By the last day of my summer internship in Jordan, I knew the social rules. With handwritten cards for my coworkers and Arabic sweets for everyone in the office I had a working relationship with, I made my rounds and said my goodbyes.
Honestly, it was hard to go. I had been living in Jordan for seven months, and had built a life and a community abroad, something I never knew if I would be able to do. With my background in Arabic, I was able to connect with Jordanians widely, often using the guise of practicing my Arabic to pester taxi drivers with questions about their lives, families, and political opinions. I often reflected on how Jordanians perceived me. I was incredibly visible as a white woman with red hair and no hijab - I really stuck out. Though most people were friendly, hospitable, and welcoming in their attention, the dynamic was initially very overwhelming. I longed for a long walk alone where no one would stare or try to talk. But slowly, I grew to appreciate the fact that people always wanted to chat because I was a foreigner because it forced me to be a member of my community in a way totally new to me.
Differently from how I have existed in New York City for three years of college without really knowing my neighbors, I was accountable to my neighbors in Amman who always wanted to know why I was there, what I was doing, and details about my plans for the future. Though these interactions were strongly influenced by my outsider status and are not representative of typical small talk between Jordanians, I was grateful for the opportunity they provided me to think about these questions for myself. What was I really doing in Jordan, thousands of miles from home? What was I learning by living outside of my native cultural context?
Leadership, I believe, is a deeply personal experience as well as a collective action. It is easy to see how workplaces and committees have leaders, but what does it mean to lead your own project? To choose to lead your own life? By living and working abroad through Laidlaw, I have a better idea about my own answers to these questions. Especially through my visibility and initial unfamiliarity with the social rules of Jordanian society, I was challenged to take a new social reality in stride and learn its value.
I am grateful for the vastly rich experiences I had in Jordan, the good and the bad. Outside of my comfort zone and perpetually challenged to answer for my presence in a country so far from home, I gained confidence in articulating my interests and goals for the future - I even got solid career advice from some enthusiastic cab drivers. I will be reflecting on what it means to work abroad, and the benefits/issues with cross-cultural movement for a long time; I consider these months a watershed chapter of my intellectual development and growth as a leader.