Isra Eldosougi is an alumna of the 2015 CLS Arabic program in Madaba, Jordan. She comes from an interfaith family of African, Arab, Caribbean, and American roots, and grew up in East Rutherford, NJ, a town about 20 minutes away from New York City. She is currently in her third year at Bergen Community College, where she studies natural sciences and mathematics. She loves being active in her community and on campus, as well as reading, attending lectures, hiking, and exploring nature.
I wanted to study Arabic in order to connect with my family, history, religion, and culture, and also to further my career as a health professional. My goals are to combine my interests in humanitarian aid and medicine by becoming a physician and starting an organization catering to women and children displaced by conflict in Sudan. As a STEM student, my participation in the CLS program exposed me to new ways of merging my interests and offered me comfort, motivation, and excitement in pursuing a life-long dream!
Navigating the nuances
Before CLS, I was more familiar with the Sudanese dialect of Arabic than the Jordanian dialect, which uses slightly different vocabulary. When speaking with my host mother, my mind usually pulled from my Sudanese vocabulary. After returning from a group excursion, for example, I told my host mother I missed her very much – “mshtageen shadeed!” – and she giggled. In the Jordanian dialect, they use “kateer” to say “very”, not “shadeed", so I actually said I had missed her “severely.” Now, when my host mom and I text or talk she always says “mshatgeen shadeed!” Our daily conversations helped me to understand nuances of the language. I loved being surrounded kind-hearted Jordanian people, all willing and open to help me in my goals of language acquisition.
Home away from home
I loved being immersed in a rich culture where I was among new family and friends. I was free to learn the beauty of the Jordanian traditions while waking up excited each day to see the sights of mosques, hills, and mountains. I felt as if I was at home, yet I had the excitement of new experiences every day! And, when I visit Jordan again, I know there is a loving group of people I can go home to.
In a word…
My favorite Arabic phrase is “sa7tain wa 3fiyah,” which means “twice healthy and well-being”, or “enjoy!” My host mom used this phrase every night during dinner when I told her how much I loved her delicious her food.
On taking things for granted
I learned that Jordan is one of the most water stressed countries in the world. Each family has a weekly ration of water that they use to do everything from taking showers, to flushing toilets, to washing dishes and clothes. If a household finishes their water before the end of the week, they have to wait until the next time water is distributed. My experience in Jordan has made me more conscious of the way I use resources that I had taken for granted before.
If you had one day in Jordan…
There are so many wonderful places in Jordan! Madaba is known for mosaics and is home to beautifully-decorated churches and museums. The Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum, Mt. Nebo, and Aqaba are all must-see destinations in Jordan. A must-try is kunafa, a sweet dessert with a thick layer of cheese. I had kunafa before, but never with cheese! For ice cream lovers, Arabic ice cream – rose- and mystica-flavored with pistachios – is also a must-try. It is different in its flavor and also in its gooey, stretchy texture.
Words of wisdom
My advice is to be truly open and present in each stage of your experience with CLS. As an applicant, openness in your essays will help your character and desire to learn your target language shine through. As a participant, openness will help you to fully engage in the culture and language-learning process without reservation, as well as further connect you with your host community. As an alum, openness will enable you connect with participants and other alumni, helping them with their experiences and giving them insight into yours.