Experience Reflection by Sofia Passick
“I really want to go to Jordan,” I proclaimed.
“Really? Are you sure, why?” everyone said.
“You know, if you were my daughter, I wouldn’t send you over there,” claimed my cousin.
I had to get used to these types of responses, I started to tell myself. I had wanted to travel and explore the Middle East since I was sixteen-years old. I have always wanted to roll around in the dessert, eat all the hummus I could, smoke argileh (hookah) for hours while observing the scenery, and speak Arabic. Fast forward a few years later, I went abroad to Jordan during my junior semester in the fall of 2017. As noted in the statements above, I was never afraid to travel to the Middle East. Even being Jewish was not really on my itinerary of things I was focused on or worried about. If anything, I was more nervous about my learning disability. I was diagnosed with auditory processing when I was in elementary school. I am exempt from language and I have not been in a foreign language class since I was in second grade. Was I going to be successful? Will my teachers understand my learning difficulties?
Learning Arabic was the most difficult yet rewarding experience. Going to Jordan as an absolute beginner in Arabic and leaving four levels higher, has been my greatest accomplishment. As a student studying National Security/U.S. Foreign Policy with a Criminal Justice minor, I needed to challenge myself. For me to get to the same point as other students, I have to put in much more effort in order to be at the same point as other students. I studied like crazy, I spoke inasmuch Arabic outside of class that I could. I fought for those A’s. I had nights where I would hide in the bathroom and call my parents feeling so lost. I love the language, but the support system I had there was much different than what I always grew up with. It’s difficult to have a professor yell at you everyday for speaking English, or for telling your class how awful your Arabic is. I couldn’t explain to my professor, Essra, about my learning disabilities and my struggle with hearing information. I had to push through, if this is what I wanted, and if this going to help me pursue my career in the future, then stick to it and move forth. And that is what I did. It was the greatest challenge of my life.
Another aspect of my time abroad, is related to the conversation about being Jewish. It was discussed before I left the United States, and when I came home it did not seem to go away. I did not realized how much I would truly reflect about my Judaism until the end of the semester, during Trump’s Tel Aviv embassy move to Jerusalem. Before I left, my parents repeatedly told me “Do not. I repeat, do not tell anyone you are Jewish”. I did not understand the severity of my parents “demand”, though looking back, I felt as though I was numb to everything. Nothing was going to happen to me and nothing is going to bother me. I mean, was it really that serious of a security issue for me?
Of course, I did not go around telling everyone I met that I was Jewish, but I did tell a few people. I told my language partner, Amal, and her friend, both Palestinian, and another friend I met. I told them after class one day after knowing them for around two months.We always met in front of the language building at the University of Jordan. That day, students were hanging photos of Palestine/occupied Jerusalem. In my broken Arabic, we talked about the photos and I looked at them as if they were the most complicated, yet beautifully constructed piece of art. Complicated, because of politics. Beautiful, because the land and the people are beautiful. The girls smiled at me, and I felt their warmess. They were excited to meet a Jew, because they already knew me. They both told me that they did not care about my religion, or anybody’s religion, rather they cared about a person's character. Is that the way it should be? Sure, but that is not reality.
My Jordanian friends were accepting of me but it did not mean everybody else was. When you are abroad in a foreign country, you hope that all the American kids on your program can be a “home base” to you, to help you with culture shock, homesickness, or anything that makes you uncomfortable. Though I had a few friends on my program, I did not always feel comfortable with all the students on my program. In short, there was a lot of anti-Israel and coldness towards Jews and the state of Israel. A lot of students had a zero-tolerance policy towards the state of Israel. Sometimes it was difficult because all the hate and anger about Israel was something I have not experienced in person. So, having my American roommate ask me, “How could you support the state of Israel but not like Netanyahu?” How was I supposed to answer that? How do you support America and our foundation but you do not call Trump your president? But I knew that was not the proper rebuttal.
I support the Jewish state, I’ve visited Israel twice in my life and fell in love with everything about it. I was lucky to visit during my time abroad and stay with my cousins in Jerusalem. Israel is important to me because without it, I would not be alive. My grandfather, Irving, and his mother, Liza, illegally snuck out of Sokaleefka, Russia during the 1920s. Irving’s father was murdered (for being Jewish) and him and his mother left with no money and walked to today’s State of Israel, where they sought refugee. Liza remarried to Soul Pesach (Pesach was changed to Passick once immigrated to America). Liza and Soul expanded our family and moved to Brooklyn. My family were refugees and could have walked anywhere, but chose what felt best for them - a place to connect closer to their Jewish faith. How could a place, where thousands of people sought refuge, because of religious discrimination, become so disconnected with their past. Why is it that when a group of people is suppressed, give them power, a nation, and money, become so intolerant of those with similar experiences? I guess power really does change how we act towards others and how we communicate and operate as a global community and today we will struggle with choosing between being a democracy and our identities.
With that reflection in mind, I find it most interesting that the biggest thing I struggled with in Jordan, were not Jordanians, but rather Americans. It still doesn’t sound right in my mind, but it is what I felt and it is the feeling that I remember most. I remember feeling so alone at times, all the help I wanted was thousands of miles away from me and I had to learn how to deal with these issues alone. I’m an adult in a foreign country, and my loved ones are hours behind living their lives. This is something I have to deal with. As being an American Jew who is fascinated by Middle East culture, I need to understand that being “American” does not mean that every American is “with me”. And I’ve known that, but to the point that is actually has an effect on me, is something I thought I would be numb too. My final lesson from studying abroad: I will never become numb to political issues that divide people and nations and that is ok.
Sofia is a New York City native and current senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Justice, Law, & Criminology. During her Fall semester of 2017, Sofia studied abroad in Amman, Jordan. Sofia took upon studying Arabic and U.S Foreign Policy in the Middle East as well as interning for Analyseize, an international market research company. In her blog, Sofia shares her experience in Jordan focusing on her Jewish identity and learning Arabic while struggling with a learning disability.