running” by taking advantage of as many extra-curricular programs offered through the program as much as possible. Whether it be trips, lectures, or social events I will partake in all of them. Also, safety permitting, I will delve into my surroundings and see what Amman and the surrounding areas have to offer. Again stressing the safety aspect, I want to place myself in situations outside of my comfort zone.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

The first colloquial phrase I identified was one originated from a popular sitcom and it’s meaning is something along the lines of “are you kidding” after someone has said something outrageous. Amongst younger age groups it is a popular saying and elicits a quick laugh after its use. The context of the saying is intertwined in the comedic figure who repeatedly uses the phrase in the sitcom. Beyond the 18-25 year old age group, I have found it is generally understood but not quite grasped in same comedic context as the younger people do. I assuming this is so because the sitcom is popular amongst the younger generations.

Another slang term is one equivalent to “what’s up”. This phrase is much more widely used amongst every age group. The context of its usage is generally amongst close friendships or comfortable relationships. This term is appropriate to use outside of a formal setting. This phrase is similar to any other greeting between people with familiarity between each other.


Reflective Journal Entry 2:

A poignant issue was broached in class this week about “honor killings”, wherein a brother or husband kills a girl in the family after ruling that through her actions, she has disgraced the family. These events are not as common in Jordan as they are in other parts of the region, but nevertheless they do occur. They primarily take place in the more rural and conservative parts of the country and the government tends to stay away from striking down on such issues out of fear of disrupting the political framework.
Our two teachers provided us with detailed contexts to the honor killings and after hearing them discuss the topic it was quite evident they viewed it unfavorably. As both women and Muslims, they saw it as a great setback and tragedy for the role of women and on tradition of Islam. They based there feelings on the rationale that this practice is barbaric and archaic and sheds a negative light on the religion and region throughout the world.
A third person I asked was a Christian. Like my teachers, this person though it was a tragedy, but more so for the national identity than for women or Islam. This person did indeed knowledge the sadness felt for the women, but growing up in Jordan as a religious minority did not translate into remorse for Islam. This person acknowledged that they had long come to terms with these facets of the religion and if he were actually Muslim he would feel quite ashamed.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

My two teachers are of Palestinian decent so this opportunity affords me to learn more about this ethnicity that I wasn’t otherwise able to do so in the US. It is certainly a sensitive subject to broach due to the ongoing circumstances surrounding the Palestinian cause, but as much as I am able to gather they are very comfortable with their identity as a minority and proud of their heritage. Some of this sentiment might derive from there being a sizeable contingent of Palestinians in Jordan and a large percentage of that group being very well-off.
The fact that a large number of them are doing quite well within Jordanian society does lead to a minor schism between native Jordanians and Palestinians that rears its nasty head every once in while. The common image I picked up on from talking to Jordanians from different backgrounds was that Palestinians are quite prominent in the business community and native Jordanians fill the military ranks.
On the whole, though, Jordanians are quite unified as a society on the whole. Whether I was fooled by all of the “We Are All Jordanian” signs or misinterpreted the visible camaraderie between the different ethnic groups, I would say with relative assurance that the relationship in Jordan between natives and Palestinians is quite functional.
Getting to know so many Palestinians was something I will take away from my trip. I feel that in the US the majority of attention in the Israeli-Palestinian issue is given to the former. My time in Jordan has allowed me to build personal relationships with Palestinians, and build a previously nonexistent perspective on them.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

The general consensus I received on Jordanian attitudes toward the United States was that they were generally very fond of the country, up until its support for Israel. I can lump the three different age and gender groups into one camp because they all shared the same disdain towards this particular policy.

Because Jordan’s close proximity to Israel, large populations of displaced Palestinians and its history of conflict, any support for Israel is generally an object of scorn. These points have legitimacy to there claim, especially in light of some of disinformation believed amongst large swaths of people. I have heard on many different occasions conspiracy theories taken seriously. For example, the belief that there were no Jews in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and that the U.S. was a belligerent in The 1967 war. These are some of the more wilder ones, but on the whole, there is a lot of misinformed people on the relationship between the US and Israel.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

The biggest insight I gained into the language acquisition process was the difficulty in committing to speak the native language. I found that I was often timid in using my Arabic out of insecurity in my language abilities. However, I found that after committing myself to using Arabic I not only felt reassured in my abilities, but also pleased at my progress. Committing to using the language also made it easier to engage and understand cultural differences. I noticed that locals felt much more at ease with me after I at least tried to speak with them in Arabic. This change in comfortability helped me better interact, and therefore learn from the locals. Finally, I believe that I exceeded my expectations in improving my listening and communication skills. I believe that I am significantly stronger in both these aspects of my language acquisition.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Overall, my experience in Jordan was instrumental in bettering my Arabic and broadening my worldview. Especially living in a region that is not typically the center of pro-American sentiments, I was able to see, hear, and do things I otherwise could not have any where else. For anyone considering Jordan as there Arabic studies destination, I would strongly recommend it. I would tell these people that it is difficult at first acclimating to the new region and culture, but once that quick process is over the personal and social growth you receive is invaluable.

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

Fortunately, I am able to continue my Arabic education by taking the class “Media Arabic”. This opportunity to continue my Arabic study and almost seamlessly transition from the summer allows for no possible breakdowns in my language abilities. Outside of class, I plan on taking advantage of the various extracurricular activities such as the Arabic Club, Arabic tables, and speaking partners to further advance my skills. My experience in Jordan was formative academically, personally and professionally by applying a clearer perspective to these three aspects of my life. Academically, my Arabic is greatly advanced. Personally, I know my strengths and weaknesses in being placed in new situations and how I react or fail to react. Finally professionally, I am now certain that whatever line of work I have in the future, it will revolve around this region.