From Amman, Jordan
My Experience in Jordan: Landon Cook
In my life, I have had the opportunity to live and travel outside the United States many times. However, representing the University of Utah’s College of Social Work and the Hinckley Institute of Politics in Amman, Jordan this summer was an unbelievable experience. Working for the Ministry of Social Development in the Jordanian Government was both challenging and enlightening, as was living in an unfamiliar culture. Very few from the U.S. have the chance to travel to the Middle East, and even fewer to live there. It was incredible.
My work in the Ministry of Social Development involved providing services to the Department of Persons with Disabilities. I helped in revising legal documents, drafting proposals, and providing valuable research. There is little published in the Middle East on social and emotional problems and treatment. During this time I was able to perform needs-based assessments and evaluations at several disability centers located throughout the Kingdom of Jordan. These assessments allowed me to interact with Jordanians from all walks of life, and enlightened my understanding of how persons with disabilities are treated within this society. As for the disability centers, I found them similar to those in the United States.
My role at one facility in Jordan was to assist in serving domestically abused women and to provide housing and education to children who had become orphaned, displaced, or otherwise abandoned. The onsite orphanage was equipped with a full playground and rooms that offered opportunities for education and activities. Along with another intern, we provided activities to help teach the children daily life skills, communication skills, and how to have fun. We played games, drew pictures, and became very close to the children. During our time there, we accompanied them on a field trip to a hip-hop dance studio, where they were taught dance steps and made a rap of their own. It was great to see kids having fun, interacting with each other and learning choreographed dance moves. And let me tell you, Jordanians love to dance as soon as the music begins!
In the States, I work at Primary Children’s Medical Center and shadow doctors performing surgery when the opportunities arise between full-time school and full-time work. On our excursions in Jordan, I would clean and dress wounds of my student colleagues. So, when my supervisor at the Ministry invited me to provide health education to the community and to work at a government medical center, I jumped at the chance. I would never pass up an opportunity like this! At that moment, I was so grateful for having worked in the medical field for so many years. I loved working alongside the doctor and his staff to help provide the patients with good health assessments and treatments.
I had many memorable experiences working within the Ministry of Social Development as well as at the Medical Center. I wrote reports for the Minister that would be used to help improve the quality of life for those living in Amman. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling throughout Jordan and visiting the disability centers. In addition to my goal of earning an MSW, I also plan to pursue my dreams of a career as a physician. This internship allowed me to provide services as both a social worker and a medical professional, as well as gain a familiarity with Jordanian culture.
Learning about and respecting other cultures is an important part of understanding and honoring their traditions. It was hard for me, being a very friendly guy, to learn not to address women in public with a “Hello, how you doing?” I learned quickly it was considered improper, even when asked in Arabic. I also noticed that people in Jordan don’t rush the way they do in the U.S. Joggers are never seen, since to rush would mean there is an emergency or danger. Modesty in dress was paramount and one was never to be disrespectful to the King or Queen of Jordan, nor to the prophet.
During those months in Amman, I discovered the genuine kindness of the Jordanian people and how welcoming and friendly they are to a guest in their country. I was treated with respect and, some could say, as an accepted member of their community, as demonstrated by the fact that I was graciously included in several families’ Ramadan celebrations.
For me, the thing I found most difficult was trying to teach myself how to read Arabic. I speak and read several other languages, but found this task particularly challenging since the Arabic alphabet consists of roughly 126 characters. When I arrived, I only knew one phrase in Arabic – the traditional greeting, “as-salaam alaikum” – which I was taught by my elementary school teacher years earlier. That was not going to get me very far. So, as soon as I arrived, I began studying Arabic phrases and vocabulary. It was difficult to understand at first, but throughout my internship I was able to learn and understand a great deal more, enough that I could have good basic conversations with people throughout Jordan. Even though my Arabic verbal skills greatly improved, I still cannot read one word in Arabic script.
Traveling throughout Jordan was a new experience and an eye-opening exposure to culture and customs. I saw one of the 10 greatest man-made wonders of the world, known as Petra. I swam in the Red Sea and floated on the Dead Sea. I went to the River Jordan and saw the site where Jesus was said to have been baptized, and I was able to hear the melodic calls to prayer from Islamic mosques all over the Kingdom. I watched the sunset and sunrise in the Sahara Desert and traveled to Jerusalem, which was one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
As the first social work student to represent the University of Utah College of Social Work for the Hinckley Institute in the Middle East, it was an honor, privilege, and opportunity to learn about others, develop new friendships, and share what I have learned in school with the people of the Kingdom of Jordan. It may be a while before I crave pita bread again, but this I know for sure: I will forever cherish the fond memories of the people I met, places I saw, and experiences I had during this summer internship in Jordan.