SITG Dispatch: Day in the Life in Amman

by Natalie “Nat” Larsen, ’25 (Summer 2023)

Ahlan men Amman! My name is Nat, and I’m a rising UChicago third-year majoring in Global Studies and Near Eastern Languages. I’m a Foreign Language Acquisition Grant recipient, currently studying Arabic at Sijal Institute in Amman, Jordan!

Every day, I wake to the morning Adhan, the call to prayer resounding through the city. While the temperature is cool, I wander down the colorfully-decorated Rainbow Street to my favorite cafe, where I start my day in Arabic, reading the menu, ordering a coffee, and studying for class.

At 9:00, I go to my first class of the day, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). My class is small, only eight of us, and we practice Arabic grammar and vocabulary through group activities—my favorite is vocabulary Jeopardy!

During our break, my classmates and I grab a Jordanian lunch at the appropriately named “المطعم العربي”, literally translated as “Arabic Restaurant.” No menu, no problem—I usually order a falafel or mfarakeh (potato and egg) sandwich. Seeking solace from the midday sun, we enjoy our meal in the Sijal gardens—the pomegranates look riper every day!

In the afternoon, we reconvene either for a colloquial Arabic class or cultural activity. In the colloquial class, we converse in the local Arabic dialect, practicing words and phrases necessary for locals to understand us as we navigate Amman. The cultural activities complement our conversational skills, exposing us to Jordanian culture and vocabulary, whether through the lecture about Amman’s history, cooking class making musakhan (a traditional chicken dish), or field trip to the Jordan Museum!

After classes, I unwind at a rooftop cafe—Manara is one of my favorite cafes for an afternoon study session with a view! After a run through Al-Hussein Park with the local club “Running Amman,” I shower, eat, and fall asleep just as I woke up—listening to the evening Adhan.

On weekends, I enjoy going on excursions to other places in Jordan. Everything is so close by, going to another city is as easy as calling an Uber! I explored Wadi Mujib, a canyon hike with water, Jerash, a site with ancient Roman ruins, and, my favorite, Wadi Rum and Petra, unbelievable UNESCO-recognized desert destinations famous for their amazing ancient history and modern movies, including, UChicago’s own character, Indiana Jones.

Beyond reading right-to-left and working Sunday-Thursday weeks, Amman transformed my perspective of the language and region I studied from a Chicago classroom afar. Immersed in local history and culture, I can experience first-hand this “city of refuge,” home to different ethnic groups from the ancient Romans, to early Islamic caliphates, to today’s Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

Through connecting with new people, embracing another lifestyle, and engaging with local culture and history, immersion in Amman exposed me to new perspectives on global dilemmas. As I continue pursuing foreign policy and the Arab World, I seek to bring what I learned abroad back to my studies in Chicago, examining international issues such as climate change, refugee policy, and resource inequalities.

Thank you to everyone at the Study Abroad office for making this experience possible; Sijal Institute for their amazing programming and abroad support; and the UChicago Arabic professors at UChicago who encouraged my language studies at Sijal, Ustadh Aidan Kaplan, Ustadha Zainab Hermes, and Ustadha Hala Abdel Mobdy. I’m so grateful for all I have learned so far, and can’t wait for what the remainder of my experience brings!