Baylor University has posted a great feature article about our 2018-2019 fellow Hannah Byrd, who will be teaching English at ClubAnglais in Tunisia. Read the article here: "Recent Baylor Graduate Awarded MENAR Fellowship to Serve in Tunisia". Congrats Hannah!
The Middle East and North Africa Regional Fellowship Program (MENAR) is pleased to introduce the organization’s fifth class of fellows.
The Middle East and North Africa Regional (MENAR) Fellowship Program was founded in 2011 with the objective of offering one-year post-graduation fellowships to top graduates of American colleges at leading organizations across the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, 11 fellows have had the opportunity to work and live in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. This year, for the first time, MENAR Fellows will also be located in Tunisia and Israel.
The MENAR Fellowship Program facilitates intercultural exchange by coordinating fellowships for recent American college graduates with both businesses and non-profit organizations in the Middle East. The MENAR Fellowship Program screens partner organizations; provides the organizations with a guarantee of excellence from fellows; allows fellows to access a range of opportunities through a single application process; and supports fellows and partners through the intricacies of international placements.
The fifth fellowship cohort consists of 11 recent college graduates from different universities across the United States, with majors ranging from International Studies to Film & Media Studies to Biology.
Fellows will depart for their placements this summer. Some MENAR fellows will spend a year with previous partners, including the Collateral Repair Project, Bayt.com, Experience Morocco, and Elm International School, while others will work with new partners, including Cosmos Organization, ClubAnglais, and the Eastern Mediterranean International School. They will share their experiences on MENAR’s website throughout the year.
The fifth class of MENAR fellows are:
- Hannah Byrd
Education: Baylor University
Placement: ClubAnglais, Tunis, Tunisia
- Mushfiqur Chowdhury
Education: Harvard University, University of Southern California
Placement: Cosmos Organization, Tunis, Tunisia
- Eliza Davis
Education: Tufts University
Placement: Collateral Repair Project, Amman, Jordan
- Madeline Ewbank
Education: Northwestern University
Placement: Cosmos Organization, Tunis, Tunisia
- Bryce Feibel
Education: Dickinson College
Placement: Bayt.com, Amman, Jordan
- Madison Fisher
Education: Georgetown University
Placement: Eastern Mediterranean International School, Tel Aviv, Israel
- Hazlett Henderson
Education: Swarthmore College
Placement: Elm International School, Alexandria, Egypt
- Lisa MacKenzie
Education: Bowdoin College
Placement: Bayt.com, Amman, Jordan
- Jessica Miller
Education: University of Wisconsin – Madison
Placement: Collateral Repair Project, Amman, Jordan
- Madeleine Minke
Education: Pomona College
Placement: Experience Morocco, Casablanca, Morocco
- Aiesha Savage
Education: Williams College
Placement: Elm International School, Alexandria, Egypt
Read more about the fellows on the Current Fellows page of our website.
Confessions of a Reformed Skeptic
I think as humans, we’re very compelled by the idea of martyrdom. We love characters like Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins -- the ones willing to carry a great burden and responsibility for the good of all. Now I don’t always mean martyrdom in the fullest, most complete sense of the word -- we generally aren’t keen on seeing our heroes fall, so don’t misunderstand me. But we are all, in our core, drawn to the idea of an individual willing to make sacrifices for the preservation of ideals like goodness and justice. I mean it’s why Avengers Infinity War just broke so many box office records, right?
Probably, like you, I have many family members and dear friends who chose teaching as a career path. And probably, like you, I didn’t really get it. I felt like teachers were and are the forgotten martyrs of American culture. Sure, we have a teacher appreciation week and every once in awhile I wrote a thank you note growing up. But really it seemed like somewhere along the way, the educator’s impossible task -- to teach, mentor, coach, parent, model, and everything else in between -- had become normalized as reasonable for what is often an underpaid and under-resourced position. I looked at my friends and family who became teachers and sort of shook my head, impressed by their nobility, but very skeptical of their decision.
And then I entered the classroom.
And this is where I want to shake my head at myself. After all those years of swearing to myself I would never be a teacher! Here I am, actually enjoying the job. Sigh.
Moving to Egypt has been full of unexpected discoveries. Of course in many ways, moving abroad, we come expecting the unexpected. But learning to love education this year has been among my biggest surprises. If I had never entered the classroom on this fellowship year, I might never have discovered the satisfaction I find in a fast-paced and reactive day-to-day work environment. I might never have fully realized how much I enjoy being surrounded by kids on a daily basis. And I definitely never would have opened up to teaching as a reasonable and fulfilling career path.
I never wanted to be a martyr for the classroom, and I still don’t want to be. The American and many international education systems need reform, and I hope my generation will pick up that torch. But in the meantime, reflecting on this year, I’m genuinely and joyfully surprised by the direction I’ve found looking toward a future in education. And if that makes you want to shake your head and sigh . . . I get it.
But then again, maybe you should give the classroom a chance.
Here’s a video of one of the many moments I’ve loved this year with my students, from our STEAM Week and Future City projects. Check it out!
When I decided to major in Middle East Studies, I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree after graduation. I knew that I loved the subject, but was clueless as to how I could turn that passion into a job of any kind. A few years and many classes later, I had developed a slightly clearer focus – I knew I wanted to live in the Middle East and work in politics in some way – but concrete career goals eluded me. Luckily, while finding ways to avoid studying for finals, I noticed an advertisement for the MENAR Fellowship program, which seemed to offer just what I was looking for.
My official title is Policy and Research Fellow at Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI). SESRI conducts surveys of Qatar’s population on topics ranging from political concerns to charitable giving to attitudes towards gender equality. It then analyzes the survey data and distributes its analyses with the goal of informing governmental policy-making with quantitative data.
SESRI employees carry out the interviews by phone or in person and record survey responses in an electronic database. Once the survey has been carried out, SESRI analysts perform statistical analyses on the survey data to identify patters and draw conclusions. Finally, the analysts write reports and policy briefs on conclusions that may be of interest to policymakers in Qatar. In addition, since the majority of SESRI researchers are academics, they also use survey data to support articles in peer-reviewed journals.
My work focuses on data analysis and report/academic paper writing, with about 30% of my time dedicated to statistical analysis, 40% to researching for papers, and 30% to actual writing. Because I am free to choose the projects I work on, I can immerse myself in topics that most interest me.
For example, one of my first projects was to author a report on data collected for the political opinions and attitudes portion of SESRI’s annual Omnibus survey. This survey gathered popular opinions on trust in the government, the importance of democracy, Qatar’s rapid socioeconomic change, and many other topics. Working on this project allowed me to familiarize myself with Qatar’s political landscape, which is one of my professional goals for my time here. I’ve also authored a policy brief on the public attitudes towards – and potential economic benefits of – water conservation efforts in Qatar. This project allowed me to develop expertise on water scarcity mitigation techniques, one of the most urgent needs for Qatar and other countries on the Arabian Peninsula, and indulge my longstanding interest in natural resource management.
Working for SESRI has also given me opportunities beyond the specific projects I’ve worked on. Through the Institute’s onboarding program, I received training in STATA statistical software and, as a result, have greatly improved my quantitative analysis skills. Because SESRI is part of Qatar University, I have been able to audit classes in the University’s Arabic language program as well as the Gulf Studies program (an international relations graduate program that focuses on the Gulf region). In addition, my position at SESRI has allowed me to attend many conferences, lectures, and panels where I’ve made great professional connections.
One reason I came to Qatar was to continue learning about an area of the world that I spent so much time studying in college. Working for SESRI has allowed me to do that to an extent I would have never expected. I look forward to what the next few months will bring.
My Grandpa is the Coolest Guy I Know
Right before I left for Egypt, my 91-year old grandfather and I sat down and looked at pictures from his earliest explorations of the world, some of which dated back to the late 1930’s. Pictures from when he taught in Istanbul with my grandmother in their earliest years of marriage, his traipse through Central America back when a Jeep was not a stylish accessory but the only practical means of crossing the terrain, meeting my grandmother in a coffee shop in France, and time spent in Egypt on sabbatical. My grandfather is one seriously adventurous guy, and was always years ahead of his era when it came to photography. His lifelong passion for documenting his experiences has been a brilliant blessing in my family, because it has helped give us a sense of our history and the legacy he and my grandmother have left for us.
I vividly remember leaving that day thinking to myself that my grandpa might be one of the most adventurous people I’ve ever met. How many people can say that? But I was beginning my life of adventure in a very different era than my grandfather. His travels across the Atlantic involved a multi-week boat ride -- mine would be a less-than-24-hour plane commute. To communicate with his family, he would use an international telegraph, write letters, and perhaps in the most necessary circumstances might access an intercontinental phone call. On the other hand, I can Skype my family less than 15 seconds after the idea crosses my mind.
In a world of digital noise and with his legacy in mind, I was left wondering: How am I going to document my experiences in a way that, 70 years from now, will be meaningful for my potential grandchildren?
Like my grandfather, I have always loved the craft of storytelling, but have never felt the same pull toward photography that he has. In an internship after my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to the world of videography, and have been captivated ever since. I love the way it challenges me to take the setting I’m in and figure out the story it’s trying to tell, rather than the other way around. Much like photography, it requires a creativity of its own -- authentic storytelling requires a willingness to look at our daily moments through a new angle and lens. I’ve found videography helps me to make sense of my experiences, and offers insights I didn’t notice in real time. It’s my way of reflecting on where I’ve been and what it meant to me.
In my October blog post, I talked about how strongly I wished I could capture the sights and sounds of Egypt to share the brilliance of daily life here. There really is no way of capturing what life anywhere looks like through a medium beyond memories and the human experience. But living and working in Egypt over the past 6 months has given weight to my videography endeavors. Shooting footage and creating features isn’t only a way to reflect on my memories anymore; it creates pathways for sharing and documenting the world we know in a way that did not exist 70 years ago. What started as a desire to document my life in Egypt for something to show the grandkids has become much more. Now I see video as a way to build bridges and take down walls between the East and West, through adding to the narrative. And frankly, I think that’s an adventure my grandfather will be quite proud of.
Here’s a video I recently made from my trip to Fowa, Egypt, a small village in the Nile Delta with a rich history of artisans, trade, and agriculture, and a brilliant passion for sharing their city with visitors.
Being Intentional While Working Abroad
My job has changed significantly since I first came into the office -- way too early for Ramadan hours. (Hint: If you start a job during Ramadan, don’t show up before 10:30 am.) I feel really lucky to try out so many different roles and be part of a company that recognizes strengths and adapts opportunities to meet those strengths and interests. I tried my hand at marketing, UX design, content writing, and everything in between. I thought I had finally settled into a role as a product manager for a new B2B product that we’re launching, but after one seemingly random 2:00 pm email, this changed. The sales team found out that I was actually pretty good with data analysis. For the next week, I became the go-to person for data analyses and sales presentations for some of our big client meetings in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
Maybe that sounds boring to some, but for graduate students in International Economics (including me), it’s everything we’ve been preparing for. Still seems boring? Yes, sometimes staring at an Excel sheet for hours and making various pivot tables to try and find trends isn’t the most exciting. However, throw in the fact that I’m compiling data from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait, then it gets pretty interesting. When you can actually see where the economic downturns occurred because of decreased spending and hires or you have to factor in Saudi nationalization for data analysis, it becomes an enthralling puzzle for anyone interested in economics and the Middle East.
For most expats coming to the region, they don’t imagine working for a private sector company. In fact, the looks of surprise and following intrigued questions when I mention that I don’t work for an NGO or English school are always amusing. Some of my Jordanian friends have even referred to me as a unicorn for being one of the only “white girls that doesn’t work for an NGO.” Perhaps that can be a harsh way to verbalize it, but the statement truly covers a myriad of dynamics that expats need to be prepared for when moving to another country for work. Whether you’re working for an NGO or a private company, you have to understand the underlying tension behind both of these spaces, as not only does it exist but the concerns are 100% valid.
Sitting in a taxi once, the taxi driver exclaimed harami, or “thief,” when finding out that I was employed here in Jordan. He followed it up later with imzah imzah, “I’m kidding,” after offering a cigarette. I had responded to his cigarette offer with, ana harami tathaker, or “I’m a thief, remember.” I learned early that sassy comebacks in Arabic will immediately ease any tension and create a forever friendship between you and the taxi driver. So, he insisted that he was kidding and that I take the cigarette as a token of his apology, but the sentiment of harami remained.
When you come to work in another country that’s facing high rates of unemployment, especially when you’re coming from a country that’s viewed as the epitome of work opportunity, there will be tension. What are your intentions here? Do they justify your time here? Are you really bringing added value in your position or is there someone local and more qualified to be doing this? Are you hired here because you’re white? These are questions that you’ll be asking yourself at some point or answering from others. I found that my time should be intentional and not a lackadaisical entrance into the workforce as an excuse to live somewhere different and foreign for a while. I’ve felt the need to prove my value of being here -- that I can help as an individual, whether it’s bringing a new idea into my company based on my specific qualifications, or spending weekends working on water management projects to revitalize local farmland. I’m not just taking up valuable space here, but trying to give back more than I’m taking from the place that’s letting me call it home.
I love my job and have found more and more satisfaction as I’ve become more intentional about my reasons for being here. I’m not just here because it’s fun and I want to live abroad -- a common trope of expats in the Middle East that can create tension based on the juxtaposition of living and employment opportunities for Jordanians versus expats. I’m here to do a job, provide value to my company, gain experience in a tech company that works across 13 different offices, and learn as much as I can to ensure that I don’t take my work opportunity for granted in a region that has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment. It’s a humbling, gratitude-inducing experience that will truly pave my career path from this point on.
It may seem odd that a girl raised in the mountains of Colorado loves surfing, but starting a few years ago surfing became one of my greatest passions. While I lived in landlocked Washington, D.C., I was constantly planning my vacations to places where I could surf and I was often staying up odd hours to watch competitions happening half-way across the world in Hawaii or Fiji. Surfing was more of an obsession than just a hobby; it consumed my dreams and was a major impetus for my taking the position at Experience Morocco. Moving to Casablanca meant living next to an ocean and the chance to surf every day.
Now living in Casablanca, surfing does in many ways dictate my day-to-day schedule. Lucky for me, my role at Experience Morocco allows for flexible work hours, so I can shape my schedule to allow for trips to the beach when the waves are at their best. But surfing in Casablanca has also posed its challenges.
The first being how get my surf boards from my apartment in downtown to the beach, a 20 minute drive away. I don’t have a car and my surfboards don’t easily fit inside taxis. This often meant strange looks and hard bargaining in order to convince taxi and Careem [the Middle Eastern version of Uber] drivers to allow me to strap the board to their roof or let it poke out the back window. Now, my friendship with some of the instructors at a local surf school means I can keep my board at the school. I also bought a special rack that allows me to carry my surfboard on my bike. I am really looking forward to summer to actually use this. Right now, I get so cold biking to the ocean, I lose my motivation to then dive in the freezing Atlantic waters.
Another challenge is that the ocean conditions this winter have not always been conducive to surfing. The beach in Casablanca is a long stretch of sand that faces north. As winter storms barrel south from the Arctic regions, they create huge swells which translate into big waves. Unfortunately for me, the beach in Casablanca does not handle these big swells well. The beach becomes unsurfable with two and three meter waves crashing on the shallow sand banks, and the wind blows from the ocean to the land, further deteriorating the conditions. But, since I will be taking a surf instructor qualification test later in February, I still need to practice. This means going to the gym.
Some of my favorite memories of this year will actually be interacting with local women at the gym. Three days a week the gym’s pool is open for women. On these days, if I can’t surf, I will go to swim laps. Moroccan women though don’t really use the pool to swim laps; instead it is like a big pool party. Women of all ages floating, splashing, and laughing in the waters. It can be a challenge to find space to actually swim as I dodge other pool users. At first I was getting lots of funny looks, like, "Who is this white girl swimming swimming back and forth?" But soon, women were approaching me to ask where I was from, where I learned to swim, and if I could teach them. It is a challenge to explain in my broken French and Darija the basics of swimming, but I do my best. Mostly, I mime the movements, showing the women how to hold on to the edge of the pool to practice kicking or giving pointers on arm positions. Slowly but surely, I have noticed more women joining me as I swim laps. I never thought I would need to know the words for stroke, kick, and paddle in Arabic or French, but these impromptu swim lessons are growing my vocabulary and connections to the community. I can’t say that these swim sessions have improved my surfing, but they do provide a bit fun and laughter on those days I can’t make it to the ocean.
Compared to where I was just one year ago, I’ve come to realize that my life these days is reflected in a near perfect mirror image across the other side of the Mediterranean.
A year ago, in Thessaloniki, Greece, I would wake up each morning to the smell of the sea and wander sleepily down apartment-lined streets to catch a city bus to the outskirts of the city. I would disembark at an abandoned cement factory, the inside converted into a refuge for families displaced from Syria and Iraq. I would enter the building, ascend the stairs to a room overlooking the former factory floor, and greet a room full of youth who were part of the first ever education program in the camp. For some, it was their very first experience in a classroom, even a makeshift one. For me, it was my first experience as a teacher.
The beginning of this month marked the start of my second term as a class teacher at Elm International School in Alexandria, Egypt. These days, I wake up each morning to the smell of a different sea. I wander a short ways down a tree-lined street to reach the gates of a historic villa converted into a school. Once inside, I walk up the stairs to a sunlit classroom, its green-shuttered windows looking out onto a canopy of fluttering leaves.
Reflecting on where I was a year ago has allowed me to trace an unexpected connectedness within my own life, as I look across my journey in international education. I’ve seen that learning can occur in the least expected places, from former factories to converted villas. Along the way, I’ve picked up skills, practices, and frameworks that I can adapt to any new environment.
Teaching is the first job I’ve had that can be described in a single word. This role has enabled me to tap into a more creative side of myself, to extend my patience beyond what I imagined myself capable of, to appreciate spontaneity and allow myself to be surprised, to expand my capacity to care, to be dynamic. Thinking of the ways that I’ve already grown within the space of a single year, I feel more focused, capable, and excited about my path forward.
My experience in Greece taught me that learners with different needs, aspirations, and life experiences—those who don’t look like traditional students—are typically relegated to realms of the education system that offer limited pathways forward. My experience in Egypt has shown me that a student-centered model can effectively provide meaningful pathways to advance education, while also valuing each learners’ unique next steps.
One year ago, I was working against severe resource constraints, policy barriers, and lack of political will to design meaningful learning opportunities for displaced youth. Now, I teach at an international school that draws learners from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. While the education model I’m currently working with isn’t without its own unique challenges, teaching at Elm International School has certainly expanded my perspective. It has allowed me to see that challenges can push educators to think more creatively about what education means in the most fundamental sense.
My journey over the past year has reaffirmed my commitment to expand the opportunities students can have, regardless of their circumstances. For a generation of youth eager to learn, grow, and make change for a better world, this could be my greatest impact.
Over the past few months, the weather in Jordan has been changing from heat that causes sweat while you sit to cold that causes you to shiver while you run. Originally coming from Minnesota, the land of cold and ice, I thought I was braced to fare any type of cold the winter throws at me. Little did I know that the winter in Jordan is an entirely different breed of cold. A key difference between homes in Minnesota verses homes here in Jordan is that homes here are designed to stay cool in the summer heat and are therefore not equipped with central heating. This changes the way you play the winter game.
When preparing for the winter, I’ve been grateful to rely on the knowledge of my Jordanian friends to transform my perfect-for-summer breezy apartment into a fortress against the cold. There are three main steps to take when fighting the cold: change your furnishing, change out your fans and change your clothes.
When transforming your physical apartment space, it all starts with making sure there are as many materials in your house as possible to line the floors and the windows. Starting from the bottom moving up, we lined our house with carpets from the local market. Not only are they beautiful, but they provide the insulation we need to sustain any warmth within the apartment. Next, we moved to the windows. One key feature in my apartment are the floor to ceiling windows we have in our living room. Just as they generate natural light, they also let in the cold from outside. Therefore, we invested in thick curtains to block out any wind that might seep through.
The next step to keeping your home cozy involves making the financial investment in space heaters. In our apartment, we use two different types of heaters: an electric heater and a gas heater, commonly referred to as a “soba.” The electric heater, although easier to manage, requires a lot of electricity to function. Although they are strong (you can even cook on them! See picture), many heat-experts opt for the “soba,” a gas heater. Although initially frightening because they require opening a tank of gas similar to the one used for a grill, they quickly light up and project heat throughout the room (with three different heat settings!). Just remember, when you turn on your heaters in the main room, make sure to shut all of your bedroom doors.
Finally, adapting to the cold requires an outfit change. One essential piece required for everyone’s wardrobe is the “farwa” (see picture). The “farwa” is a coat commonly used by local Jordanians to protect against the cold. It is a thick leather coat lined with fleece that even the cold from my home in Minnesota can’t penetrate. Making the investment makes a world of a difference.
All in all, even though winter in Jordan has presented new challenges and changes, I’ve taken the above steps and, when in doubt, rely on hot chocolate to warm my body and soul.
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.
Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine has selected three of MENAR's Board of Directors members to feature as "Tigers of the Week" on its website. The article profiles Adrienne Clermont, Zach Ruchman, and Colleen McCullough, who graduated from Princeton in 2009, 2010, and 2012, respectively. Read the article here!
Three weeks into my time in Qatar, I heard what has become my favorite description of the country.
The comment came from an Australian expatriate who has been living in Doha for several years now. When I told her that I was new to Qatar, she proceeded to tell me what it’s like to live here, how to get involved in different communities, and so on. She summed it all up by saying “Qatar is like an outpost, like Mos Eisley in Star Wars.”
Being a huge Star Wars fan, I instantly recalled the scene. But at that point, I didn’t have enough time in-country to assess the accuracy of the comparison. Now, three months in, I know exactly what she meant. This obscure reference captures one of the most defining aspects of my experience in Qatar so far: the stunning diversity.
In the Star Wars universe, Mos Eisley is a major trading center and spaceport on the desert planet of Tatooine. Spaceships from across the galaxy stop at this commercial hub during their travels, making Mos Eisley home to a dizzying array of creatures. As the camera pans across the busy streets and marketplaces, viewers see creatures of every shape, size, and color. Some have spent their entire lives there, some visit regularly, and some are one-time visitors. The whole scene is a rich display of diversity.
Like the crowds in Mos Eisley, the communities I’ve encountered and become a part of in Qatar are highly diverse. I live and work at Qatar University (QU), so many of my friends are students with whom I live in the dorm and researchers with whom I work at the office. I also attend a church, and have made several friends in that community. Taken together, my friends and colleagues at QU and church represent 36 different countries, spanning every inhabited continent (though there is only one person from South America). The full list of countries can be found at the end of this post. What’s more, their reasons for coming to Qatar are almost as diverse as the community itself. Some came for higher salaries, some out of a desire to travel, and some to escape a lack of opportunity in their home country.
Qatar’s demographics are somewhat unique. Native Qataris comprise about 12% of the population, expatriates from India make up about 25%, and the remaining 63% is composed of expatriates from a highly fragmented mix of countries. So, I knew there would be many nationalities represented here. I also knew that Qatar University attracts students from a wide array of countries. But even with this background, I’ve been surprised by the diversity of Qatar’s population.
In addition to making for interesting “where are you from?” small talk, this wide range of nationalities has led to some memorable experiences. Last month, for example, I stumbled into a conversation in the QU dorm comparing the benefits of English vs. French colonialism. The students with whom I was talking were from Ghana (an English colony until 1957) and Togo (a French colony until 1960), and the conversation was initiated by me asking about their time in high school. Before I knew it, the question “what language did they speak in your secondary school?” led to statements like “it was much better to be colonized by the English than the French.”
While I was aware that colonization has many modern-day consequences, I still saw colonialism as a relic of the past. However, as I listened to my friends’ conversation, I realized that my one-dimensional view contrasted sharply with their multifaceted perspectives on colonialism – born out of their personal experience – as a potent, active, and oftentimes tragic force in their lives. Their discussion was strikingly candid, even light-hearted, and reflected the ways in which colonialism continues to shape their experiences at home.
The impact of this diversity was on display again last week, when Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe. While people across the globe recognized the magnitude of the event, there was something special about seeing my friend from church, who is from Zimbabwe, react to the news as it first broke. We were gathered together for Tuesday evening bible study, and upon hearing the news she became overjoyed. Her face lit up as she excitedly called family and friends back home. Her joyfulness filled the entire room and reflected the significance of Mugabe’s resignation in a unique and powerful way.
Importantly for the Star Wars fans among my family, friends, and anyone else reading this blog, there are also major differences between Qatar and Mos Eisley. For example, the former is welcoming and exceedingly safe, whereas the latter is famously dangerous and described as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” That difference (and many others not germane to this post) aside, both destinations are home to an incredibly diverse array of people (and aliens), and that’s enough for me to hold on to the belief that Qatar could be a real-world Mos Eisley.
Now, the full list of my friends’ and colleagues’ home countries:
- Burkina Faso
- South Africa
- South Korea
- The Netherlands
- The U.K.
- United Arab Emirates
I expected returning to Morocco would feel like coming home. The four months I spent studying abroad in Rabat were some of the happiest of my entire life. I was welcomed wholeheartedly by an incredible host family, my Arabic proficiency skyrocketed, and I developed a new passion for surfing. When I returned to the States, I made it my mission to find a way to move back to Morocco.
So when my start date in October for the fellowship at Experience Morocco finally rolled around, I was undeniably thrilled to be returning to the land of syrupy-sweet mint tea, year-round beach weather, and incredibly hospitable strangers. What I didn’t expect was for Morocco to feel so different the second time around. Sure, I was moving to a new city as a young professional, not a student, but Morocco is Morocco. Or not.
Turns out Casablanca could not be more different than Rabat. Where Rabat is quiet and maybe a little stuffy, matching the lifestyles of its mostly politically and diplomatically employed residents, Casablanca is chaotic, crowded, and runs on a frenetic energy. Everywhere you look is wild traffic and construction cranes. This isn’t to say Casa doesn’t have its charms, it just didn’t feel homey.
Now, as I end my third week here, I am still feeling a bit discombobulated and unsettled, but I also am determined to adapt. Of course, it is not just Morocco that is different, it is me too. I am no longer a student or part of an organized group. This time around I am an expat, a working professional, an individual who must craft her own community.
My priority now is to get to know my new home, instead of pining for the one I left at the end of study abroad. This week, I have managed to find a burger joint better than any of those in Rabat and nearly as good as my favorite back in Washington, DC. Another welcome observations is that I receive significantly less street harassment here than Rabat. Maybe it has to do with Casa’s more “cosmopolitan” identity or that everyone is always busy going to somewhere so they don’t have time to make a little comment here or there, but it is a development I won’t complain about.
Periods of transition personal, professional, or otherwise are never easy and to have one of these while also navigating language barriers, cultural differences, and wild traffic patterns only adds to the challenge. But in the little moments like surfing at sunset, understanding something a colleague says in Darija, sipping some mint tea, I am finding that same happiness I experienced my first time in Morocco. Everyone at work tells me that Casa is a city you either love or hate; I am still hopeful that it’s a place I’ll come to love and make home.
A recording of this morning's MENAR Info Session webinar is available here for those who would like to view it. We cover application timeline, eligibility criteria, position descriptions, and frequently asked questions.
I wish I could capture the dynamic energy this city holds, all of its complex simplicity. I’ve never felt a city so alive as Alexandria, in its constant hurried ease. So often this city feels like a living and breathing contradiction: full of strangers who already consider you family; forever moving at the pace of a relaxed rush; a concrete jungle nurtured by the sea beside it.
Sometimes I also feel like a contradiction here. I call a city that does not belong to me my home; using my broken Arabic to navigate streets, requiring patience from everyone I meet. As I slip into my life in Alexandria, it feels like everyday I’m humming along to a melody that I’ve never heard. There are just no quiet moments - in my head, or on Alex’s streets.
The contradictions in Alex remind me how beautiful it is to be alive and full of imperfections, just like the urban giant around me. It reminds me that I can have a place here too - working in this region, living on this Earth. It reminds me of how much grace there is in allowing yourself to be in a foreign space while trying to make sense of what “home” means. I guess most of all, it reminds me that the world, and we as people, are so much softer and simpler than we make ourselves out to be. That in the midst of contradiction, we too are doing all we can to welcome the strangers we collect along the way.
Our application for 2018-2019 fellowship positions has been posted! Read all the details here. The application is open to current college seniors and recent graduates, and the deadline is December 15, 2017 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. Contact us with any questions.
An online info session will be held on Saturday, November 4 at 10 am Eastern Time to provide an overview of the program and answer applicants' questions. To attend the webinar, click this link and choose to join as a guest.
Loving Friends While Abroad
Last month, I got to sleep over at a friend’s house for what turned out to be a pretty dope slumber party. I’m talking about high-level gossip, movie binging, over-indulging in snacks and whispering jokes and stories while falling asleep. No questions were off limits. And there was plenty of time for talking through some pretty heavy things. I totally wrapped myself in the comfort of closeness to someone. It’s the same closeness I experienced when I called my high school girlfriends each night to talk or napped out on lawns and read short stories to my ladies back in college. I realized, after soaking myself in the blissful wonders of sleeping over at a friend’s house, that I forgot how essential it is to develop love in friendships. Careers, jobs, chores, and life really take up a long time and, quite honestly, stunt emotional openness.
It’s hard to express the love I have for my friends. I am choosing to try and explain it in this blog post because it’s the main reason I wanted to return to Amman. The first time I was here, I met people who watched me mess up, daily but still forgave me. I connected with them intellectually and emotionally. I got to confide in them and ask too much of them without fear of them leaving my life. There is something special about a community of people who hold you up and who you want to hold back.
So, in the spirit of that love, here’s a quick list of the love I have received from my friends since returning to Amman back in July:
When I entered my apartment for the first time, three bags in hand and pretty disgusting from 24 hours of travel, my roommates and I opened up a conversation about what helps us feel loved in our home. We discussed safety and the occasional (or frequent) insecurity. We asked each other how we could protect each other from these challenges by building a community based on love and support.
On day two, I forced myself out of bed (tired, jetlagged and fairly nervous) and went to a farm with a bunch of people I didn’t know. It was an opportunity to escape the heat in a hillside pool, eat loads of goodies and be in good company. Every person there welcomed me so beautifully into their lives and their warmness is still relentless in our growing friendships.
I’ve grown to cherish my morning ritual: catching up on *everything* with my colleague on our taxi ride to work. In 20 minutes, we learn and share a lot about where our heads and hearts are at. After riding home at the end of the day, we head off in different directions calling out, "I'll miss you."
I go on daily walks with another totally incredible friend and colleague. Our conversations span work frustrations, politics and upcoming horror films. We drink milkshakes and share our lunches on the stairwell at work. All day and pretty much until I go to sleep, we talk. I can say with certainty that we wish each other goodnight, every night.
I call my friends to tell them about my day. They bring me coffee in the morning at work. They check in on me when I get home. They send me sweet messages and notes. We go on drives when I’m feeling off. We tell each other when we are sick and we rush to comfort in moments of need.
I chose to keep this post pretty general. There is nothing specifically about Amman because friendship isn’t unique to one place and you don’t need to travel to find it. I also tried to keep details about each friend out of the post because they are details that don’t really matter. But if I were to pick one thing that is specific to my time here, it would be that I am learning to ambitiously, crazily and relentlessly love my friends again.
I was taught to publicly and openly love the more obvious people in my life, like partners, parents or siblings. Friendship is often secondary to those primary loved ones who get to take up the most of your attention and time. However, coming back to Amman I was reminded of why I love my friends with so much of me.
I don’t know why being here allowed me to open up to that kind of love again. Living abroad is a lot emotional, intellectual and self-critical work on top of the normal everyday commitments and worries. And while I was trying to articulate it in this blog post, my roommates invited me on a spontaneous trip to Ikea where we basically played house for two hours. We almost brought home new furniture (that definitely would not fit in our apartment). We joked and laughed while maintaining a totally serious yet comical commitment to renovating everything. We dreamed up an entirely new living space filled with our own visions of comfort and love.
It was totally blissful, kind of like sleeping over at your best friend’s house or immediately waking up to, "Good Morning," new messages on your phone. Since coming back, my heart is always full because of these very moments. I could talk a lot about living and work in Amman but, so far, this is the best part. I get to love my friends more each day and that is the most beautiful thing about being in this city.
Just shy of a month’s time into my experience in Egypt, I found myself standing among the ruins of an ancient lecture hall and amphitheater in the heart of Alexandria. This place once hosted world-renowned philosophers—the ones we typically encounter as two-dimensional figures in history books but tend to forget were once living breathing people.
Living in the midst Alexandria’s urban metropolis, I sometimes forget that this city sits on thousands of years of rich history, embodying the meaning of cosmopolitan since the invention of the word itself.
The woman who showed me this place, a history expert who has spent her whole life in Alexandria, explained that the site was discovered purely by accident by a team of archeologists searching for the tomb of Alexander the Great.
“Here in Alexandria,” she told me, “When we go looking for something, we always find something else."
I can't help think how aptly this phrase describes my own experience here. I came to Alexandria looking for something—an opportunity to deepen my regional experience, to gain insight into international education, to build community.
Instead, my most meaningful experiences are the ones I never could have predicted. An attempt to try out my limited Arabic with the watchmen on my block has led to a daily ritual of 'hellos' and 'how are yous' that make this small street feel infinitely welcoming. A broken washing machine led to the discovery of an incredibly generous neighbor, who has since become a valued mentor and friend. Asking for directions on the tram led to a family essentially adopting me for a night. A chance encounter outside the Alexandria Opera House led to complimentary tickets to that night’s show.
The things I love most about Alexandria are the things I never expected to find. I love the verticality of the city, its narrow streets and long shadows, how its buildings hug the seaside, the way everybody seems to be constantly finding space. I love the way some streets have deep parallel impressions from the era of horse-drawn carriages. I love the Ladas, distinctly Alexandrian black and yellow taxis introduced in the 1960s by the Russians, which have somehow become as permanent a feature of the city as the streets themselves. I love the way the streets come alive at night, with vendors selling fresca, cotton candy, fruit, tea, and beans with lemon. I love the generosity of strangers, and the way the warmth of the people makes this city feel like an offering.
I’ve heard Alexandria described as the “Athens of Africa.” The city's history is often defined with respect to those who influenced it from the outside in, whether it be pharaohs, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, the French, Italians, Russians, or British. But characterizing the city ‘in relation to’ masks how the city's identity is uniquely rich in its own right. In the midst of various eras and influences, Alexandria has developed its own unique identity, one that cannot be so neatly categorized.
In the span of a month, Alexandria has already taught me so many things. How to accept the generosity of strangers. How to embrace spontaneity and find beauty in unpredictability. How to smile abundantly. How to make the most of a blank slate.
This city has also challenged me. It has challenged me to take on a new role, to meet a steep learning curve, to handle transitions with grace, to accept ambiguity. I still have room to grow, and this experience has more to teach me.
We go looking for things, and find something completely different. Opening to new experiences invites moments to receive deeper insight and understanding. I can’t wait for what the rest of this year has in store.
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!
I’ve only been in Jordan for 53 days and I can hardly fathom how to summarize my experience so far. It has been the craziest, busiest, most amazing two months — extra emphasis on the busy part. In these 53 days I have traveled to Karak, Dana Reserve, Wadi Hesa, Wadi Numeireh, Wadi As-Seer, Fuheis, and the Dead Sea. I have become part of a strategy team for a sustainable farm organization (Wadi Vera), which has included building their website and planning a 35-person breadmaking workshop and dinner; participated in a cleanup and art project at a local spring (which was featured in the community newspaper); played in a band for a fundraiser at Café de Paris and Art at the Park; saw my favorite band play (El Morraba3); and have overall met an amazing network of local and expat friends.
I'm working as a Growth Hacker fellow at Bayt.com, one of the largest tech companies in the Middle East. I work on the Marketing and Communications team, where I redesign parts of the website for optimized user experience, conduct data analysis reports to improve our marketing strategies to our different MENA audiences, and contribute to overall marketing strategies with video, ad, and other campaign ideas. I'm loving it so far and work with an amazing team! I hope to write about my work in a future blog post, but for now I'd like to share about my overall experience as a fellow living in Amman. I thought the best way to do this would be by sharing some photos of my time here so far!
This picture is of is my rooftop at “Rainbow House.” We’re a 10 person house in Jabel Amman with both locals and expats from all over the world. I’m lucky to have landed in this house! It’s where I have met all of my friends and network.
On my third day in Jordan, I took a trip to the Dead Sea (with Rainbow House people of course) and Wadi Hesa, which is where this picture is from. Driving along the Dead Sea Highway is one of my favorite things to do here. The Wadis here are amazing as well. We took a dip in the Dead Sea first, covered ourselves in the mud, washed off in a waterfall across the street, and then headed for the hike.
This picture is from the cleanup and art project that we did in Fuheis. One of the local springs that has been used for generations by the families nearby has accumulated hundreds of pounds of trash. We spent a few days cleaning out all of the trash and using the broken glass to create this tree by the water. We then built a retaining wall to create a special area for trash and labeled it in Arabic. When we returned the next week, people had used the designated trash area and kept the spring clean — success! Many families brought us food during the project and the local news organization even took pictures of our work to feature us in their neighborhood newsletter.
The picture above is from my trip to Karak where we got to explore the old castle there. The pictures below are from our two-day camping trip to Dana Reserve. Dana has been one of my favorite places to visit in Jordan (despite the four hours we had to wait at the South Bus station).
Below are some pictures taken from Wadi Vera! I planned a bread-making workshop and dinner with the founder and owner of Wadi Vera. We had 37 people attend for our first event. We have events like this to serve as additional income for the family that is living on the land as well as provide funds for the various land restoration projects.
These pictures are from our trip to the Dead Sea and Wadi Numeireh and to the town of Wadi As-Seer, where there are Byzantine ruins and the most renowned figs in Jordan.
The last picture is my favorite staircase in Amman and is luckily just up the street from me, next to my favorite little restaurant where I can eat brunch for just 1.20 JD!