Keeping an Open Mind

August 15, 2012

A political science major from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Adam Simons travelled to Amman, Jordan to become well-versed in U.S. Foreign Policy development. 

Although he was at first frustrated when confronted with unexpected cultural differences, Adam quickly developed the ability to adapt to surroundings by keeping an open mind.

For instance, Adam declined a Jordanian taxi driver’s offer to buy him a soda.   This upset Metab, the taxi driver, because the refusal of a gift is rude in many Arab societies.  Adam recognized this and “ quickly apologized and extended my hand to Metab, hoping for a new start.  Metab understood, and we became fast friends, discussing his family and life in Jordan.” 

When Metab held Adam’s hand before departing, Adam was startled, but then recognized the significance of the gesture.  “I realized that I had seen this before; this was an endearing symbol of friendship,” says Adam.  “I was touched by Metab’s kindness and sense of respect and honor.  That day, I learned a great deal about not only Jordan and the Middle East, but about people in general—people all over tend to value respect and family.”

Another difference between American and Jordanian culture that Adam met with intrigue was the use of formal and poetic language.   He found the predetermined responses to common phrases, often used in Ammiyeh (the dialect of Arabic found in Amman), rather lovely.  

Adam’s personal favorite is given when greeting an acquaintance who is looking particularly sharp: Shoo ha al helu? (What is this beauty before me?) and the appropriate response: Ayounek al helwane! (It is your eyes that are beautiful!).  He tried to employ these flavorful idioms whenever possible because “they really add a wonderful ingredient to communication.”  He notes using these phrases helped him make friends while abroad.  “My attempts were always met with a smile,” says Adam.

During his study abroad program, Adam took intensive Arabic classes and learned conversational Arabic.  In his spare time, Adam interned with the Jordan Investment Board, a semi-government organization which endeavors to encourage foreign investors to bring their business to Jordan.