Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

From West Coast To Middle East

Californian Peace Corps Volunteers Make New Homes in Jordan

Every year, thousands of Americans pack a few bags, bid their friends and families farewell, and move to other countries to live and work in communities very different from the places they call home. Currently there are more than 7,700 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in places such as Cameroon, China, and Costa Rica, and that number is growing. In 2006, eight states saw double-digit increases over the previous year in the number of their citizens who became Peace Corps Volunteers. California led the pack with 902 Peace Corps Volunteers in service. That state also boasts the largest total number of Volunteers to have served—25,467 since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961.

Becoming a successful Peace Corps Volunteer is not just a matter of changing locations. A Volunteer must learn a new language, adapt to new customs, forge new relationships, and come to feel at home in an unfamiliar culture. Within the Peace Corps, this process is known as "community integration," and it is one of the most difficult and most rewarding aspects of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. To find out more about what it is like to leave home, integrate into a new community, and find a home away from home overseas, World Wise Window caught up with two Californians who are living in Jordan as Peace Corps Volunteers. Emily Spiegel and Marie Thomas, both working in English education and both connected with U.S. teachers through the Correspondence Match program, talked with us about landscape, holidays, and young people in their old and new homes.

World Wise Schools
Where is your hometown in California and where is your new home in Jordan?
Emily Spiegel
My California home is Yucaipa, population 47,000, between San Bernardino and Palm Springs, about 90 miles east of L.A. My home in Jordan is a town whose population is 1,000; it's a part of the collection of villages in the south of Jordan—about 40 minutes north of Petra and a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride south of Amman.
Marie Thomas
My home was in the city of Poway, near San Diego. In Jordan, I live in a village overlooking a large wadi (canyon-like valley). Most times there is smog.
World Wise Schools
How are the climate and topography similar, and how are they different?
Marie Thomas
Compared with Poway, Jordan's mountains are more craggier and steeper. Erosion is more evident here than in the hills around Poway. The soil here is thin and consist of clays that set hard after rains and are full of crumbling limestone rocks. Even though sheep and goats graze on mountains, the slopes can sustain only small flocks due to lack of vegetation. Unlike Poway, which has a lake and a dam, my area depends on rainwater stored in tanks on house roofs. Water is scarce after the rains stop. The climate is a Mediterranean one and, like Poway's, can be dry, hot, and uncomfortable in summer. It's cold in winters with scatterings of snow and frost, more than Poway receives. During the long winter season, strong, keen winds howl up from the nearby wadi, which runs along the road leading to my school. Sometimes it blows so hard I have to rest every minute or two. No exaggeration! It seems to do its best to sweep my legs out from under me as I walk to school every morning. There is nothing comparable in Poway.
World Wise Schools
The holiday season has just passed in California. What is your favorite holiday when you're at home in California? What about in Jordan?
Emily Spiegel
My favorite holiday in America is Thanksgiving, for the chance to see family and enjoy the great food. My favorite holiday in Jordan is the month of Ramadan. It may be technically incorrect to label the entire month a holiday, but there is a definite holiday atmosphere all month long. Most of the day during Ramadan is spent doing the exact opposite of what Americans do on Thanksgiving Day. Jordanians fast instead of feast. However, once the sun goes down in Ramadan, the meal can be quite large, with many dishes available. A major similarity between the holidays is in the purposes of each. A part of the reason for fasting in Ramadan is for people to remember those who have much less than they do, by empathizing with the hungry. Like Americans during canned food drives, Muslims use the month of Ramadan to make charitable donations to the poor. Along with the self-denial of a month of fasting comes a spirit of appreciation for the good things in one's life all year long, thus Thanksgiving.
World Wise Schools
What similarities and differences have you observed between young people in California and Jordan?
Emily Spiegel
The most striking difference between the two is that schools and other activities in California are co-ed, which they aren't here in Jordan. Additionally, young people in Yucaipa spend lots of time doing extracurricular sports and joining clubs, or just hanging out with their friends, usually without their parents. Here, there are very few extracurricular organized activities for young people. Boys still go out with their friends, but girls spend most of their time at home with their families. Mixed-gender social activities just do not happen. Another difference is that young people from my hometown in California have generally traveled more, and farther, than young people here. They have also generally done much more independent of their parents than young people here have.
Marie Thomas
First of all, many schools in America are rich with technology and modern curricula, and above all are huge compared with a small school like my local Girls' School. With the help of the British Council in Amman, and the librarian here in the school, we are just beginning to build up one shelf with English reading books. Previously, two or three children's books were the sole occupants there. Now we have more than a hundred books for students to read, and soon a reading program will begin. It will be the first. I think of the public libraries in Poway and all the school libraries in that city, and it leaves me in awe because of the availability of homework help for Poway students. And then compare that with our little local school library. Nonetheless, we are working hard to improve it, and already students are excited.