In our own US college bubble, sometimes it is easy to forget that colleges exist elsewhere which are run differently from ours. Going to university is becoming one of the most important parts of education throughout the Middle East, just like the US, however the culture here also seeps into university life. Throughout my time abroad in both Egypt and Jordan, I’ve found several college life differences that many US students would be surprised to hear about, but which are normal for both Egyptians and Jordanians.
Semesters here are at very different times of the year compared to the US, and exams are spread out through several weeks and not just one. Typical US schools go from late August-December, then January-May – Jordanian institutions are usually shifted a month forward or behind ours. Another extremely important aspect of US college culture is dorm life – living away from home and the independence that it brings. In order to save money and because of the culture here, dorms hardly exist. Pretty much all Middle Eastern students live at home with their parents through and sometimes after their studies (until marriage). Going off of this, what usually happens in US dorms (parties, shenanigans, etc.) hardly ever happens with college students here. Most activities outside of campus, often not purposely, are gender separated. Unless a boy and girl are dating, they tend not to hang out one on one and even inter-mixed boy and girl groups are not common. Gossip is more prevalent in some ways here than in the US. As it is a Muslim-majority country, many students tend not to drink.
To say the least, Middle Eastern students take their studies very, very seriously. Internships and college-student jobs are also a non-existent concept – it is seen as neglecting studies should a student work in any capacity during the semester. I know GW students who have a full course load, two unpaid internships, and a part-time job. Even though US students may find Middle Eastern university life to be completely uninteresting, the students themselves are just as much fun as anywhere else. Some of our Egyptian friends showed us all the best shopping locations in downtown, the best ice cream places, and the best public parks. In Jordan, some of our friends have taken us to bellydancing lessons and on a day trip to the Dead Sea. The concept of fun is different, more laid back and relaxed and oftentimes more family-oriented. But hey, it’s still fun!
Lauren Kardos is a rising senior at The George Washington University and intern at The National Society of Collegiate Scholars. As a student of International Affairs and Middle East Studies, she is currently studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, attempting to improve her Arabic. She loves blogging about her travel experiences, reading any and all books, and exploring new music.