Jordan - #BIMdannmalinJordanien
Podcast #BIM dann mal weg
After Markus had already spent a semester abroad in Botswana and then travelled through half of Africa, a typical Erasmus semester would probably have been too boring for him. So he decided to take the opportunity to spend a semester in the capital of Jordan at the German-Jordanian University as part of his Masters in International Social Work with Refugees and Migrants. In this episode, he tells us in an open and honest way what this country has to offer. He answers many questions about security, but then goes into detail about the fascinating facets of this country, which is surrounded by Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Even though it wasn't always easy, he was able to take away quite a lot for his personality and his learning success and get to know the country in an authentic way. He not only tried out all the typical delicacies, such as goat meat in yoghurt-lime sauce, but also got to know the culture up close through contact with the locals and weekly shopping at the traditional markets. Of course, bathing in the Dead Sea was not missing either! The only question now is if Markus was able to get anywhere with his high-Arabic? Listen here! Let's start the journey!
Moderated by Lara Yargiman
Produced by Lara Yargiman and Sonja Zügner in cooperation with the economics student body of FHWS
Sound and editing by Sonja Zügner
Lara: Hello and welcome to our FHWS podcast #BIMdannmalweg. Yeah, in this podcast we talk about the experiences of students who have spent a semester abroad and today we have a new guest here in our studio, Markus. Hello Markus, good to have you here!
Markus: Hello Lara! It's great that I can be here!
Lara: With pleasure! Would you like to introduce yourself briefly? Who are you, what do you do?
Markus: I'm Markus Friedrich, I handed in my Master's thesis two weeks ago, I'm studying international social work for refugees and migrants, which is a Master's degree at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt to specialise in the field of social work.
Lara: And when exactly was the semester abroad?
Markus: It was in the winter semester 2019/2020, so I was in Jordan from September to February.
Lara: I don't think I know anyone who has been to Jordan. So this is not the typical choice that everyone makes. How did it happen, Markus? Why Jordan exactly? I think you've always had such a fave for the Middle East, but tell us what drove you there.
Markus: When I finished my Bachelor's degree, I was travelling for a while and then I looked for a Master's degree where it was important to me that the Master's degree was in English, because I might want to work in an international context later on. So I searched the Internet and found this Master's programme in Würzburg, and in the second semester it was recommended that I spend a semester abroad in Jordan. The reason for this is that Jordan has a very long history of refugees and migration. Since the 1940s and the Israel-Palestine conflict, refugees have been taken in and the country has more or less consisted of refugees. That's why it was very interesting for my degree programme.
Lara: So were all the students from your degree programme in Jordan, or were they also spread out in other countries?
Markus: I have 30 students and 8 of us went to Jordan.
Lara: If you would rate your stay abroad on a scale of 1-10, what would you say?
Markus: That's a very difficult question. It depends on what the 10 is. If we say 10 was the learning success and the broadening of my horizons, then I would say it was 8, but it was also very difficult in parts. So, it wasn't always fun like with Erasmus in Europe.
Lara: Yes, I think we can talk about that quite openly and we can also start right away: what were the points that made your semester abroad a bit more difficult? I can imagine that if I told my parents that I wanted to go to Jordan for a semester abroad, that my parents would also be afraid at first. Maybe you could also tell them about the situation for women there and about security in general.
Markus: Jordan is generally one of the safest countries in the Middle East. However, everyone who is in western countries has images in their head of what it can be like in the Middle East. Of course, it is a conflict-ridden region and I remember how there was a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia or Iranian troops in September and you thought "oh, the region is a powder keg". So you already have a basic feeling of what is still there in the background. But I would say Jordan is relatively safe. I don't think my parents were worried when I went there.
Can I tell you something else about the topic?
Lara: How would you assess the situation for women?
Markus: I would say that it is more difficult for women. Maybe I can tell you an anecdote. I once walked down the street with a Jordanian woman, and she wasn't wearing a hijab either (it has to be said that Jordan is relatively liberal) and I had certain prejudices about the Middle East. And then I saw a man and a woman, and the woman was wearing a hijab and I thought maybe they were on a date. Then I asked my companion if that was okay and she said, "Hey men we are not in Saudi Arabia okay" and then I saw that Jordan is by far not as strict and conservative as some other Arab countries. But you noticed that men are much more present on the streets and there is also a lot of sexual harassment.
Lara: Okay in what way? That I am called after on the street, or that in the worst case you are also touched?
Markus: This catcalling was very widespread, at least that's what many students said. Some of my fellow students also told me about worse situations, but that wasn't common.
Lara: Well, if I said I wanted to go to Jordan, it's clear that I wouldn't show myself on the street in a miniskirt and bikini. But otherwise, I don't have to cover myself up there, do I? So just dress respectfully, right?
Markus: Exactly, definitely. Even as a man, you should avoid wearing shorts. Jordanians also wear shorts sometimes, but from a German point of view it's a bit more conservative there, also in terms of clothing. For women, it's even a bit stricter and the rules of conduct are generally stricter for women there. I would definitely cover my legs and wear something above the knees. But I think that as a man I can also move more freely with a better feeling than as a woman. I almost never went to the supermarket but mostly to the market where there are a lot of people and it's quite a hustle and many of my female flatmates didn't do that, at least on their own.
Lara: OK, but you also had a lot of female flatmates with you and on the whole, everything worked out, didn't it?
Markus: As a woman, you should be aware of these things, but all the women from my degree programme came home safely.
Lara: OK, Markus, now we've talked about the negative things, but on the whole, you said that your stay abroad was very cool. So, I would just like to continue with the good things. Maybe you could describe to us how the application process was and what your first impressions of Jordan and this rather exotic country were when you arrived there.
Markus: Since the German-Jordanian University in Amman is a partner university, there was an information event right on the first day, where we found out where we could apply for certain scholarships at the International Office of the FH. In the summer semester, we received the confirmation that we had been accepted. We got ourselves a health insurance policy for abroad and paid one euro per day. My semester abroad also started with an Excursion, but it was organised by the University of Applied Sciences and was also part of my Master's examination, which lasted 3 weeks. We did various seminars, attended educational events and visited NGOs, including the UN Refugee Organisation, and were also in various refugee camps and had contact with various people. We had a seminar there with the refugees and the content was about conflict resolution. So it was a very good way to get to know the people there and to filter out common interests. For this seminar, we had a translator available.
Lara: After the seminar, did you go to a student residence or did you rent an Airbnb?
Markus: The excursion was in September and in August I looked for shared flats via expats.com and the contact was made very quickly because the Whatsapp numbers of the landlords were stored. I had only looked at which campus I had to study at, mine was in the centre of the city, but some students can also come to the campus outside (flats in the seven circles would be interesting here). The city is divided into circles. We were very close to the first circle in the centre and there I found a shared house with 8 rooms and moved in with a fellow student. There was a roof terrace, a kitchen and common rooms. In the middle of the semester abroad, a pool table was also set up there.
Lara: Wow, I wouldn't have thought that there were so many shared flats!
Were you only internationals in the house or were you mixed with Jordanians? Did you also come into contact with the Jordanians?
Markus: Out of 8 rooms, almost all were always full. There were 3 French girls, one Dutch girl, my Spanish friend and 2 German girls. Two of them did the same semester abroad as I did, this social work diploma for refugees and migrants, which is a degree within one semester, and others studied architecture. Another one did an internship and another one just went on a language trip and did a high Arabic course there for 3 months. I had more contact with internationals in contrast to my semester abroad in Botswana back in southern Africa. In retrospect, I would have liked to have moved in with a host family, which some of my fellow students did. Because there I would have automatically learned Arabic. So, I often talked to my landlord to learn Arabic or talked to a candy seller and learned some vocabulary. Apart from that, there were also some Jordanians at these expat parties, especially many who had completed a semester abroad in Germany.
Lara: Since you mentioned Arabic, I know that you also studied Arabic for a few semesters, but how was it? Were you able to communicate well in English or should you have acquired some basic Arabic knowledge beforehand?
Markus: I took a High Arabic course in my first semester, and it's important to know that, in contrast to German standard Arabic, it's quite different from daily Arabic in Jordan. So, after my course I already knew a few words, but I was often not fully understood. Some people know the most important words in English. The university is taught in German and English throughout, but it was good to have some basic vocabulary and to know phrases like "How much does this cost?" for example.
Lara: Did you have to do a lot of bargaining and haggling in the markets?
Markus: I didn't know much of the language until the end. Fortunately, I didn't have to haggle and bargain much. We learned the numbers right at the beginning, which were really important. At the beginning, it was all with Hand signs and later I knew the numbers from 1-20. I almost didn't have to haggle. Sometimes when I thought it was more expensive than the last time, I said something, but the Jordanians were quite fair with the prices at the markets and I didn't feel ripped off.
Lara: While we're on the subject of markets, maybe you can tell us something about the food culture. Did you eat at the markets or did you shop and cook at home? Did you eat out a lot? What did you eat and drink?
Markus: I can really recommend the Arabic food, it was a really great part of the semester abroad. We often ate out, but we also often bought food. The Arab markets were really nice. There were all kinds of nuts and large vegetable markets, and you could buy freshly ground coffee. All the spices you can imagine and many spices I didn't know were there. You could also buy different kinds of bread. I also tried my way through them. Many people there were also very interested and very nice. And if you compare it with other Arab tourist countries like Egypt, you realise that no one in Jordan wants to cheat you. We often ate out and there were lots of grilled vegetables and meat. The national dish is chicken with rice and various spices or the classic version with goat meat cooked in yoghurt sauce and lime and rice - and that was really delicious. I can highly recommend it!
Lara: That sounds really interesting. I've never been to Jordanian restaurants either, I have to say, but let's do it! I've opened the map again where Jordan is directly located. So, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all around it. Have you ever made a trip to one of the other countries, or how is the security situation?
Markus: You definitely can't go to Syria because of the security situation. You can't go to Iraq either. Saudi Arabia is also very difficult from a visa point of view.
It would be easier to travel to Israel and Egypt. I didn't go to Israel at that time because my backpacking trip from Africa was not long ago and I was satisfied travel-wise for the moment. Moreover, one of the countries I had visited in Africa was Sudan and due to the political situation of Israel, as they are surrounded only by enemies, the border controls are very strong. So I expected to be interviewed at the border for several hours. Basically, you can travel to Israel and Egypt from Jordan.
Lara: And you also travelled around Jordan? And if so, what can you recommend to the listeners?
Markus: Jordan is really a very beautiful country and mainly characterised by the desert. In the north there are also many olive trees and there it is also a bit greener. There is also an archaeological site that was built by the Romans around the year 0. That is also really impressive, there are also many theatres. In Amman itself there is also an old theatre and the old fortress that you can visit. If you go further south, there was a canyon where a river flows through and you can walk up it over stone installations and stuff. It's a lot of fun, you also get really wet and you get a life jacket. But you also have to be careful, you get a helmet, but it was a bit dangerous. There were waterfalls, you could climb up them, then there were stone slides - it was a very cool experience. You should definitely go to the Dead Sea. It's really amazing when you go in, because you immediately float on the water in a relaxed position. There is also a mud that you can rub yourself with there, which is apparently very healthy. You should be careful not to get the water in your eyes, because it really hurts. Further south, there is "Wadi Rum", a very impressive canyon landscape. There are also several temples - and if you have seen Indian Jones Part 3, at the end of the film where they run out of the temple, which collapses, you can see one of the temples from the front. So, you can walk along there and spend 1-2 days if you want. There are many Bedouins there. Not only Arabs live in the country, but many different ethnic groups, such as the Bedouins. Of course, Petra is also highly recommended.
Lara: We haven't talked about the university yet. What was university life like? What were the lecturers like? Were you able to get a lot of credits?
Markus: University life was mixed, there were very positive parts, but also a lot of things that were sometimes a bit difficult. Fortunately, I was able to get credit for everything because it was a partner university. We had 5 different modules in my programme. It was taught from 5pm to 8pm, as it was part-time. The Jordanian week went from Sunday to Thursday. Friday is Sunday, like in our country, when we pray. We had a module on scientific work, a module on mental health, a module on humanitarian aid and a practical module. In the internship module we were connected with different organisations and I was lucky enough to come with the UN Organisation for Palestinian Refugees. I was allowed to work there for 1, 2 days a week. It all took a little while, but about a month after the semester started, we were able to start the internship. Some of the camps were built in the 60s, and at some point, houses were built out of the camps with tents, and there are micro-credits or cash for work programmes. It was very exciting to be there, even if you didn't understand everything right away because the people spoke in Arabic. The humanitarian aid was also really exciting, because a lot of people from NGOS and humanitarian aid were invited. We did effective humanitarian projects ourselves, with a project cycle, which is also known from business management. However, many of the exams overlapped and we had several group projects in each module, which was sometimes difficult to organise. We had several presentations and group projects, and I was lucky enough to be in the same groups as most of them. So, I was lucky that we could share the work better. Sometimes the work instructions were unclear and sometimes it was a bit difficult with the planning. In some modules the learning outcome was not so congruent with the workload, but in humanitarian aid the module was already very good. So, it was very mixed.
Lara: And the university itself, the building, was it more modern or traditional, how can I imagine that?
Markus: Yes, the Jordanian houses, at least in Amman, look similar. You can see that the city has grown very quickly. The houses are all in yellow tones. So, there is a lot of building with sandstone and using concrete and the university is not even that old - about 20 years old. The university building was quite modern, I would say, and there was also a terrace where you had a view of the city. There was air conditioning everywhere, which was sometimes a bit too cold. So even in high summer, I would recommend always taking a jumper with you. There were computers, projectors and all kinds of things. Some of them were more modern than in the German seminar rooms where I was.
Lara: Yes, because you just mentioned the weather and the climate, I wanted to ask. Was it constantly hot there, or did you really need warm clothes apart from the air-conditioning situation? What would you recommend to the students when they play "I'm packing my suitcase"?
Markus: Jordan is in the northern hemisphere and has the same seasons as we have in Europe. However, they are a bit further south and closer to the equator. That means I came in late summer in September and it was already hot as hell. I would definitely recommend a hat and don't forget sunscreen. It's already very very hot, so at midday between 11am and 3pm I didn't like to go outside, but it's okay. As time goes by, it gets milder and milder, and from November onwards it rained more often, even at night. Often there were heavy rivers of rain where you really had to be careful, because the drainage system is not the best - so you should be careful when it rains. Then it got cooler and cooler, and in January it was sometimes 2 degrees cold at night. And you definitely have to pack jumpers and jackets, but the next morning/day you can walk around outside in long trousers and a T-shirt. In our house, the cold had somehow persisted, and it didn't really warm up any more.
It was always colder in the house than outside, and there are some kind of gas heaters with big gas bottles inside. I recommend to everyone who uses them that they make sure that the pipe to which they are connected has a new rubber seal. The rubber seal becomes hard and crumbly over time and gas can escape. You turn the heater on and light it outside, which looks similar to an ember and warms quite well. But you should be careful not to leave it on too long, because the oxygen in the room also decreases. That means you should open the window after an hour. A lot of people don't tell you that because that's the only way they know, but it's definitely important knowledge for us.
Lara: Two more things that interest me very much. What is the party life like there? How is it with alcohol?
Markus: I couldn't really assess it at the beginning. There are definitely parties. I went to techno parties and Afrobeat parties and they were quite big. You also noticed that the population of Jordan is very diverse, there were also many Sudanese, for example. Men are naturally more present at parties. I didn't go to parties as often as I probably would have 5 years ago. Alcohol was relatively expensive and so was the entrance fee to parties. I would say a bottle of vodka of 0.7 litres would often cost 10-12 euros. There are shops run by Christians where alcohol is sold or where you can drink alcohol, there are actually all kinds of alcohol from schnapps to whisky. A can of beer costs about 4-5 euros, so we rather drank liquor. So you can do similar things, but maybe not so freely.
Lara: And last but not least, if you were to describe your semester abroad in three words, what would they be?
Markus: Broadening horizons, sometimes hard and interesting.
Lara: 3 very nice words in any case! Well, Markus, I really have to say that I'm very inspired by this country and I definitely want to go there. You definitely have to show me some more pictures. Thank you so much for being here, Markus. The episode was also longer than the average episode, but I just found it very interesting and thought it was super cool what you were able to take away. I also found the part about the internship during the semester abroad very impressive. Markus, do you have anything else you would like to give our listeners, or is that it from your side?
Markus: I can't think of anything right now, but I enjoyed being here!
Lara: Yes, thank you for being here Markus. Then I'll say goodbye to you, thank you! Thank you all for listening and if you have any questions, feel free to contact us either on our Instagram account or at bimdannmalweg.fwiwi[at]fhws.de and I can forward Markus' contact. So see you next time and keep dreaming of your next journey. Bye.