I spent last summer in Jordan on a U.S. State Department-sponsored Critical Language
Scholarship (CLS) for intensive overseas study of Arabic. I was in the intermediate-to-advanced
program with 35 or so mostly graduate students.
Sunday through Thursday we had four hours of class per day—two of Modern Standard Arabic
(MSA), one of colloquial Jordanian, and another of either media Arabic or supplemental MSA.
Thirty minutes of conversation with a Jordanian “speaking partner” provided conversational
practice, followed by an average of six hours per day of homework.
On weekends we engaged with local Jordanians. The first weekend I went to the gold market
and talked with the vendors there about their lives and history. I instantly fell in love with
the Jordanian way of life, sense of humor, and the kind hospitality and lightheartedness that
Jordanians are famous for.
I also took time to see the country beyond Amman. My favorite trip was to the famous
archeological site Petra and Wadi Rum, a desert area with mountains and beautiful sands. Amid
ruins from thousands of years ago, I ate dinner with the Bedouins, who buried the meal under the
sand where it was cooked by the sun. At night I slept under the stars—I had never seen so many.
In addition to studying, I’ve also put my knowledge of Arabic to work. During summer 2011,
I interned with the American Islamic Congress in Egypt, promoting human, civil and women’s
rights. I spoke with groups at universities, in mosques and at community centers and helped
organize the Cairo Human Rights Film Festival. It was difficult to work in a language in which I
only had limited proficiency, but the experience was well worth it.
In Minnesota, I interned with the Center for Victims of Torture, primarily translating U.N.
documents dealing with human and women’s rights. On campus I am a preceptor for Arabic
language classes, teaching, running labs, and helping students during office hours. Being a
preceptor is not easy to balance with classes, student organizations and another job, but I’ve
never felt as fulfilled as I do when teaching Arabic.
This spring I am studying abroad, taking part in Sciences Po University’s Middle Eastern studies
program in Menton, France. Next summer I hope to continue my study through the CLS program
in another part of the Arabic-speaking world. One thing is for sure: Arabic will continue to play a
major role in my life.
Update: May 7, 2013
Salman Haji was recently awarded the Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship. The fellowship is awarded to exceptional students in relevant academic programs who have an interest in pursuing a Foreign Service career in the U.S. Department of State.