Lydia Shippen is a student at University of North Carolina, Wilmington and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures blogger corresponding with her Arabic professor at UNC Wilmington. Lydia is currently studying in Amman, Jordan on a Fall 1 program.
Family is a very important aspect of Middle Eastern culture. The focus is less on the individual and more on the family. Here in Jordan, it is normal for people to live with their family until they are married. In fact, most of the time it is considered very odd for someone to move out before they are married. This is in stark contrast to the individualistic culture of the United States where it is considered odd to live with one’s family past graduating from college. A perfect example has shown up in this year’s U.S. presidential election. A large portion of the election is directed towards the high percentage of college graduates who are living at home because they could not find a job. In Jordan, I do not think that this issue would resonate with the general population.
Living and adapting to the culture in Jordan has been a very interesting change for me. I am used to living in a place where, even as a woman, I am encouraged to live and travel on my own. A question that I often receive is “Are you alone here?” In my opinion I am not alone. I have many friends in Jordan, I live with four other roommates, and I am in an amazing ISA program with very helpful directors who are available 24/7. That does not count though; this question usually refers to the presence of my family. The fact that I am a woman traveling without family is mind-boggling to a lot of people.
I have made local female friends here who cannot go to a university one hour from home because it is not acceptable to live alone. One of my friends travels an hour each way a few times a week just so that she can study. I did not give it a second thought when I moved five hours from my home to live and study at my college. In addition to my choice of university, the option to study abroad is fully supported by my family. Every culture has exceptions and it is important to note that not every family is the same and I have also made local friends who are far from home.
At first I was very frustrated and confused by the difference. Then I realized that I was applying my own standards and way of life to an entirely different culture. I am attributing this frustration to culture shock. I want to understand it so that I can work with it. Now I am doing my best to listen in order to better understand the thought process behind this way of life.