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World Arabic Language Day
By Melia Klinger (Virtual YES Abroad 2020-2021, Jordan)
When I learned that YES-Abroad would be virtual, I was devastated. I thought that there wasn't any value in participating in the program anymore, that it would be impossible to connect with Jordanian people over Zoom. Fortunately, five months into the program, that mentality has completely flipped. Though the virtual program is nothing like an in person program, I have discovered so many new and exciting things because of it. For starters, I have started to learn Arabic. This week, I had my first conversation completely in Arabic. It wasn't much, just "What's your name," "How old are you?", things like that, but it meant a lot for me.
For months, I have been translating Arabic back into English in my head, but now I don't have to do that any more! Besides language classes, I have also made some great friendships because of the program. One of them is Nadera, my language partner. She's a Jordanian teenager and has been very generous taking time to talk to me and help me with my Arabic every Sunday. At first, our meetings were a bit awkward. We really didn't know how to bridge the cultural and language divide. But we kept meeting, and slowly started to learn more about each other. I learned that Nadera is one of seven girls in her family. She has six sisters! One of my favorite things about our meetings is hearing her sisters' running commentary on my Arabic in the background. "Tell her this." They'll tell Nadera, "Why does Melia's Arabic sound so funny?!" It makes me laugh. These meetings have become the highlight of my week and I know I have made a lifelong friend. Now I realize that there was no reason to be so sad about a virtual program. I've learned a new language, made new friends, and become even more excited to keep getting to learn about Jordan!
My Arabic has gotten so much better during the program. I can recognize the alphabet and read and write very slowly. I know a lot of basic phrases that will be useful for daily life in Jordan. This language skill has helped me feel more confident and prepared for when I travel to the Middle East, however and whenever that may be.
My biggest takeaways from the YES Abroad virtual program is that you have to work to make the most of every opportunity you get. These past months I have had to stop thinking about what an in-person program would have been like, and focus instead on the good things that a virtual program offers, like cultural activities and amazing language instruction. In order to learn Arabic, it is essential to work with native speakers. At first, my pronunciation was terrible, but thanks to my Jordanian teacher and language partner, now my words are at least somewhat understandable. Lastly, the YES-Abroad cohort is a great support system. The YES-Abroad Jordan has a group chat, and we video chat at least a few times a month. It's really nice to be able to talk to people who are going through the same thing you are, and my cohort has really helped each other deal with all the unexpected changes we have encountered.
I am really grateful for the relationships that I have formed during the virtual program. I have formed a strong relationship with my teacher through our lessons every week. I admire her teaching skills and know she is someone who will support us throughout the program. My language partner and I have also created a great friendship. I love talking to her about life in Jordan, and she asks me lots of questions about what it's like living in the U.S. She is such a kind person, and I hope I get to meet her in person in the future.
My goals for the next semester of the virtual program are to continue learning Arabic and improve my basic conversation skills; continue to build my relationship with my language partner; do more research on Jordanian culture and history and find Arabic speakers in my community to connect with!