Taboo: Making Friendships with the Opposite Sex in Irbid

First, I will clear up some cultural misconceptions on the relationship between men and women in the Middle East.  For instance, it’s forbidden to hit a woman in any kind of manner according to the Islamic religion.  It is also forbidden by faith to kill.  However, according to Tribal Law until recently there have been rare cases when honor killings can be carried out in an attempt to “retain family honor.”  There is no doubt that women are not treated up to “our standards” in the West, however, I think it is important for people to consider that “our standards” are just the cultural norms in America and is not the same across the entire globe.  But, I believe that the sexual regression from strictly following the Islamic religion (and making it illegal to have sex before marriage) can influence this segregation of sexes.  Often I found young Jordanian men clueless on how to socialize with women because of the segregation.  I believe outlawing sex before marriage has severe psychological impacts on the population of Jordanian society.  Sex is a natural act of life, but in Jordan people aspire to become married and then have sex frequently.  Therefore, making honest friendships with people of the opposite sex in Jordan can be quite the challenge.  I should reiterate that I was living in a very conservative Muslim city.  The conclusions I make can only be acquainted with the city of Irbid.

Not until the last two months of my program in Irbid was I able to make female Jordanian friends.  One day my friends Nate, BJ, and I decided to teach many of our male Jordanian roommates at Yarmouk University how to play Frisbee.  The young men were very intrigued by this foreign game.  It was slightly difficult to explain how to throw the Frisbee exactly in Arabic therefore we acted it in a slow, dramatic fashion.  One day a group of female Jordanian students seemed very curious by this game.  My friend Fuad said to the girls “yella, ma fe mshkla” (meaning “let’s go, no problem”).  When these girls joined us to play Frisbee I realized just how amazing this was.  Guys and girls would never think of playing a sport together in Irbid and here are these young ladies who defy this cultural norm.  Defying cultural norms is not very common in Irbid.  The group of girls named Hadeel, Asaala, Aseel, and Sara began to play Frisbee with us every Thursday and Sunday.  After a few weeks I became close with this group of girls.  I began to see these girls about four times a week and would walk around campus with them, eat at restaurants, and receive extra help in Arabic as well.  Not only did these ladies become great friends it also was the main catalyst for my rapid improvement in Arabic because these women did not speak any English.  A casual relationship between a man and woman in Irbid is very difficult because of the cultural values and the laws.  I feel very honored to have made friends with these girls because of the harassment they and I dealt with when we were together in public.  I wasn’t sure if the other Jordanian students were jealous, immature, or etc. but we would constantly have to ignore verbal harassment from “shababs” (young guys) on campus.  I continue to stay in contact with these girls and hopefully will meet up with them in the future either in America or Jordan.Image

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A Jordanian Connection


Leaving the bustling music scene of Denver, CO I was initially worried about being homesick. However, after the first week of immersing myself in the unique Jordanian culture it was easy to leave Denver behind. The only other culture shock I’ve experienced and can relate to is when I lived in a tent in the Rocky Mountain National Park for an entire summer. While living in the woods and living in Jordan are two very different settings I can relate the two by a principal I’ve always believed in. That is, being very open with people and making new friends. In my experiences I have made friends with very diverse people whether they are homeless or at the opposite end of the spectrum.

By the end of the first week I had met a local Jordanian named Fuad. He approached me and asked in Arabic, “Do you want to be friends?” Never have I been so lucky to make a friend like this because Fuad and I have become very close. At first we met in cafes and restaurants to get to know each other better. After a few weeks I went to his house for coffee and tea; the next day he invited me and a number of the people from my study abroad program (CET) to meet his entire family. We were all amazed with their beautiful house. I found the architecture with its ornamental arches and golden leaf chairs to be quite different than homes in the United States. My friends and I were also invited to Fuad’s house to have a traditional meal called “mansef.” This was the first time I had ever eaten with my hands, aside from chicken wings, and it was very delicious.

When I first arrived to Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan I realized my Arabic skills were sub-par to everyone else’s, however, after becoming friends with Fuad and consistently studying very hard I quickly gained ground.   After a few months I became acquainted with many of Fuad’s friends in Jordan.  By the second to last month of my program I began dreaming in Arabic, it was at this point I realized I was meeting my goal of reaching fluency.  Once I began dreaming in Arabic constantly I always thought in Arabic and felt as if I began improving every hour of the day.  When you reach the ability of constantly thinking, speaking, and dreaming in a new language you start having difficulty with your native language.  This is why I believe the key to having a successful language and cultural study abroad experience is making a close connection with local people. I believe I have marked the right impression on Fuad as a person and where I study because he is now in the process of applying to the University of Colorado at Denver. I am extremely thankful for making a connection like this because we will now always be friends.

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http://cetacademicprograms.com/programs/jordan/arabic-language-jordan/

This is a link to the exact study abroad program I attended, CET Irbid, Jordan Intensive Language and Cultural Immersion Program.