Spending a semester in a different country isn’t only about self exploration and travel. While those can be some of the most exciting components of studying abroad, the experience often encompasses a deeper and more complex journey through encounters with the lived realities of other people. While six months or a year will never provide you with enough insight to fully understand the ways in which individuals and groups experience life in different contexts, they can often offer avenues to reflect on one’s own identities and ways of life, sparking question about the reasons for and the distinct ways in which people experience life in different contexts.
To Tulane Junior Kendall Gardner, personal reflection during her study abroad experience has proved essential. Passionate about Middle Eastern politics and hoping to work in international policy in the future, she pursued the CIEE Middle East Studies Program to gain a truly immersive experience and improve her Arabic speaking abilities, while simultaneously working with USAID- Takamol on regional gender issues. Alongside classes like “Diplomacy and International Relations in the Middle East” and “Political Structures and Dynamics of the Middle East Regional System,” Kendall has had the opportunity to learn about critical gender issues in the region and attend various regional conferences and panels in the effort to mainstream gender issues in the Jordanian public sector and civil society. Throughout this process, she gained a more intimate look into the involvement of the U.S. Government in Jordan, which helped her reflect on her identities as both a woman and an American living in Amman.
Although she feels passionate about getting engaged with different cultures and people, her experience abroad has not always been easy. For her, being a woman in Amman “has been the biggest challenge during [her] time in Jordan,” as different events have forced her to be more conscious of her identity as a woman than ever before. Although it has been challenging, Kendall regards the challenges she has faced as some of the most important aspects of her time abroad. As someone who wants to work in international policy on gender-related issues, Kendall says that the opportunity to learn about feminism from non-western perspectives is invaluable. Acknowledging that “the lived realities of women across the world are different, and intersectionality is so often ignored by American feminists,” she says that every day in Amman has contributed to a reframing of her views.
For Kendall, studying abroad has not only been about studying Arabic or visiting Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba. It has encompassed an opportunity to reflect on her own identities in the context of another country. While taking both an academic and a professional step towards the life she hopes to lead and the career she plans to pursue, Kendall has been able to expand her understanding of gender-related issues to different contexts and gain a more nuanced understanding of the significance of being an American woman abroad. “These two identities have been on the forefront of my mind all semester, and although it has been challenging to navigate, I think that the lessons I’ve learned about myself and about my worldview are the most important things that I’ll take away from this experience.” Her personal ideas and insights underscore that, while often enjoyable, the pursuit of study abroad is, at its core, about meaningful and intentional exchange, dialogue and reflection.