News & Events
‘What am I actually doing?’
This was the question I was pondering over while the plane was rapidly descending towards Queen Alia International Airport. It seems to be common to be landing in Amman in the dark, regardless of where you are coming from, being greeted first by the dim lights of the runway and later by the brightness of the airport building.
I am passionate about travelling and the transformational power of international education. The Programme Manager’s role at Fulbright UK does not involve international travel but ‘Never mind, I will figure it out,’ I said to myself in December 2019 when I had accepted the job offer. Shortly after, in March 2020, when we closed the office to start working from home, that’s when the seeds of the idea for a working exchange with another commission took root.
The COVID-19 pandemic crystalised many ambitions and for me, the overarching one was: What memories and experiences do I want to cherish when the world shuts down? I want to reminisce about all the weird and wonderful places I have visited, all the culturally challenging situations I have navigated, and all the bold choices I have made.
One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a cultural experience. And because together with my managers we were looking to do this formally as an exchange, it had to be a commission and not an Embassy post, so that narrowed my options down quite significantly. The Middle East seemed like an interesting possibility, and I had already visited Jordan once, so why not? The commission was a great fit considering the projects I was involved in in London and the broader priorities of Fulbright UK. Eventually, after various logistical meetings between Amman and London, I booked my flight for Friday 2nd September – I was finally going! I was ready to face the everyday realities of living in a very different country on my own but being paired with a very kind and supportive colleague made my stay in Jordan much easier and much more fun that it would have been otherwise.
Meeting me at the airport at 2am was an indication of what was to follow: my colleagues at Fulbright Jordan would order breakfast, take me out for lunch, recommend shopping destinations and restaurants, invite me to events and outreach trips, and ask for my input on a variety of topics, from the details we include in interview invitations to how we recruit Fulbright Board members. In a nutshell, I enjoyed true Jordanian hospitality!
Professionally, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I was very lucky to join my colleagues on two outreach trips, one to Al Hussein Technical University (HTU) in Amman and the other to Tafila Technical University (TTU) in Tafila. Both trips rekindled my commitment to in-person outreach and gave me the opportunity to run an impromptu Fulbright session with a group of undergraduate students from the University of Bradford at HTU. I was also glad to get the chance to share my knowledge of our recent outreach projects in the UK: the Fulbright Ambassadors and Fulbright Champions (partners on UK campuses underrepresented in our cohorts who are working with us to promote Fulbright opportunities) initiatives. It was inspiring to learn that while every commission faces its own individual challenges, we are all strongly committed to making our awards available and accessible to all candidates regardless of their background.
What I found rather challenging (other than having to cross a ten-lane road on my way to work in a country where traffic regulations are considered optional) was getting out of my comfort zone, and the fact that I did not speak the language did not help. It was incredibly tempting to spend most of my time in West Amman, where English is widely spoken and where, as a woman, I had to make less effort to integrate.
I picked up a few words in Arabic and would buy hummus from a tiny local shop which seemed as old as Jordan itself; I ventured out into the old town (now considered East Amman) and once climbed Jabal Amman (no, I do not recommend it in September afternoon heat); I had dinner with Bedouins in a cave and slept on a mattress by a fire 5km away from the Saudi Arabian border; I ate shawarma on a road curb while enjoying the views of Amman at night; I became friends with my neighbours and went to the river Jordan for a baptism ceremony; I travelled between Amman, Aqaba, and Wadi Rum on my own; and I loved every moment of it. Of course, I did all the usual tourist-y things, but as I had visited Jordan previously, this time I tried to be more of an explorer: in Wadi Rum, I went on a two-day horse riding trip and camped in the desert instead of staying at a tourist camp, which was definitely one of the highlights.
One of the most impactful aspects of my visit to Jordan was that I felt constantly challenged and empowered by new experiences (remember the ten-lane road?). Having to think about where to go, what to wear, who to look at means you are constantly questioning your own concept of normalcy; at some point you start crossing the road like a local (possibly because you still keep looking in the wrong direction) because you understand that unless you take a chance, breathe in and just give it a go, you’ll never adapt to change. One thing I can advise; if you’ve never experienced Amman, you must try it! There are so many places I did not visit, things I did not do, and thus reasons why I will be back.
Visit Fulbright Jordan for more information on their programme.
Reflections by Angelina Avricevic, Fulbright UK Postgraduate Senior Programme Manager