Fellows' Reflections: Lisa MacKenzie

After eight flights and three weeks in the States, I am back to my home in Amman. I’ve used the word “home” to describe four different places in the past month. Home is now my mother’s new apartment south of San Francisco. During the two weeks I visited, she was busy with work. I spent the days alone swimming, running, and eating absurd amounts of berries, asparagus, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (food items that are out of my price range in Amman). Last week, “home” was a cabin in Phippsburg, Maine with my father, step-mother, and dog. There was no running water, ticks and mosquitoes, an outhouse, and a shower bucket with water pressure worse than Amman showers. Home is also Underhill, Vermont, where I was raised. I spent less than a day passing through Underhill on this most recent trip, and I likely haven’t spent more than a week there in the past few years. Childhood friends have moved away, and we no longer own my childhood home. The fourth place I referred to as home in the past month is my shared apartment in Amman. It is surprising how attachment to place and people develops in 14 months. Even before the year as a MENAR fellow started, I did not plan on coming to Jordan and leaving exactly one year later. I am privileged and grateful to have such mobility and to consider these places home.

After my MENAR position with Bayt.com ended a few months ago, I began a summer position as a residential director to students on a U.S. State Department funded scholarship in Amman. The summer brought changes in my social life and schedule. Sometimes I woke up to run at six and sit in on student classes at nine. Other mornings I slept in to nearly noon after handling a host family or health issue late into the night. Having participated in similar State Department funded Arabic study programs as a high school and undergraduate student, it was special to continue involvement in this community. Without previous opportunities to live in Oman and Jordan on scholarships to study Arabic, I would not have applied to or received the MENAR fellowship, and I would not still be in this place I consider home.

The summer position has wrapped up, and I am entering another period of transition. While next steps are unclear, I will stay in Amman. I need a job. I will say goodbye to a close friend and two and a half roommates (one is a dog). I still need to continue paying off college loans, and despite being here for over a year, I still need to do simple things like buy a flat sheet that actually fits my bed. Amman really does feel like home, though. So much so that on this most recent to-and-from the States, I brought my comforter and pillow from my former childhood home. These items have traveled with me to and from Maine countless time, to California during my mother’s move, back to Maine and Vermont last week, and now to my bed in Amman. I’ve “nested.”

 
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Fellows' Reflections: Eliza Davis

At 2:30am EST, after 15 months abroad and 24 hours of travel, I finally pressed the buzzer on my friend Sofie’s Brooklyn apartment. My baggage had been lost, I’d missed a flight and been transferred twice between airlines, and every form of public transit I’d taken from JFK had been delayed or broken down. I had slept no more than three hours, but somehow seeing Sofie I felt nothing but pure joy. She brought me upstairs and, more than little giddy, I exclaimed over seeing American outlets and being offered water straight from the tap. I’d eaten nothing but airplane food and a box of $7 sushi in London and was starving. “Have anything in the fridge,” offered Sofie. I opened the metal door and my jaw dropped: sliced bread! Goat cheese!

I plopped onto the sofa, carefully made up with bedding for my arrival, and sent a message to a friend in Amman; as I readied myself for sleep she was heading to work. How many times had I texted friends and family from Amman early in the morning as they sat down to dinner or brushed their teeth before bed? Now I was on the other side of the date line.

When I’d lived in Lebanon in 2017, I’d spent 11 months outside of the US, and while I had exalted over the ability to throw toilet paper directly in the toilet upon return, I hadn’t felt the shift so strongly. Maybe part of it was my lack of sleep, but this time coming home was different; I was a visitor. I had a plane ticket from JFK to Amman scheduled in three weeks when I would return to my “normal life.” I was seeing friends and family but with the knowledge that I did not live here and the next time I planned to visit was in a year. America was a vacation destination.

My MENAR fellowship had ended five days before my departure, on August 1st. I had decided to stay in Amman, at least for another year, so while I was saying goodbye to CRP and finishing my fellowship, I didn’t say goodbye to friends or the city. With the last month an absolutely whirlwind prepping everything at Hope Workshop for my departure, I hadn’t had the time or space to process what this year means to me and the fact that it has ended. Although I’d had my plane tickets booked for months, not until somewhere within my 24-hour journey did my trip to the US stopped feeling far off and abstract and the fact that I’d completed a year in Jordan begin to sink in.

Writing this, it is my first morning in Brooklyn. With my suitcase still lost somewhere in the bowels of the British Airways luggage system, I’m borrowing a sundress from Sofie—the ability to bare my shoulders and thighs a true luxury—and getting ready for a walk to Prospect Park. I have plans to go to a taco bar for happy hour and see a friend’s band playing in Queens; the amount of activity, the ease of public transit, the ability to get around walking still all feel weirdly foreign. I’m sure within a day or two I’ll be adjusted, and the traffic and cat calls of Amman will be rude awakening upon return. For the moment, however, I’m overjoyed to be enjoying a lunch with fresh corn tortillas.

Fellows' Reflections: Bryce Feibel

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My fellowship at Bayt.com has officially come to an end. This past year has been filled with growth, challenges, and a whole lot of fun. Before coming to Jordan as a MENAR Fellow, I was working in a completely different industry and company back in Chicago, dreaming about moving back to the Middle East. There were times when I felt I had missed my opportunity to move back abroad. I was coming up on the two year mark at my job and I knew that if I didn’t make a change now, it would be even harder to do so in the future. I decided to apply for the MENAR fellowship and was lucky enough to be offered a spot at Bayt.com.

As one of MENAR’s older fellows, I was worried that I would feel a bit out of place since most of the other fellows were fresh out of college. This worry quickly faded once I met some of the other fellows. In fact, having a couple of years of work experience proved to be extremely beneficial in my new role as I felt I was able to contribute to the team from day one.

Fast-forward 12 months and I can safely say that leaving my corporate job and moving to Jordan was the best decision I’ve made. During my time at Bayt.com, I discovered a new career interest in digital marketing and product management. I have decided to stay in Jordan another year to continue my experience working abroad and learning Arabic. I can’t wait to see what another year in Jordan will have in store for me!

For those of you who feel you it’s too late or you’re too old to pack up and move abroad, you’re not. Living and working abroad is an experience like no other and will only add to your list of social and professional experiences. It’s never too late to make a change. Thank you, MENAR and Bayt.com for an incredible year!

Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Miller

Note: Jessie completed her MENAR fellowship during a gap year between college and medical school. In this post, she reflects on how the fellowship prepared her for medical school and beyond.

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There are three stages to medical school applications. Primary applications get submitted sometime in early June, and they are made up of the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), undergraduate grades, activity statements, and a personal statement. Secondary applications come next, between July and August. Since it is common to apply to anywhere between 10 and 20 schools, and each school has multiple essays, secondary applications require anywhere from 40-80 essays to be written. Finally, after schools have received all of the information in primary and secondary applications, they make a decision on whether or not to offer candidates an interview.

If only deciding to pursue a career in medicine were as easy to break down into three neat stages….

I applied to MENAR in October of 2017, while I was feeling enormously burned out by studying for the MCAT. Overwhelmed by the pressure of a test that seemed to dictate my future, I was second-guessing if I was even cut out for a career in medicine. I pushed through and finished a dozen seven-hour practice tests before taking my test, which I got to forget about after January. A few weeks before my graduation, I accepted my position as a MENAR fellow, knowing that I wanted a year to reexamine my purpose for going into medicine. Though I had checked all the boxes required of medical school applicants and completed all the testing needed to apply, I was not ready to embark on the career path that had consumed me for the previous four years.

Spoiler alert: I’ve made the decision to commit. I am smack-dab in the middle of all those secondary application essays that I mentioned above, and I have been writing them from Jordan.

My year working with Collateral Repair Project (CRP) has reconnected me with my motivations for studying medicine by allowing me to gain some perspective and space. I have been afforded the opportunity to live simply in the past year, released from the pressure of thesis due dates and minimal sleep. When I need groceries, I trek down to the open-air market and buy produce from a vegetable stand and chicken from a butcher. I take the time to walk my dog in the morning and go to the gym after work. My job has very little to do with healthcare, and I relish the mental break.

Taking a break from academia and the competitive culture of being a premedical student has allowed me to ask myself if I am still interested in medicine from an unclouded perspective. I have noted that I am acutely interested in tasks and programs surrounding first aid, menstrual health, and nutrition. Furthermore, I am invested in the health challenges of coworkers and beneficiaries at the CRP center and inclined to understand more about health resources available to refugees in Jordan. These parts of my job remind me that I started pursuing a career in medicine as an undergraduate because I am interested in the wellness of other human beings.

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As I look forward to returning to the U.S. in September and hopefully interviewing at medical schools, I know that my year working at CRP will play a pivotal role in reminding me why my future career is so important to me. CRP as an organization seeks to provide individuals who fled their country with a community in Amman, Jordan. The programs offered at the center equip beneficiaries with the resources and knowledge they need to move forward with their lives. In combining my passion for health with my interests in refugee rights, I hope to do the same as a physician some day. I want my career as a physician to entail fighting for others’ chances to live fulfilling lives. I want my future patients, and the communities they belong to, to have the same opportunities to pursue careers, raise their children, and find happiness, that any other individual should be afforded. I have MENAR and CRP to thank for reminding me of those goals.

Fellows' Reflections: Bryce Feibel

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Before deciding to move back to Jordan, I was afraid of falling into a monotonous routine in Chicago. For me, a routine represented settling for the ordinary and forgoing adventure, so I made sure that every week contained something different. This notion changed when I got to Jordan. Instead of avoiding routine, I found myself wanting some sort of consistency since everything was so new. Since I arrived in Amman in the middle of Ramadan, it took a while to establish any sort of routine, since stores and restaurants weren’t open at normal times.

It took me around four months to establish a routine I enjoy and feel comfortable with. I live in Weibdeh, which is a cute little neighborhood with tons of cafes and restaurants. Every week I go to the local grocery store where I’ve established friendly relationships with the workers and purchase my groceries for the week. I found a gym I enjoy going to and have made friends with some of my fellow gym goers (pro tip: find a gym with nice showers so that you can save water at your apartment). I also started taking private Arabic tutoring classes 1-2 times a week. Having a few consistent weekly activities has helped me feel more settled in Amman. Jordan finally feels like home, as opposed to a temporary situation.

Although I’ve created a routine that I like, I make sure to leave some time for the unknown. I am still making friends (the expat community is very transient so people are always coming and going) and there is still so much of Jordan I have yet to explore. I have taken advantage of Jordan’s proximity to Europe and the rest of the MENA region and have traveled quite a bit this year. It’s amazing being a quick flight away to countries that have been on my bucket list for years. By the end of my fellowship, I will have traveled to five new countries: Egypt, Poland, Czech Republic, Oman, and Lebanon. Having a routine is nice, but allowing some things to be spur of the moment keeps life exciting.

Fellows' Reflections: Lilly Crown

Rafael the Pet Tree, the Trash Cats, and Other Signs of Home

Before embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the most common advice I received from friends, family, and colleagues was to “make the most of it.” When I tried to apply that recommendation into my daily life, however, it felt like an obligation: I should be going to events, building my professional network, continuing to study Arabic, learning new hobbies, hanging out with Jordanians, reading the news, cooking local foods, exploring new places, and any otherwise “productive” ways to fill every moment of time outside of work.

However, five months into the fellowship, I’ve found myself spending a lot of my free time watching TV, beautifying my apartment, and just… being. On the surface, maybe that seems as though I’m not successfully "making the most" of my time here. Working at CRP is meaningful and rewarding, but between all of my various responsibilities, there’s rarely a calm moment.

After work, I walk down the hill to my building, say hello to the kittens playing in the dumpster, water my plants, and settle down on the couch with some tea and my knitting. In that routine, I put all of the day’s stresses to rest. I create a space where I’m able to approach the next day renewed and energized.

Practicing self-care helps me in the day-to-day so that I can be the best version of myself during and after work. What I’ve been reminded of in the past week particularly is that having this secure space is also a tool for when I feel overwhelmed by events beyond my control. A few days ago, President Trump decided to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a decision that outraged many Jordanians. Protests erupted across the country, and I began to see videos taken only a few kilometers from where I live with protestors chanting anti-American slogans and burning the American flag. After dedicating so much time finding my place in Jordanian culture and society, it was a hard reminder that my own nationality was a lot of baggage to bring into a country still struggling to assimilate hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Those protests -– and the decision that led to them -– were upsetting, but they were also outside of my control. My oasis of calm gave me space to reflect on the unrest without being consumed by it.

“Make the most of it” isn’t bad advice for someone taking on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My work at CRP has been a deeply rewarding experience so far, and I know I am making a positive difference in the lives of refugees who have all too few opportunities to grow. But that work involves knowing my limits, and part of this experience has been learning what those are. Sometimes, making the most of it involves knowing when to step back, sit down, and be at home.

Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Wyatt

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The theme of the summer, and my time so far at Reclaim Childhood, has been the song Jeno Noto. If you haven't heard this song yet, it's a song popular among all our participants and its dance involves quietly gathering in the middle and then jumping up and screaming. The song at its essence is a unifier. Just as the song involves both moments of quiet gathering and pure chaos, so too has my time with Reclaim Childhood. In our quiet moments, we gather as staff and coaches and discuss topics ranging from our hopes and dreams and our lives as women to how we wax our legs and our favorite foods. Just as Jeno Noto instructs, we take the quiet moments to gather back to the middle, recenter and continue to build one unified force of diverse, powerful women with different perspectives and different ideas. 

In our chaotic moments, we navigate screaming girls, water balloons, late bus drivers, and wild dancing to both Jeno Noto and the Cupid Shuffle. It is in these moments, as we're screaming, running, dancing, and laughing that we renew our energy, drive forward together, and take inspiration from the girls around us. 

I have found that a necessary balance has been created that makes each moment, quiet or chaotic, all the more special. This past week, we finished Coach Clinic -- a week-long program where we focus on solidifying our sports skills and continuing to be intentional about the safe environment we foster for our participants. Coach Clinic is a perfect example of how to strike a balance between quiet and chaos. In the mornings, we run around the gym, get a little too competitive, scream, laugh, and fight down to the last point. In the afternoons, we transition into community conversations about our program. Both the chaos of the morning and the quiet of the afternoon are necessary to making Reclaim Childhood the program that it is today. 

As I move forward with my time here, I'm looking forward to both the quiet and the chaos. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a strong community that, in our more serious discussions, forces me to be more thoughtful, more passionate, more intentional, and more aware of my surroundings. In our wild moments, we embrace the sweet chaos of spontaneous hikes, accepting an offer for tea, and the ever-honking horns of taxis. I'm confident that both the moments that I experience actively and passively will continue to provide more opportunities for growth, awareness, and fun. Looking forward to the coming year!