School: Amman Arabic School
Initial Impression: I was staying in the Dead Sea about an hour from Amman and had trouble getting a taxi. As a result, I was 1.5 hours late for my meeting. However, Dr. Ali Al-Haj, the Director, was patient and even spoke to the cab driver since I don’t speak Arabic. I was to go to the main entrance of the University of Jordan, and Fadi, the Assistant Director would meet me. I arrived and called the number. Fadi was there in 5 minutes and we walked about 1.5 blocks to the school. Fadi pointed out to me that since the school was right next to University of Jordan, participants on the program had access to currency exchange, lots of restaurants, book stores and shopping, which I saw on my short walk.
Facilities: The school is in a modern building (with a Subway ad on the side), across the street from the University of Jordan, in a vibrant area of the center of Amman, with easy access to restaurants, shopping, travel agencies and nightlife. The school is located on the 2nd floor of this building with brand new facilities. There is a small reception area, 4 classrooms, white boards, lots of windows and frosted glass between the rooms which gives the smallish space an open, bright environment and an area with Internet access. In addition, the school has an agreement with a Student Services organization on the 5th floor where they can use space for additional classrooms and where AmeriSpan participants have access to more computers and Internet access for a small monthly membership fee. The 5th floor is hustle and bustle with lots of friendly Jordanian students and a cafeteria. It seemed like a typical American Internet/cafeteria with the services that we Americans and Canadians expect.
Atmosphere: The school is the type we love at AmeriSpan. They focus on their students, not only on recruiting students. The school excels at serving their “guests”. Personalized attention is at a premium. They are flexible and do whatever it takes to help students learn Arabic and enjoy their time in Jordan. After visiting 100+ schools over the years, I know when a school has the “oomph” and this school has it. I am really excited because I feel AmeriSpan has discovered a hidden jewel. Virtually every other study abroad organization that offers a program in Jordan works with the University of Jordan. We feel our school is better than the university because our school has smaller class-sizes, more modern facilities and delivers personalized attention.
This school is the type that we have discovered over the years that makes AmeriSpan a special organization. It reminds me when I discovered ENFOREX in the late 1990s when it was a small school in Madrid with few representatives in the USA. We chose to work with them and all of our competitors worked with another more well-known school. I saw something special back then, that ENFOREX was going to be special. Today, ENFOREX is the biggest school in Spain and recognized as one of the best in the world. Our Amman school is certainly just as special!
Staff: A good school always starts with the people that run the school. The Director and Assistant Director are caring, well-educated people who are proud Jordanians. They love showing off their country, people and language to guests in their country. Both speak excellent English and the Director spent time in the USA as an undergraduate student and later in Japan. He is family man who prays regularly and can easily talk about his personal life, women in the Muslim world, Islam, and world politics. I liked him immediately and so will our students. The Assistant Director, Fadi, spent time in Europe and I’m pretty sure speaks German as well. He is younger than Dr. Al-Haj and I get the impression that the two balance each other well with Fadi handling the day-to-day stuff well. The teachers I met with were women. Language was a barrier but you could tell there was a good rapport between the teachers and students.
Course/Program: Jordanians speak a clean Colloquial Arabic that is more widely understood than Arabic in Morocco or Oman. Private programs can focus on MSA (FusHa), Colloquial Arabic, Arabic for Media, Diplomatic or Business purposes. Click to learn more about studying Arabic.
The group program (max class size 5) that we are offering this summer will be a combination of MSA and Colloquial Arabic and include site visits, discussions and cultural activities. Basically, the program was designed based on AmeriSpan’s input and based on what AmeriSpan has learned ensures successful immersion programs in other countries. The visits include the Citadel in Amman, the Roman ruins in Jaresh, The Jordanian National Museum (where the Dead Sea scrolls are) and a mosque. Cultural activities will include a typical Jordanian meal with a family or at a restaurant, open discussion about Islam, the role of Muslim women and more. Be sure to read about Jordanians delicious food.
Jordan Safety and Cultural Issues:
As a tall, obviously American man, I was a bit nervous about heading to an Arabic, Muslim country after there were renewed Israeli tensions. My concerns were ill-founded. Sure there were calls to prayer ringing out 6 times a day and plenty of women in burkhas, but the Jordanians are friendly, welcoming and not anti-American. Many of the people I met were well-educated and decidedly pro-western. It was described to me this way, “We have no oil wealth so the one thing we have is education. We take great pride in being the best educated in the Arabic world.” Facts: Nearly 60% of college students are women. In a country of only 6 million there are 30 universities.
Further, AmeriSpan loves the atmosphere of the area where the school is and the Jordanian’s warm attitude toward Americans and guests in their country. I liken it to the friendliness of Costa Ricans, Ecuadorians and Thais: Some of the friendliest, most welcoming people I have had the pleasure to meet in my travels. Make sure to check out Travel Tips for Jordan.
Lodging: We have added a variety of lodging options including dorms for college-aged women and men, homestays for women, shared apartments and 3-star hotels. This has helped us lower the price and improved the overall cultural interaction of the program.
Jordan Excursions: Jordan has a lot to offer the visitor. First the country is a key place for all three major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. About 40 minutes from Amman is where John the Baptist preached and where he baptized Jesus. Also close to Amman is mount Nebo where Moses first saw the Promised Land. All three religions differ on the roles of Jesus, John the Baptist and Moses but they all seem to agree on their time in Jordan. Plus, we recommend a day trip to Israel from Amman so you can visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
You will also want to visit Jaresh and see the Gladiator Chariot re-enactment, visit Petra (highlighted in the movie: Indiana Jones, the Last Crusade) and do some snorkeling or scuba-diving in Aqaba on the Red Sea.
Final Thoughts: I have to be honest, I had a pre-arrival negative bias toward the school. Our marketing efforts were kind of akin to the way some treat a step-child. We added the school based on recommendations of another study abroad organization whom we respect. It was one of only a handful of schools where AmeriSpan relied on a 3rd party for the evaluation and we were hesitant to market the program because we lacked confidence we get from seeing it first hand. Further, the prices were very high because we were placing participants in a 4-star hotel and only offering private classes. We have now added a variety of lodging options.
With that negative bias, I came away with a very positive feeling for the school. The recommendation to work with this school was right on the mark! Jordan is a special place with great excursions, a warm, welcoming people and a diverse culture. If you want to learn Arabic or just like to learn about the culture, our Amman Arabic School is highly recommended.
For more information, see Amman Arabic School.