Staff Member Spotlight: Lauren Kardos

Title
Senior Program Assistant for Education Abroad

Photos

What position do you hold at AMIDEAST?

I am a Senior Program Assistant for AMIDEAST’s Education Abroad department, located in Washington, D.C. Along with my colleagues in D.C, I work closely with AMIDEAST field staff in Jordan, Morocco, and Oman to coordinate summer, semester, and academic year education abroad opportunities. Specifically, I assist in the pre-departure process for AMIDEAST Jordan students, manage our application system, am the first point of contact for prospective students, and conduct outreach to universities and colleges throughout the United States.

My favorite part about my job is helping students prepare to study in one of the most welcoming, naturally beautiful regions of the world. Further, I love having the opportunity to return to the Middle East for work.

What has been your career path so far?

My position at AMIDEAST Education Abroad is my first job since graduation from George Washington University with my bachelor of arts degree! I graduated in May of 2012 with a degree in Middle East Studies, International Affairs, and Anthropology. I have worked in various positions with AMIDEAST in the Education Abroad Department since August of 2011 and was promoted to the position of Program Assistant in November of 2012.

In the near future, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in Intercultural Relations or Cultural Anthropology. Based on my wonderful experience working with AMIDEAST, I know that International Education, with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa, is the field I would like to remain involved with.

Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

I can’t remember when it developed or why, but I have had an intense desire to visit the Middle East and learn Arabic since I was a child. When I reached university, I was unwavering in my desire to learn Arabic and study abroad in the Middle East/North Africa region. I began my study abroad experience in Egypt with AMIDEAST in the Spring of 2011. Because of the political upheaval, I transferred to AMIDEAST’s program in Amman, Jordan in early February 2011. That spring, I fell head-over-heels in love with Jordan and decided to extend my stay to attend two sessions of the Summer Intensive Arabic program in Jordan with AMIDEAST that following summer. You can say I’m a little bit of an AMIDEAST Education Abroad expert, having experienced the programs both as a student and later as a staffer.

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Not only is language learning and cultural immersion important to me because I experienced it in Jordan, but also it has allowed me to build life-long connections to friends and colleagues in the Middle East and North Africa. After being immersed in and learning in Arabic for nearly 8 months, I was very comfortable conversationally in the Jordanian dialect. Because of my intensive language learning experience with AMIDEAST and continual studying post-graduation, I have been able to travel to other Arab countries over the past two years.

Although these countries use different dialects of Arabic, I have been pleased with my ability to pick up the linguistic differences fairly easily. By keeping in touch with close Jordanian friends and my host family, I feel constantly connected to the Middle East. I understand the region on a more personal level than I ever imagined and deeply appreciate the cultural differences I’ve encountered.

Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of the AMIDEAST team.

It may sound cheesy, but I feel proud to be a part of the AMIDEAST Education Abroad team every day! It is especially at the beginning of each Education Abroad term when my sense of pride is the strongest.

For months, our Education Abroad staff work to prepare the program. We review applications, develop programmatic plans, create syllabi, plan excursions, create and disseminate pre-departure information, and interact regularly with some seriously amazing students. Along with my colleagues, both in the U.S. and the Middle East/North Africa, I am proud to help students have an unforgettable experience in a region we all love. From thousands of miles apart, we all work together toward the common goal of increasing mutual respect and understanding between American and Arab peoples. When students return home with a similar love of their host country and increased Arabic proficiency, we know we have succeeded by working together.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Due to my regular interaction with AMIDEAST program alumni, it is impossible to select a “best” returned student story. There are three common threads I have noticed among many stories which are truly heart-warming.

AMIDEAST host families are some of the most welcoming people in the world. From teaching students how to cook Arab recipes, going on family outings in the city, and taking care of a student while sick; our host families make a AMIDEAST students feel at home in what can be very unfamiliar environments.

Students become intimately involved in every facet of life in the Middle East. Students throw an “In Sha’Allah (if God wills it)” at the end of every sentence, haggle in the medina becomes second nature, and sip tea with local friends regularly as a part of their daily life.

Studying in a region with Roman ruins, Ottoman castles, ancient Berber villages, and Biblical sites is, quite simply, intoxicating. One stay in the Middle East is never enough, and students feel they have the language ability and travel confidence to return to the region again.