Jordan: Modernization and Social Change
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Carefully designed educational excursions highlight Jordan’s ancient history and present-day resources, cultures, and communities while granting students an exceptional opportunity to continue improving their Arabic language skills outside Amman. Excursions outside Jordan’s bustling capital allow students to experience the sharp contrasts between urban and rural life.
Badia (Bedouin Community)
This excursion provides students with the opportunity to explore everyday life in Jordan’s Badia. Students experience the daily life, culture, and traditions of a Bedouin community, one of Jordan’s most distinct and well known groups. As they are known in Arabic, the Bedu, or "desert dwellers," have learned to survive and endure the unforgiving climate of the desert. It is difficult to know the exact size of the Bedouin community, but it is generally known that the majority of Jordan's current population is of Bedouin origin. Today, the majority of Jordan's Bedouin population lives in the vast wasteland that extends east from the Desert Highway. Throughout the middle, south, and east of Jordan, Bedouin communities are marked by their characteristic black goat-hair tents, known as beit al-sha'ar, or "house of hair."
Central and Southern Jordan
This excursion takes students to both Central and Southern Jordan. Students receive customized Arabic lessons in a field-based setting; lessons focus on the sites and communities they visit, and students enjoy highly interactive conversations about the places they experience. Students are engaged in Arabic practice from the time they leave Amman until their return; this includes language practice during periods of travel.
Highlights of this excursion include:
- Jerash. Students experience the extraordinary remains of the ancient city of Jerash, one of the most impressive and best preserved Roman cities outside of Italy, located a little less than 50 kilometers north of Amman. Read more about Jerash.
- Ajloun. Just northwest of Jerash is located the town of Ajloun, home to the Castle of Ajloun or Qalaat Errabadh (Arabic for "hilltop castle"). The fortress was built by Muslims from 1184–85 as a military fort and buffer to protect the region from invading Crusader forces. Students spend a night at the Ajloun Forest Lodge, which occupies a large grassy clearing, enclosed by oak, pistachio, and strawberry trees. The lodge offers beautiful views of the reserve; occasionally one can see as far away as Jebel Sheikh in Lebanon.
- The Dead Sea. Located approximately 33 miles southeast of Amman in the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea is the most spectacular natural landscape in Jordan. In addition to being the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea is the world's richest source of natural salts.
- Madaba and Mount Nebo. Madaba is best known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, especially a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of Palestine and the Nile delta located in the nineteenth-century St. George’s Greek Orthodox church. Students visit the site and enjoy a smaller but still populous Jordanian city. Then, students travel to Mount Nebo, which, according to ancient tradition, is the mountain from which Moses saw the Promised Land.
- Wadi Mujib. Students have the opportunity to explore Wadi Mujib, a spectacular gorge in Jordan that enters the Dead Sea. The Mujib Reserve of Wadi Mujib is the lowest nature reserve in the world.
- Aqaba. Students experience the ancient city of Aqaba, an important port city and the ancient Red Sea resort of Jordan. Aqaba’s history dates back to 4000 BC. Also known as Ayla, Aqaba was once ruled by the Mamluk Sultan from Egypt.
- Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum lies about 200 miles southwest of Amman and 42 miles north of Aqaba and is among the most stunning desertscapes in the world. In Wadi Rum, students experience the exceptional hospitality of the desert people and Bedouin tribes. They may share mint tea or cardamom coffee in Bedouins’ tents, or join them by the fire under a starry desert sky.
- Petra. Students spend a day visiting Petra, a treasure of the ancient world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Petra also has the distinction of being one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Prior to arrival in the Rose-Red City, students receive an intensive academic lecture about Petra. Following the lecture, students spread out in pairs and small groups to explore the city to experience firsthand the topics covered during the lecture. The visit concludes with a debriefing and conversation in Arabic.
- Dana Natural Reserve. The dynamic topography of the Dana Natural Reserve extends from the top of the Jordan Rift Valley to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba. Students experience the reserve’s impressive mountains, the ancient ruins of Feinan, the cliffs of Wadi Dana, and Dana village. Students receive a customized lesson about the reserve and engage in two debriefing sessions conducted in Arabic. As in Petra, students are expected to read a text in Arabic about the site, which is followed by a question and answer session.
- Azraq. Located in the heart of Jordan’s eastern desert, Azraq, which means, “blue” in Arabic, is Jordan’s only wetlands reserve. Students visit this historic oasis and acquire a greater understanding of the importance of environmental conservation. Students also visit Qasr al-Harraneh and Qusayr ‘Amra, two historic castles from the eighth century.
Egypt (or alternatively Turkey)
The program includes an excursion to Istanbul, Turkey, a city that offers a unique blend of East and West. Turkey has emerged as a leading economic, political, and cultural power in the region, and many countries in the Middle East look to the Turkish development paradigm as a suitable model to emulate. In Istanbul, students learn about the history of kemalism, the question of the Kurdish minority, and the role of Islam in modern Turkey. Students meet with peers from Istanbul University and visit Old Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and Suleymaniye Library and Mosque. They also have the opportunity to enjoy a boat cruise on the Bosphorus and visit the eastern side of Istanbul.
Alternatively, the program goes on excursion to Cairo, Egypt, where students gain additional regional insights into one of the biggest and most influential countries in the Middle East. Students prepare for the excursion by watching The Yacoubian Building, a film adapted from the Arabic novel by Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany, and by learning about the Egyptian language accent and lexicon.
In Cairo, students visit the headquarters of the Arab League and also meet with local academics to learn about Egyptian civilization, the challenges of modernization in the Middle East and the Arab Spring, and the future of the region. Students visit many historic sites, which include the Citadel, Muhammad Ali Mosque, Madrassah and Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Al-Rifai Mosque, Khan al Khalili Bazaar, the great Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, and the Egyptian National Museum. They also spend one day at Cairo University where they meet with Egyptian peers to discuss the role of youth and Islam in post-revolutionary Egypt and the impact of the Arab Spring on relations in the region. They also visit the Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Papyrus factory, and Coptic Cairo, and they enjoy a cultural night at Al-Sawy Culture Wheel and a tour on the Nile by boat.
Students have to write a comparative essay on Turkey and Jordan (or alternatively Egypt and Jordan) in which they analyze aspects of cultural, economic, or political life in both countries while documenting ways in which the excursion has contributed to their understanding of the dynamics in the Middle East.
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