Volunteer Chronicles: Settling In

Fuheis Jordan

My host family home in the distance

I’ve volunteered numerous times, and not once have the experiences turned out to be what I was originally expecting! This isn’t due to false advertising; it’s due to my own expectations based on my own culture. The only thing the remains consistent in my volunteering experiences is that it never is as rigid, scheduled, and organized as I originally think they will be. My experience so far in Jordan with Conversation Corps certainly fits that statement.

It’s funny how we read volunteering brochures and paint the images in our mind of what we think it will be like based on our own culture.; after all, that’s all we know. Then we get there and realize that the experience is not exactly like what we thought it would be. Typically it’s less structured, and operates at a much slower pace than what we had imagined. In fact, volunteering constantly reminds me that my own American culture is rather uptight, impatient, and rigid.

The website about Conversation Corps talks about how in exchange for room and board you help your family with conversational English for 2 hrs a day, 5 days a week. When I see the words ‘help with conversation’, I immediately conjure up images of teaching, lesson plans, and organized learning process with a strategy and vision as to where you start and where you want to end up. To be prepared for this before I left the US I tried to put together a little strategy for how I would teach my family.

Now I’ve arrived here in this surprising land of rolling hills and quickly was reminded how laid back other cultures are compared to America. When GeoVisions said ‘help with conversation’ – that’s exactly what they meant…you are simply talking. Granted, I’m sure every family is different, but my family had no expectations of lessons, practice, or any structured environment…they just wanted to talk. Just talk. Now I can do that without having to prepare a thing. I did meet another GeoVisions volunteer in the area and confirmed that his family also had a laid back attitude to the conversation.  This in part could be because in Jordan kids are required to take English in school, so they get a lot of good schooling and grammar practice, but very little conversation practice.  That’s where the I come in.

jordan plow horse

Plowing the olive tree fields in the Sweis back yard!

I’ve settled into life here among the Sweis family and they have been teaching me how to relax once again. Slowly the American in me is wearing down and I’m learning that it’s fine to nap in the middle of the day. This is definitely a cultural exchange just as it was described on the website. I ask a million questions a day on how and why something is the way it is and they learn more about my unconventional travel life, family, and America. The Sweis family household consists of Etedal, the mother, and she has 4 children all over 18 – Salem, Rawan (married to Saif), Dana, and Fady.

I share a room with Dana and she seemed happy to empty some drawers for me to store some of my stuff. They have wireless internet at the house…thank God…but I’m not sure how common that is among a typical family. They huddle around electric heaters in the winter and the hot water in the house is only on at night when the radiator heat comes on; so showers must be strategic! They drink copious amount of tea, but all in small little glasses that always leave me yearning for more. The living arrangements in the house have been pretty simple to get used to. The only downside is that the house is outside of Amman which requires me to figure out the local buses which I have yet to tackle.

Quite frankly, I’m still trying to get used to all of the newness I’m taking in and adjusting to a new culture. This isn’t an instantaneous process – not even for seasoned travelers.  You have to give yourself a chance to adjust.

Some of the things I’ve learned so far about the Jordanian culture:

  • Olive oil and lemon juice seems to be used in some form at every meal.
  • Kids live at home until they get married…no exceptions to that rule. This means that I would still be living with my parents…which might have been the one thing that would have made marriage look appealing to me.
  • Siblings fight and argue no matter what their age when they live under the same roof – even as adults!
  • Jordanian mothers are constantly cooking. When Etedal finishes one meal she sits down on the couch and starts chopping vegetables for the next meal. It’s a tireless job that I’m in absolute awe of.
  • However thanks to the above mentioned cooking, I’m eating very, very well! Etedal is my teacher when it comes to cooking. She takes the time to show me how to make the various dishes.
  • Coffee is something that is a social drink rather than a necessary drink. This is one thing I’m still trying to get used to.
  • Evenings are filled with family members sitting around talking; only occasionally so far is the television the center of attention.
  • It actually does get cold in Jordan…trust me.
  • Everyone lives next to their relatives. It seems that an in-law or blood relative is never far away!
  • They still use a horse and plow to work the land around the olive trees.
  • The television I have seen is full of terrible action movies proving that we export only the worst tv to other countries.

There are a number of other more ‘hard core’ volunteer opportunities via GeoVisions here in Jordan and I’m actually going to be exploring some of them over the next week.

So far the benefits of Conversation Corps have lived up to it’s advertising. You can travel for less for simply putting in a couple of hours each day literally talking, and the rest of your time is spent traveling and experiencing the culture in depth.

This week, I’m off to the Dead Sea and Petra…much more to come!

Check out more posts on Sherry’s experiences in Jordan over on her personal blog, OttsWorld, including:

Other comments

4 Comments on "Volunteer Chronicles: Settling In"

  1. Volunteering in Jordan | Ottsworld Travel Experiences on Thu, 13th Jan 2011 3:57 am 

    […] so – then check out the latest post about settling in with my host family in Amman. Volunteer Chronicles – Settling In « Late Night […]

  2. Barbara Weibel on Thu, 13th Jan 2011 2:18 pm 

    Sherry, this sounds absolutely fascinating. It’s actually about what I’ve been doing in Nepal with my adopted family, so I’d be really comfortable doing it. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. Tweets that mention Volunteer Chronicles: Settling In | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- Topsy.com on Fri, 14th Jan 2011 1:52 am 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Evelyn Hannon, Lisa Lubin, Sally Peters and others. Sally Peters said: Read over lunch, ready to go to Jordan! Excellent blog about volunteering in Jordan http://tinyurl.com/4tpm565 via @ottsworld @journeywoman […]

  4. Solo Travel vs. Couple Travel | Ottsworld Travel Experiences on Thu, 21st Apr 2011 6:02 am 

    […] the middle. He was coming from his career break travel in Southeast Asia and I was coming from my cultural exchange and work in the Middle East. In the middle was Sri Lanka…with no visa fees for Americans…so I went to Sri Lanka…for a […]

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