Wdowik, Sienna

Wdowik, Sienna

Name: Sienna Wdowik
E-mail: Sienna.R.Wdowik.1@nd.edu
Language: Arabic
Location of Study: Amman, Jordan
Program of Study: Qasid Arabic Institute
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures

A brief personal bio:

I am a rising Junior from Fort Collins, Colorado studying Arabic and Political Science. I work as a research assistant in the Political Science Department, am a undergraduate fellow with the International Security Program, and love skiing, singing, and Shakespeare. I am thrilled to be studying Arabic in Amman this summer, and will be staying in Jordan to study abroad for the 2015-16 academic year.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

One of my main academic goals is to graduate Notre Dame with advanced proficiency, and hopefully fluency, in Arabic. Participating in the Qasid Institute’s summer program is the perfect first step in achieving this goal; the linguistic skills I gain this summer will allow me to participate in an intensive Arabic study abroad program during the upcoming academic year. Spending 12 months in Jordan will be instrumental in helping me attain my academic goals of writing a senior thesis in Political Science, for which I hope to conduct a portion of my research in Arabic, as well as graduating with linguistic fluency. My SLA program and study abroad experience will also allow me to gain critical linguistic, cultural, and personal skills, which will enable me to pursue a career in diplomacy or political analysis with the US government after graduation.

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

As a result of the SLA grant, I hope to significantly advance towards advanced proficiency in Arabic. Specifically, I intend to gain sufficient language skills this summer to successfully test into an intensive Arabic study abroad program in the Fall. I believe that the challenging classes and intensive environment at the Qasid Institute in Amman will allow me to achieve this goal. I also hope to become culturally engaged with Amman and with Jordan as a whole. One of the ways I plan to do this is by volunteering with the Jordanian Women’s Union, which runs one of the only women’s shelters in Jordan. Ultimately, I hope to establish a solid base from which to continue to improve my linguistic and cultural skills during my study abroad program next year.

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

  1. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will have gained the equivalent of two semesters of Arabic study, as evidenced by a higher level of proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, and listening.
  2. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will have formed connections with local Jordanian students/community members and will feel prepared to build upon these connections during my study abroad program.
  3. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will feel comfortable relying on Arabic as my primary language of day-to-day interactions – this will include conversations with friends, other students, and strangers on both simple (i.e. making purchases) and complex (i.e. foreign policy) topics. 

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Knowing that I will be jumping into a fully immersive study abroad experience in the Fall will definitely motivate me to take advantage of this summer experience as much as possible. Because I will be required to speak only Arabic at all times (with students, my host family, etc.) next year, I plan to use my time studying at Qasid this summer to begin to feel comfortable using my Arabic language skills in everyday settings. I plan to take full advantage of our time in the classroom, by taking risks and participating as fully as possible, as well as my time with other students at Qasid and community members in Amman. I intend to speak Arabic as often as possible, during day-to-day activities and while traveling around the city and country. I also hope to volunteer with the Jordanian Women’s Union, which will give me the chance to learn unique vocabulary and utilize my Arabic skills in a practical environment, while gaining an understanding of women’s rights in Jordan. Ultimately, I am excited for the many challenges and unique benefits my SLA program will offer me.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

My time in Amman so far has flown by – it’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two weeks already! Adjusting to life in Jordan has also been surprisingly easy, and it’s definitely nice to start getting into a routine of classes, homework, friends, and exploring the city. Ramadan started soon after we arrived here, which has been an amazing opportunity to experience another aspect of Jordanian culture. Waiting together at a local restaurant and breaking the fast with all the people there, feeling the ebb and flow of the city as people buy juice and bread to take home to break the fast with their families, being offered dates and water by a cab driver when the sunset call to prayer happens while we’re in a taxi – it’s great to see the city come together during this time.

Classes started a week ago, so I’ve been heading to Qasid every Sunday-Thursday morning for some intensive study! While a lot of students ended up switching levels, I’m happy being right in the middle of the intermediate level, and I think the pace of one chapter of Al Kitaab per week is going to keep me plenty challenged! Luckily, I love both of my teachers, and the dynamic of my 5-person class is great for getting lots of speaking and listening practice in. I’ve also been doing 2 hours of private tutoring in Jordanian dialect each week, which so far has been quite a lesson in humility! While my MSA classes feel familiar and manageable, learning dialect has been a whole different challenge – entirely new basic vocab words, different verb conjugations, essentially, a different language. However, after realizing how difficult it is to interact with local Jordanians using only formal Arabic, I know that learning dialect is going to prove extremely valuable in the end. I’m looking forward to continuing to improve in all my classes, and, so far, I’m loving the chance to focus exclusively on Arabic – it’s a pretty amazing language!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Happy July! This past weekend, my housemate and I celebrated the 4th of July with a trip to Petra – a famous tourist site in Jordan and a 2000+ year-old city carved out of the mountainside. Al Khazneh, the Treasury, is the most well-known part of Petra and the location of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…while we didn’t find any grails, Izzy and I did spot camels and donkeys galore! Many tourists see only the main attractions close to the entrance of the Petra area, but since we were there for 2 days, we were able to get off the beaten track and hike through some incredible trails. We finished our first day with a hike up to a mountain overlooking the Treasury, and began our second day with breakfast at a site of sacrifice at the top of a different mountain. Unlike in the US, Petra has very few areas blocked off for safety or preservation purposes, so Izzy and I were able to walk through and explore many of the caves, carvings, and other structures. It was amazing to be in a place of such rich history (some structures date back to 200 BC!), and it was nice to be in a place where my Arabic was comparatively better than all the other tourists, since in Amman my Arabic is considered pretty bad!

Now that we’ve had time to settle in to our apartment and get to know each other, my housemates and I decided to start speaking only Arabic within our apartment – when we’re together at a restaurant, walking to class, etc. we can speak English, but as long as we’re in our home we have to practice Arabic with each other! So far it’s been challenging, and it’s a little demoralizing to stumble through a conversation that would take only a minute or two in English…but, I know it’s good for us, and hopefully it will get easier as time goes on!

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

The past few weeks have been a great chance to finally enjoy being settled into a routine, take more risks in an our of Amman, and start to utilize my improving Arabic skills – with just under a month left in my summer program, it’s incredibly gratifying to step back and realize how much more comfortable I am with this city and this language than I was at the beginning of summer. I’m nowhere near done with the journey (and luckily I have all year in Jordan to continue to improve!), but the intensive classroom style and opportunities for community engagement and language practice this summer have been as productive as I hoped they would be.

As we’re finishing up our current textbook in formal Arabic, I feel like I’ve reached another milestone in my language acquisition, though the incredibly fast pace of our classroom learning means that a lot of the vocabulary and some of the grammatical lessons haven’t really stayed with me. I’m realizing that the words and concepts I learn and successfully incorporate into my daily Arabic are the ones I use most in my speaking – which makes sense, and is great for my conversational Arabic skills. I’m able to discuss directions, feeling, everyday concepts, etc. much better than at the beginning of the summer, and I’m getting to the point where I feel comfortable having an all-Arabic conversation with my taxi drivers or the shop owners. But, it has been difficult to realize how much of the vocab in each textbook chapter isn’t being retained. I’ve been trying to use vocab words in my conversations in class, and for the next few weeks I’m going to put in even more of an effort to do so.

Overall, while both formal and dialect Arabic remain challenging, I’m feeling very optimistic about the rest of the summer and upcoming year, and I’m enjoying seeing the results of the last few weeks as my Arabic has improved! Insha’Allah, it will only get better from here!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

As the summer starts to wind down, I’m feeling especially grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel outside Amman and throughout Jordan. While I’m definitely still enjoying and getting a lot out of my classes and formal training of Arabic, I think informal conversations are critical to truly learning a language, and travel is a great way to foster such conversations – I often find myself taking language risks and using more Arabic than I would normally, simply because if I don’t, I might not get on the right bus, find the cheapest option, or generally get to where I want to go.

Recently, my roommates and I took a weekend trip to Wadi Run and Aqaba, about 4 hours away from Amman, and planned almost none of the trip beforehand. While it pushed us out of our comfort zones a bit to be traveling without a definitive plan, we also loved the spontaneity of the trip, and in the end things worked out even better than they would have had we done more planning ahead of time. We had the chance to talk in Arabic to the employees at the bus station, our cab drivers on the way to and from the Wadi Rum desert, and everyone at the Bedouin camp we stayed overnight in. Thanks to the hospitality of the Jordanian people and our willingness to start conversations and, despite the language barrier, push for what we wanted, we found some amazing opportunities, like an inexpensive but amazing snorkeling trip off the Aqaba coast, that we might not have otherwise gotten to enjoy.

Even on side trips where people have spoken mostly English to us, I’ve really appreciated the chance to experience different facets of Jordanian culture. It’s easy to stay in the Amman bubble, but taking the time to travel around has shown me just how much variety exists here.Some of our other trips have included Petra, the Dead Sea, Wadi Mujib, Mount Nebo, the Baptism Site, Madaba, and Kerak – all of which have been amazing historical and cultural experiences. And, with just a few weeks left, it’s nice to be able to look back at the summer so far and know that I’ve done and seen everything I’d hoped to here. While I likely won’t do any more big trips this summer, in the coming days I’ll continue to explore Amman, focus on my classes, and enjoy the remainder of my program!

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

With just one more week of classes/final exams left in my Qasid program, it’s definitely starting to feel like the summer is coming to an end. In contrast to the many exciting, travel-filled weekends I’ve spent this summer, this weekend is my time to study for exams, work on final projects, and spend quality time with my roommates and classmates as they get ready to head back to the US and other countries.

Though I expected that by the end of this program, I would have seen all there is to see in Amman, traveled to all the major sites outside the city, and become used to day-to-day Jordanian life, I find that each week there are still new experiences, surprises, and challenges – which I love! There are still parts of Amman I have yet to visit, sites throughout Jordan I haven’t yet seen, and daily reminders that life here is not quite what I’m used to. Even something as simple as mailing my postcards home turned out to be a struggle! Since the post office was experiencing a problem with their system and thus was unable to take the cards, I ended up having to mail them at the nearest DHL office, which involved both waiting while the only employee there called a different employee to come help us and paying a a heck of a lot of money considering I only wanted to mail 3 postcards! But, they were successfully mailed, and it’s a good reminder that life here really does require the “insha’allah attitude” – if God wills it, everything will work out! Slowly but surely, I’m getting used that idea and truly starting to appreciate the laid-back style of life here.

Despite the stress of exams and projects, I really am looking forward to this last week – a chance to solidify everything I’ve learned so far, appreciate the last few days with the friends I’ve made during my time here, and reflect on both what I’ve done in Amman/Jordan so far and what I still want to do during the next year.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

And, after finishing my final exams and officially wrapping up the Qasid summer program, it feels good to begin packing and reflect on everything I’ve been able to experience and accomplish this summer. This week has been a whirlwind as my roommates, friends, and I have taken tests, submitted projects, and officially said goodbye to Qasid – but we’ve managed to find some time to visit both new and favorite locations within Amman. Whether that was studying at a new coffee shop or taking one final trip to our favorite hummus-and-falafel shop, it was nice to be able to revisit some of the sites we discovered together during our first few weeks in Amman, as well as continue to discover new favorites, even in our last week here.

I am so grateful to have had the chance to be in Amman this summer and to study at Qasid, and while there have certainly been some lazy afternoons, I think I’ve met the challenge of getting out of my comfort zone, using Arabic as much as possible, and improving in my linguistic and cultural understanding of this city, country, and region. I’m also grateful for my two roommates, who made both studying hard and traveling often doable, fun, and a constant adventure! I’ll treasure my memories of the trips we took this summer as well as our daily in- and out-of-classroom interactions, and I’m glad we all pushed and encouraged each other to practice and improve our Arabic skills without fear of failure or judgement.

As I move into my next program, a year-long study abroad in Amman, I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favorite places and observations about Amman with a new group of people, and I’m truly excited to continue building on the Arabic I’ve gained this summer!


Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Throughout the summer program, I believe I have gained significant linguistic and cultural skills and understanding. Through Qasid’s intensive program, I have covered enough material in the Arabic Al-Kitaab textbook series to have accomplished the equivalent of 2 semesters of academic Arabic learning. As such, I have learned many new vocab words and grammatical concepts, and while I haven’t yet taken a post-program assessment, I believe my reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills have all improved as well. In addition to my study of formal Arabic, I’ve done private tutoring in Ammiya, Jordanian dialect, and while this was only 2 hours per week, I found it an extremely helpful introduction to dialect Arabic. I have a long way to go toward being able to speak Ammiya comfortably, but do feel that I’ve made modest language gains in terms of understanding the basics of the dialect.

I have also been very grateful for the opportunity to be immersed in and gain an understanding of Jordanian culture during my time here. Some aspects were difficult to accept/respect, such as the nearly constant sexual harassment, but in general, the good far outweighs the bad, and I’ve found a lot in this city and country to admire. The emphasis on hospitality is amazing, and I have found that if I show up to a bus stop, or walk into a shop, etc. I’ll quickly find someone willing to point me i the right direction, help me get whatever I need, and generally make sure I’m okay. I’ve also had a chance to observe the cultural differences in different parts of Amman – from the trendy, expat-centered district to the crowded, conservative city center – and learned how to appropriately dress and act in each area of town. As I begin my study abroad program in Amman this week, I’ll move in with a host family, which I’m sure will give me the opportunity to learn about Jordanian culture in an even more in-depth way!

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

As a whole, my experience in Amman so far has been wonderful! The city itself is great, and after living here for ten weeks I feel like I’m in a good place here – I both have some favorite places (restaurants, markets, etc.) and know that there’s a lot left for me to discover. I’ve also learned a lot of valuable skills, including getting around the city (both cabs and public buses) and traveling throughout the country, budgeting and finding creative ways to stay in-budget, “survival” out-of-the-classroom Arabic phrases and customs, etc. It’s been amazing too to watch the city go through Ramadan and see the way people came together to break the fast every night and celebrate Eid at the end of the holy month!

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time in Amman, I’ve also loved traveling throughout the country. Since so much of what the media focuses on in the Middle East is violence and unrest, it was very valuable and important for me to visit sites of incredible history and natural beauty throughout Jordan and appreciate the many unique sites the country has to offer. Each location, be it the desert of Wadi Rum or the port city of Aqaba, also had its own particular history and culture, and I enjoyed learning about the traditional lifestyle of the Bedouin people or the importance of the Red Sea as a shipping port, for example.

In short, my time in Jordan has been a whirlwind of study, travel, relaxation, and exploration – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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

Luckily, I will have countless opportunities in the near future to use the language and cultural skills I’ve gained this summer! Through Notre Dame’s Jordan study abroad program, I will be staying in Amman for the next academic year and participating in an intensive, Arabic-only program here. As such, I’ll be taking classes on a variety of topics, living with a Jordanian host family, and making friends and exploring the city/country/region – all while speaking only Arabic at all times! It’s definitely an intimidating prospect, but I feel well prepared by my summer experience to jump right into my next program.

At Qasid, I became more comfortable taking risks in class, especially since most of my classmates weren’t as serious about learning during the summer as I was – as such, I got used to volunteering to read out loud, answer questions, play the vocab games, etc. This is something I intend to build upon at CIEE this year, since I believe full participation is the best way to learn a language in the classroom! I’ll also have the chance to use the actual linguistic knowledge I’ve gained by taking classes in advanced Arabic – both formal and dialect. And, since I have a head start on Jordanian dialect, I’ll feel comfortable speaking to my host family right away – even though it will be hard, it won’t be quite as hard as trying to get to know them without any knowledge of the dialect. I’m also looking forward to using my knowledge of the city and area to travel around on my own and introduce the other program participants to my favorite places and ways of getting around. Having spent several months here means that I know what I find challenging about Amman and studying Arabic, and since I know I have to deal with those things for the next year, it’s nice to go into my new program already comfortable with and knowing what to expect from my time here. Overall, I’m looking forward to utilizing everything I’ve learned and experienced in the past few months during the upcoming year.