Alumni Spotlight: Lauren Ashley Newman


Lauren is an Arabic and international studies student from Mississippi. She is entering her senior year of college, but did not want to graduate without spending a semester abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because it combines both language study and subject-area classes focusing on things like peace studies and political science. Usually, centers in Jordan focus primarily on language: I wanted more. The program also gave an option to do an independent research project, which I was very excited for. The opportunity to do research abroad as an undergraduate is rare, and I am so happy I was able to get that valuable experience!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program got us our housing during orientation, matched us with a host family to live with for the rest of the semester, made sure our host families were giving us two meals a day, provided a local sim card, and booked us trips both around Jordan and abroad to the UAE. All of the trips were fully funded, including meals.

We had to pay to renew our phone plans. A lunch and transportation stipend was provided, but we paid for any independent exploring we did around Amman on the weekends. We also had to book our own flights, but the program provided transportation from the airport. Most of the logistics throughout the semester were handled by the amazing staff at SIT.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Be open-minded! It is important to realize that the culture you are entering is not your own. Things may move at a different pace, or people may chit-chat for a long time, or you may get pushed in a line at a grocery store. That's okay! The world won't end. The people in Jordan are beyond kind and hospitable, so just roll with the punches.

You will become a more flexible person, and your perspective will be forever altered. Being able to adjust in different atmospheres isn't just a skill you'll need when you're abroad. You may need it when you start an office job, when you travel for work, when you travel for leisure, when you move to a new city. Recognize any culture shock as a learning opportunity, and benefit!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I would typically wake up and grab some fruit from my host mom (who usually refused to let me leave without taking some sort of snack). I'd have about a 15 minute taxi ride to class (due to traffic), and then spend my day at the SIT building. The first class would start at 10, and at 12:15 we would go for an hour and a half long lunch before our final class. If it was a Friday, we would usually have a field visit to a local organization. Then, I'd go to a cafe with friends, maybe study, maybe play cards, and definitely smoke some hookah. Then I'd go home, eat some delicious dinner, watch TV with my host family, and go to sleep! During trips and weekends, things were a bit different, but that's an average day in an average week.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was definitely getting homesick and not getting along with my host family. I was very worried I'd feel like a stranger in my temporary home, and that would make me want to go home all the more.

I felt better almost immediately after meeting them. For one, most families have been doing this for years. They are happy you're with them, but I never felt like I was a strange, foreign object they had to constantly entertain. I quickly became part of the family, which meant that we could all sit around the living room watching tv, or I could go study in my room, and nothing felt uncomfortable or different. Their support helped prevent most homesickness. It was nice to have a family around when I was missing my own.

Not everyone gets along with their host family perfectly, but if things are truly bad, you could always switch.

What was your favorite part of your program?

I loved all the travel and all the wonderful friends I made, but I think most programs can give you that! With this program, however, I cannot say enough good things about the independent research project. When I interviewed for an internship after I got back home, the research project was the first thing they asked about. When I look at job or scholarship applications in my field, they always are looking for time spent living and researching abroad.

I learned so much about the research process, how to navigate academia in a foreign country, and even my own academic interests during my project! Because of what I was able to do, I always recommend SIT to people looking to study abroad. The staff was also an amazing help through the whole process. There was just enough assistance to feel comfortable without taking away the independent aspect.