Megan Cort recently returned from a language intensive in Amman, Jordan; she currently works for International Arts and Artists. Here, she shares her story on cross-cultural connections through travel and education.
Growing up in a predominantly white, Christian, small town in western Massachusetts, I had very little knowledge of the Islamic faith.
I still remember, quite vividly, someone discussing the concept of a pilgrimage to Mecca, and I had no idea what he was talking about. It was my first semester at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. To fulfill the language requirement for my program my academic advisor suggested taking a language course. I was fascinated by the Islamic arts and calligraphy, curious about the Islamic culture, and interested in Arabic language. It was a yearlong class and it perfectly alternated with my already assigned classes – surely it was a sign. It was around this time, that I began a lifelong affair with the Arabic language.
Upon reflection, that moment shaped the course of my life for the next eight years. It was not just a language class; it was a cultural immersion class. Doors were opened, and greater connection came out of that experience. College was a remarkable time of exploration and deeper understanding for me, as it is for many young people leaving home for the first time. At college I was able to experience the cultural aspects of Islam. I became involved with the International Students Club and attended many interfaith events on campus. It allowed me to experience practices that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise: attending Iftar dinners during the month of Ramadan, and celebrating Eid with Muslims international students were truly remarkable. I was surprised at how it reminded me of other religious events that I had attended while growing up: filled with food and fun.
I loved the sense of community among Muslim students based on their shared identity and it reminded me of my favorite aspects of my own religion. Celebrating together with a new sense of family left a profound impact on me. The way my friends opened up to me and were excited to share their culture and experiences with me and accepted my background gave me a sense of belonging.
Two years later, I was on the back of camel crossing the desert in Wadi Rum village in Jordan. I was in the Middle East on a cultural and language exchange program with Where There Be Dragons. I travelled with a group of American students to the capital city of Amman and traveled all the way to Aqaba in the south. We got to see Petra, Wadi Mujib, swim in the Dead Sea, and sleep in Bedouin-style tents under the starry skies in the open desert. I lived with two Jordanian host families and spent my afternoon sipping tea with local women.
I have recently returned from my third trip to Jordan. As I got to finally communicate with locals in their language, learn about their culture, and experience their day-to-day lives, I realized how so different and yet very similar we all are. Despite our differences in race, religion, language, and cultural, deep down we are all the same.
I gained a better understanding and appreciation of a religion, which prior to my Arabic classes and my trip to Jordan, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about. I have made so many friends because of this decision, and I have made connections with people both within the United States and outside of the United States whom I would consider my family. I am lucky that I grew up in a family that strives for not merely tolerating other cultures and religions but respecting and appreciating their differences and similarities.