Author: Theresa Pham


Amman: Week 4 // Reincarnation

Week 4 has been one of the most incredible weeks of my life, but also ended dramatically. The first day of the week, Sunday, was February 14th… Valentine’s Day, Single Appreciation Day, Galentine’s Day; call it what you may but for this year for me was Reincarnation day. This Valentine’s I actually had someone I wanted to be super obnoxious with and share the stupid Hallmark Holiday with, but I am instead thousands of miles away in the Middle East; pretty good excuse to miss Valentin’s Day right? But on this day, the world had a different surprise for my friend Rukaya and I.

After class, Rukaya and I went to Books@Cafe to grab a bite to eat and chill. It was there that we met our new friend Raji who was there celebrating “Reincarnation Day”/. To be honest, I was extremely frustrated and in a negative mental space. The cultural show and constant language barrier was really getting to me. I am usually not one to get homesick,, but I was. I wanted all my ridiculous problems back home and for my time abroad to be over. After meeting Raji and his family, I felt weirdly re-energized and re-inspired. We all talked about life, religion, politics history and philosophy… swapping life stories and thoughts over tea. They were kind, hospitable and genuine. They welcomed us with open arms. It was honestly one of the first times I felt so comfortable. It was like I was in America.

The following week was pretty incredible. I had a total of three days of school and the weekend started a day early! Read more “Amman: Week 4 // Reincarnation”


Amman: Week 3 // The “Highs” and “Lows” of…

With my goal of exploring Amman more and be uninhibited about exploring by myself in mind, I hit the ground running checking for Facebook events that sounded interesting. I was so presently surprised by the wealth of free lectures and budget friendly unique activities available in Amman. The most striking thing about my time on Facebook hunting for events was how close Amman is to Jerusalem and Ramallah. When I searched for nearby events, a solid 60% majority of events were in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I was also extremely surprised at the range of events available; from coding classes to talks in art galleries, Amman has it all.

On one hand, I seem to always forget that Amman is urban and the capital city. While on the other hand, I have to remind myself that culture is everything… Which is why this post is called The “Highs” and “Lows” of Culture in Amman. Get it? Tehehehehe I think I am super punny and clever.

Anyways, this new grand search for culture led me to five absolutely fascinating experiences:

  1. The Future of a Different Museum | Chris Dercon in conversation with Vassilis Oikonomopoulos // Darat Al-Funun دارة الفنو

To preface, the Darat Al-Funun is a darling art gallery/museum in Jebel Weibdeh that has stunning views of the city and takes a much more holistic approach to art. They not only focus on showcasing the art, but also help in the creative process.

Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern in London, discussed “The Future of a Different Museum” together with Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, Assistant Curator, Collections International Art, at Tate Modern. The talk began with a discussion of identity (political versus cultural) and what it means to be a museum. It was defined that a museum is “a place where you can revisit works”, which was the main contrasting factor between museums and “other places where art is shown”. He also stated that “museums are the only place you can watch people watching, are allowed to ask questions even Google can’t answer, and as Woodie Allen as shown, is the best place for dating… But museums can give you a little sense of reality and serendipity.” These statements could not have rung truer as someone who also works as at a museum. AKA friends who go to the University of Illinois, please check out and take advantage of the Spurlock Museum. We have an amazing collection and it’s FREE. Plus, if you head over to our Facebook page, you can check out the events section where we post cool events we are hosting that may or may not include food. Cheap and amazing date idea to spice up your love life courtesy of Love Guru Theresa.

Back to the talk, because of this, the art can be appreciated in various different contexts. How does this relate to culture and Jordan? This is where the talk gets interesting. Dercon then discussed how the world is changing constantly because geopolitically speaking, borders are constantly changing. But what is a border today? For example, how would we define a border between Jordan and Syria? We live in such a world of contradiction and arbitrary categorizations. According to Dercon, the “function of culture to give people a sense of place and identity”. But as pointed out, traditional big art museums only focus on works of the west and have this mentality of “Oh there is a hole in the painting, we will not touch it”. An example that I thought was beautiful was artist Ibrahim el-Salahi and the medium in which he creates art. All it really comes down to is the chemical composition, which is different for every medium.

As Dercon states, “At Tate, we need to show the courage to exhibit what we don’t know yet. We don’t want to follow the given cadences anymore and [these artists] deserve a place next to Picasso and Lichtenstein.” Artists like Wolfgang Tillman who was one of the first to photograph the Syrian Refugees in Europe and make the world think about, “What does it mean to walk day and night to a place where you are not welcome or “out of place”?” Tillman also photographed the refugee city in Berlin where over 14,000 are living in eight airplane hangars. Dercon raises an excellent point in terms of the international refugee crisis, “we cannot console or yield these tragedies with small pleasures like “poems”’.

There are so many other tangents the talk explored, but to sum things up, we must reinvent the function of art and museums. These museums must be more humble and the era of the big art museum is over. Museums can be anywhere, like Dayanita Singh has with her portable museum. Museums as a whole must not only undo all the noise, but also include the public whom should not be viewed as a hindrance.

The two personal things that I took from the talk are; learning is an art in itself and that works of art never stop asking questions.

Also in attendance of this talk was Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid. NBD. May have accidentally bumped into him before the talk without knowing. #AmICoolNow?

2. Troubling the Political: Women in the Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement // Sinjal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture

This lecture by Dr. Sara Ababneh discussed women’s role in civil activism in Jordan, specifically focusing on the key role played by women in the Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement (DWLM) (a critical component of the Jordanian Popular Movement (al-Hirak al-Shaʿbi al-Urduni) from 2011 to the end of 2012). Ababneh is an Assistant Professor at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and her current work examines the popular Jordanian protest movement (al-hirak al-shabi al-urduni), the Jordanian Personal Status Law, and EU-Jordanian Relations. This talk was extremely empowering and insightful. Ababneh did an incredible job not only summarizing the movement, but then explaining women’s roles in a digestible manner.

Ababneh states that the DWLM was so successful because it is not a political movement. These women were only standing up for their right to economic self-determination. Day wage laborers were stuck in a deadly unjust cycle of employed poverty. How were they so successful in organizing? They followed two main guiding principles: 1. Respected and worked within economic constraints, 2. Respected and worked within social constraints. With these principles in mind, they did not hold regular meetings, but only met when there was a protest. That was the only requirement inorder to be an active member. They also used liaisons in every government and had a strong phone tree network to build a sense of community within the organization. The more informed the people were, the more people became involved and participated. The women also transformed the private sphere into political sphere. By doing so, it allowed them to stay active within the social constraints. That was the most inspiring concept for me. These women whom most assumed that they would be inactive in politics, worked the system they are in and found a way to be involved. I wish more people (including myself) took that initiative and had that drive.

The most thought provoking statement during that talk was:

“We look at protest movements and revolutionary movements and judge their success on whether they get their aims accomplished. We don’t consider whether the structures themselves are political and revolutionary.” – Dr. Sara Ababneh

For more information on the Sinjal Institute and their events, check out the link on the events page of our website at:



  1. Madaba

I ended my school week with a field trip to the town of Madaba for a cultural dinner with some locals. We learned how to Dabke and had dinner at the Catholic Church in Madaba, belonging to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, more infamously known as the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. We also had Knafeh for dessert. I had a big realization this night also… I am not in shape enough to properly Dabke. I wish we were given the opportunity to explore the town of Madaba just because of its importance in Christianity and as a model place where Christians and Muslims live peacefully.

  1. Souk Al-Jooml3a or Abdali Market (aka Friday Market)

The Friday Market is by far the most intense flea market I have ever been to. It is exciting, overwhelming, and as my first time extremely frustrating. The market is much smaller in size than I anticipated, but is pack to the brim with clothing, shoes, houseware and people. The walkways are narrow and all the vendors loudly advertising (YELLING) prices of their items. I found some incredible beautiful leather boots in sizes too small and walked away with a burgundy scarf for my upcoming trip to Petra and Wadi Rum. This scarf purchase was disheartening to be honest. A young boy, 14 at most, walked up to me as I was looking at the scarves and told me each was 1 JD. When I was done digging and found a big scarf I felt comfortable buying, I walked over the boy with my new scarf and confirmed the price. I handed the boy a 10 JD bill and he immediate ran off with his friends. In that moment, I knew I had messed up and should have come with change. Change in Jordan is also a ridiculous thing. No one wants to give you any and hates big bills. Anyways, I was not about to leave so I stood there as confidently as I could until the boy came back. Ten minutes passed and I began to get worried. The other sellers began to stare and whisper to one another. The boy came back and seemed surprised that I was there. He handed me four JD and told me that I was done. I was overcome with emotion especially since this seems to be a trend for me. I immediately told him no and he ran off again. He said something in spoken Arabic and as I began to run after him, a neighboring shop owner told me the boy will be back with my change. After waiting another five(ish) minutes, the boy was back and proceeded to only give me two more JDs. I looked at him and again told him no. As he began to pocket the rest of my change, I raised my voice, again repeated the word “No” in Arabic, and used the word “Haram”. I was angry and it was not necessarily because of the money but I was just fed up with people assuming I do not know what is going on. The neighboring shop owner immediately stepped him and grabbed the money from the boy. As the man was counting back my change, it came up one JD short. I grabbed my change, gave the boy one last look, and thanked the man for stepping in.

Though I felt frustrated a bit discouraged, I am optimistic and think I will find some amazing things the next time I go!


  1. Organic Brunch and Market with Yanboot // Fann wa Chai فن وشاي

After the market on Friday, I headed to Fann wa Chai in Jebel Weibdeh for an organic delicious brunch with my friend Haley. The food was absolutely delicious and my body appreciated the raw natural ingredients. I don’t think I have missed eating a salad so much. Leafy greens are not as big here as they are in the US. The brunch also included a small market with a wide variety of produce to be purchased. It was pure perfection. The weather was fantastic so we sat outside and talked about potential spring break plans! I am super excited about attending more of these weekly brunches!

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on some long overdue writing and work. Fann wa Chai is the perfect place to set up shop, drink tea and get some work done. My laptop hate their WiFi, but I think not having access to internet may have been for the better!

This week showed me the amazing high culture in Amman and the “low” social norms as I hit one of the most frustrating points since arriving.

I am so excited for this upcoming week and to continue sharing this experience with everyone! Just to preview, I will be taking a trip to … wait for it … PETRA AND WADI RUM!


Amman: Week 2 // I Hit the Ground… Slowly?

After an exciting first week in Amman, my second week was quite uneventful (but not in a negative sense by any means). I started classes this week and the rose colored glasses I wore last week began to wear off. This week was quite eye opening only because the true reality of Amman started to show. As an American abroad, I am constantly aware of my ignorance, but I had never traveled to a place before where my ethnicity was of such importance to the locals. Or even felt so frustrated that people keep trying to take advantage of me while fully knowing they are.

As mentioned in my first blog post about studying abroad, I am taking classes at Princess Sumaya University for Technology. While abroad, I am taking a six credit hours course of Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha), a three credit hours course of Jordanian Spoken Arabic (3ammiya), three credit hour course entitled Intercultural Leadership and Communication, and finally a three credit hour course on the Environment and Politics of Water. I absolutely adore all my professors, but was struggling to adjust to being a student again. The first week was so nice because I was able to wander mindless and forget why I was in Jordan in the first; to study Arabic and learn about the area.

This past week has been so exhausting mentally and I have gone to bed extremely early every night. I also joined a gym close to my program headquarters, which sadly is a 30 minute HIKE from PSUT.

The area PSUT is located in is extremely nice though. It is right next to the University of Jordan and I have both of my elective courses in the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan. I got lost very almost every day of the week while trying to “forage” for lunch. The highlight of my week was definitely finding a simple takeout falafel joint called “Ibn Battuta” where you can get a big sesame bread falafel sandwich for 50 piasters (so 75 USD cents). IT IS THE BEES KNEES.

As the week ended, my host sister invited all of my friends over for fajitas on Thursday and to learn how to dance. It was so sweet to be able to have the two most important groups of people in Amman meet one another and get along. She then invited everyone over again the next day to play Uno. I have never had that much fun playing Uno. New decks are the best and so ridiculously hard to shuffle!

Saturday was spent learning how to clean my room. There is an Arabic saying that something is not clean unless you can do surgery on it. I have never missed or appreciated my Swiffer more than this morning. It was so difficult because we clean the floors using a puddle of soapy water and an oversized squeegee. I miss my ridiculous American inventions.

This week was pretty slow and noticed that I found comfort underneath my covers, thus would spent time just laying in bed. I believe that this rest was well deserved and needed, but I also decided that I need to get out more next week. Also need to be more courageous and comfortable doing things by myself. It feels daunting at times, but I think it will be well worth it!


Amman: Week 1 // The Initial Shock

I had read every page in the handbook and attended every orientation, but will be the first person to tell you that nothing will prepare you for life in the Middle East; let alone Amman. Amman is an interesting place that I have grown extremely found of in my first (and probably most eventful) week abroad. I will try to break this post roughly down by day and give you a step by step overview of my first week full of firsts.

After landing at the airport, I was immediately greeted with smiles form the CIEE staff members and dropped off at my host family’s home. I had accidentally put my departure date as my arrival date and was not given a packet with information about my host family. So head first I went.

Sadly, I did make some major assumptions that I still feel awful for today. The biggest and most important being that they were Muslim. My host family is actually Christians. Depending on who you ask in Jordan, the statistic varies from 2% to up to 8% of the population being Christian. The other assumption I made was that their English would be terrible. They are actually almost fluent in English and is much better at English than I will probably ever be in Arabic. This lack of a language barrier has definitely made my transition much easier. We are able to have intellectual and open dialogue with one another about life. It is so refreshing to hear their perspective and the lenses they see the world through.

My official day in Amman was spent inside because there was “snow”. I live in Jebel Weibdeh which is not as high up on the hills as other neighborhoods, so only saw a dusting of snow. Even though the whole city only got a couple inches at the most, there is no infrastructure to even handle that. The roads immediate freeze over, salt is not put on the street, the fog is frightening, and because of how hilly Amman naturally is, makes travelling extremely dangerous. The government put out a 10 am start time for all businesses because it was so dangerous!

Luckily for me, day two was not as alarming as my first day. I mustered up the courage to step outside and invited a few people in my study abroad program to meet up for coffee at a local café. My first step outside was exhilarating. Everything was new and exciting, half of the things I said that day was, “WOW!” The biggest lesson I learned that day was that smoking, cigarettes and hookah, is as accepted and normal as drinking tea. Some people even claim that is healthy! As one of my new friends stated after hearing that, “Healthy hookah? That’s like eating a salad at McDonald’s!” It was comforting to get to meet people who had similar interests in my program and could understand exactly what I was going through at the moment.

On a very personal note, day two was the first time I realized how prevalent a bidet was. Yes, a bidet (and I am not talking about the one that is attached to the toilet); or as my boyfriend asked, “Why do you have a second sink next to the toilet?” Growing up, my mother always said to check for toilet paper before sitting down… This advice could not ring truer than in Jordan.

Day three was spent exploring Rainbow Street by First Circle in Amman. The street and surrounding area are often seen as the cool, young, and hip place of Amman. I had read many articles and blog posts about the neighborhood and in particular about Al-Quds Falafel (the oldest falafel stand in Amman) and Books@Cafe (the notorious bookshop that happens to be both the Middle East’s first Internet cafe and the most LGBTQI friendly establishment and hub of the city). My new friends and I all met up in front of Al-Quds and proceed to journey our way to Books@Cafe. The owner of Books@Cafe is also the notorious Marian Al-Jeezera from Thomas Freedman’s The Oil and the Olive Tree. The café is absolutely stunning and so welcoming. The view of the city from the café is hypnotic and you cannot help but stare. More importantly, their WiFi is one of the best in the city and the Mint Lemon thirst quenching.


It was also on this day when I realized how scare of a resource water really is. It is not just a fact that you hear about in the news of in documentaries you watch after taking a hot twenty minute shower. On this day, we ran out water at the apartment and had to borrow some from our neighbors. I only found out that we were running out of water because I was trying to refill my water bottle and the water spout was inconsistent and a thin trickle. In Amman, water is rationed out by the government and my host family gets their water every Wednesday. Because of this, we only shower on Wednesdays and Sundays. I was told that if I need to take a quick shower between these days, I can do so, but only if I really need to and to make it very quick. I have learned to take five minute showers where the water is actually only running for half of the time at most. The other water wakeup call is that we must manually heat up water if we would like to use warm water. If I need to take a shower, I must tell my host mom of my intention to shower and wait about an hour to warm the water up. As a privileged American, we have so much water that we “play in it and shoot it up in the air for fun”, as a fellow student stated.

Day four was spent in a Safety and Health orientation presented by my study abroad. This orientation covered everything from staying healthy and active in Amman to harassment and assault. Before the presentation, I was living on cloud nine. Though I was homesick and just wanted to be home, I had never been too concern about being in Amman. After the presentation, the paranoid side of me kicked back in. Coming from a Big Ten university where one in four women are a victim in an attempted sexual assault in her lifetime, it is not a topic that I am a stranger to. But somehow, to hear how accepted and common verbal harassment is in everyday life was a wakeup call. The scariest part was how polarizing a taxi ride can be and how groping might happen. Taxi drivers can try to rip you off by not starting their meter, but have also masturbated while driving. Sadly, the most comforting part of the orientation was when we were told that though verbal harassment is common in Amman, it is not as bad as other places and sexual assault is much less likely than any college campus in the United States. This was my new reality.

TODAY IS THE DAY I TRULY UNDERSTOOD WHAT FALAFEL WAS. Had a Sesame bread falafel sandwich from Al-Quds on Rainbow Street. Worth the 0.75 JD I spent on it. I wish I could have it for lunch every single day.

On day five was my first weekend in Amman! It was extremely exciting because my host mother’s married daughter would be coming to visit with her family from a neighboring village/suburb. We had a wonderful lunch of two different types of Foul (a popular stewed bean dish), hummus, various pickles and jams, bread (khoubz), and fresh vegetables. My host sister and I had the most interesting talk about different education systems and the psychology of children. She and her husband are both music teachers so we were able to bond over dorky music insights and jokes.


The other thing I learned that first weekend was that the weekend starts on Thursday not Friday. We get Friday and Saturday off and start the week on Sunday because Muslims have a special prayer midday on Friday and well Saturday is the day of the Shabbat. I am still unsure how that works with going to church on Sundays for the Christian minority…

Day six was the most exciting day of the entire week (and probably my time in Amman) because my program planned a whole tour of the city for us. We visited the Citadel, Roman Theatre, ate delicious food, and then was sent off on a scavenger hunt of various parts of the city. Of course, my team won! Being an American is often frustrating for me because our history is so short. Some of the oldest things we have are only 250 years old which is insignificant compared to the thousands upon thousands of years of history parts of the Middle East has. Jordan in particular is one of oldest and most religiously significant area of the world.




Here are some of my favorite fun facts/quotes from my tour guide:

“Jordan is the Swiss of the Middle East.”

“We [Jordan] are surrounded by fire.”

“White city; limestone…”

The scavenger hunt was the most tiring thing that I have ever done. Just kidding, but we did a TON of walking.







Project: Well-Wisher (6)


I know I have been slacking on the posts, but I promise I have not been slacking on photographing the amazing people who come into my life! Grggghhh Midterms… What can I say. Speaking of midterms, this Well-Wisher post is dedicated to someone who is taking a very interesting class with me and had even more on her plate during the last week of midterms than I did. Three papers, a couple of test and quizzes… I have no idea how she survived. Read more “Project: Well-Wisher (6)”