Office of Study Abroad

Profile: Sarah Pechet '21

Sarah Pechet

Major/minor: Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Economics, and IGS with a minor in Arabic Language, Literature, and Culture

Year abroad: Spring 2020

Study Abroad Program: CET/Jordan

Reason you chose this program: I chose this program to make significant progress in the Arabic language, as well as to gain experience living in the Arab world. What attracted me most about CET's Intensive Arabic program was the language pledge and the program's strong emphasis on immersive language study. I also knew that I wanted to study in Jordan (as opposed to Morocco or Egypt) because I wanted to learn the Levantine dialect specifically.

Favorite classes: My favorite class while abroad was my Jordanian Dialect class. Arabic is a very unique language in that it has countless dialects across the MENA region, most of which are mutually intelligible to a native speaker. However, for an Arabic learner, those dialects can be very difficult to understand, so most students begin learning Arabic by learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is used for formal or official occasions.

When I arrived in Jordan, most people were very confused whenever I tried using my MSA because it's simply not used in day-to-day speaking. Learning the Jordanian dialect really opened up my ability to communicate with locals and I quickly found that the casual speaking style was very easy to pick up, and far simpler to use. I hope to learn the Egyptian dialect next!

How did you incorporate your Brandeis areas of study into your abroad experience? One of my majors at Brandeis is Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Thus, living in the Middle East and speaking Arabic was a very natural way to enhance my study of the region. I also took a course called Conflict in the Middle East which in some ways mirrored a class I took at Brandeis during my first semester, but this time I heard it all from a completely Arab perspective. It was very interesting to compare and contrast the ways the narratives differed.

Additionally, the semester before going to Jordan, I took one class about Islam in general and another class specifically focusing on the Qur'an. Having a foundational knowledge about Islam gave me a lot of clarity when in Jordan about elements of the culture which might otherwise have been quite confusing. It meant being able to recognize commonly referenced verses of the Qur'an, understanding the fundamental purpose behind wearing hijab, and simply being able to join in on discussions about religion without needing to be filled in.

Housing situation: I lived in an apartment walking distance from the university where I took classes. I was housed with two American classmates and we lived with a Jordanian student who also studied at the university. Although she spoke excellent English, she made sure to encourage us to use Arabic while at home as well, which was a huge help in immersing ourselves fully. The apartment was wonderful, although it got quite chilly in the winter!

What were some parts of your identity that you thought about while considering study abroad that other students may want to talk to you about? I am Jewish, which I knew could complicate my time in Jordan. Coming from Brandeis, where many of my friends are Jewish and my identity is completely recognized at all times by the institution, switching to a program where only two other students were Jewish was certainly a different experience. We were instructed not to tell people we were Jewish unless we trusted them fully, though I never truly felt as if I was in danger.

In my experience, Jordanians were very accepting of my identity as a Jew; it was my relationship with Israel which could potentially create tension. Ultimately, I think it was an incredible experience to study in an Arab country (particularly one in which the majority of the population was of Palestinian descent) and to finally hear a perspective on Israel that I had never fully heard before. Being able to learn about Israel/Palestine from an Arab perspective in Arabic was my primary goal of college, and I finally achieved that!

Best memory: My favorite memory from being in Jordan was fairly early on in the semester. I was having a hard time sleeping one night and woke up around 4 a.m. It had been a stressful few weeks and the culture shock was starting to get to me, but that morning everything was quiet and peaceful so when the early morning call to prayer began I was able to hear it perfectly. Typically, traffic or various sounds of people out in the street would make it difficult to hear the afternoon or evening calls to prayer from my apartment, but on this morning I was able to hear not just the call from the university mosque, but also from a gorgeous mosque I had always seen from my window that must have been a few miles away. It was very calming and reminded me of how lucky I was to be studying in a place I had only every read about in books. The sunrise that followed felt extra special that morning.

What you know now that you didn’t know before: I have a much greater understanding of gender relations in Jordan. In the West, we often learn a very bigoted perspective of the Middle East and Islam. Many people view Arab women as oppressed and at the mercy of the men in their communities, and often this is attributed to Islam. Certainly, there are issues of inequality or violence against women in Jordan as there are anywhere, but the topic of gender is far more nuanced than many people think. Seeing how this played out in daily life in Jordan greatly deepened my understanding of the issue.

Fact about Jordan that you think people would be surprised to learn: It is taboo to go out in public with wet hair. Roads have lanes, but nobody obeys them! Everywhere you go, there are photos of the royal family, and it can be dangerous to criticize the king or government at large.

“What attracted me most about CET's Intensive Arabic program was the language pledge and the program's strong emphasis on immersive language study.”

Sarah Pechet '21