Optimum Culture Shock

Hi friends! I’m typing this from Amman, Jordan, and I’m finally starting to believe that I might actually be studying abroad this semester. It feels like a dream. Apologies in advance for the photo quality—I took tons of pictures, but I’m a horrible photographer so you’ll have to use your imagination to fill in the details.


We picked my little sister up from school and went straight to JFK Airport. It took us about two and a half hours to get there, and I had just enough time to grab some food at the airport and say goodbye to my family before it was time to head through security.

My flight departed at 9:10pm on Monday and arrived in Jordan at 3:50pm on Tuesday, so with the time difference included the flight itself was just under eleven hours. My travel time felt much longer, though, since I left my house in the early afternoon and arrived in late afternoon on the next day. I was very ready to sleep in a real bed! SIT staff met students at the airport and drove us to our hotel.

I’ve never traveled outside of the country before, and I’ve only flown by myself a handful of times. I’m here to say that it’s possible! I was super nervous about security, customs, the Visa process, and staying on a plane for such an extended time, but all of it was way more doable than I had imagined it to be.


Next up was orientation! We covered everything from Jordanian cultural norms, to important Arabic phrases, to how to shop at a suq (market) without getting scammed and safe practices for women in Amman. It was tons of information thrown at us very quickly, but the program staff are very kind and make sure that we’re awake and not overwhelmed. They also bring us to Jordanian restaurants twice a day to experience the amazing food—more on that to come!

On our second-to-last day of orientation we had a drop-off event where we separated into groups and went on scavenger hunts around the city of Amman. My group visited a shawarma stand, a library, and a cool little bookstore that sold merchandise focusing on justice issues in this region, especially freedom for Palestine.

I’m moving out of the hotel and into my host family’s house tomorrow, and I’m so excited to meet them! Stay tuned to find out how it goes.

The Highs

So far I’ve really enjoyed Amman. I’m at the high point of culture shock—the time at which everything feels amazing. I expect that eventually the lows will kick in and I’ll start to miss my people and habits back at home, but for now everything about Jordan is fascinating and utterly enchanting.

So far, my favorite aspects of Amman have been…

  1. The cats! This is a silly thing to start with but there are friendly stray cats everywhere and I love them so much. If you hear about an American student trying to smuggle a stray cat through the airport out of Amman in a few months, all I can say is…. it wasn’t me.
Hummus, falafel, eggs, liver, tomatoes… love

2. The food. Seriously, it’s even better than I expected, and I had very high expectations. My favorites so far are kanafa, a dessert that’s made with cheese on the bottom and a crunchy, sweet top, and an incredibly flavorful baba ghanoush with pomegranate seeds on top. Runners up: shawarma, mansaf, the hummus and pita bread that magically appears on the tables of every restaurant we go to.

3. The smells. This is kind of a weird one, since it mostly smells like smoke from cigarettes and shisha mixed with whatever food is currently cooking. It’s so different from the U.S. and I think it’s really fun. Every time I step outside, I get reminded that I’ve made it halfway across the world. It’s a little boost of happiness.

The Lows

This isn’t to say that study abroad is all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve struggled to form connections with the other students in my program, and I keep getting hit with imposter syndrome. I had very little time to prepare to be here, so I feel like I’m playing catch-up with learning Arabic and researching the history of this region. I worry about whether or not my host family will like me and what to do if I accidentally offend them.

What I keep coming back to, though, is that I’ve already made it here. I’m proud of all the work I put into this, and although I don’t believe that I deserve to be here, I do know that it is an incredible gift of grace. My goal is to approach everything with an open mind and a commitment to learning as much as possible.

I’ll close with the words of Khalil Gibran, a poet I’ve been coming back to recently:

“For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.

Fain would I take with me all that is here. But how shall I?”

Gibran, Khalil. The Prophet. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1923.

Choosing to leave a place of familiarity and comfort is choosing to break out of a mold. Every day that I’m here, I can feel my mold breaking a little bit more, freeing me to embrace new growth.

Published by AnnaLeah Lacoss

Class of 2025 Major | English Minor | Peace and Justice Studies Program | Oregon Extension Location | Oregon, U.S.A.

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