One of the questions we are asked most frequently is how to go about meeting local students. Those of your predecessors who have been successful in this respect would likely say that the best approach is to find a group activity that includes local people: choral singing, calligraphy lessons, biking, sports, volunteer work, etc. You will need some courage and a good deal of initiative. Results may not live up to your expectations, especially right away. Given cultural differences and expectations, your friendships with your Jordanian peers may not be quite the same as your relationships with friends at home. But if you are patient, persistent, and open to relating to peers in a different cultural context with different social norms, you can still develop deep and life-long connections.
Your mentors (Jordan University students who volunteer with our program) may introduce you to other Jordanians and might also invite you to their homes. Do make an effort to be in regular touch with them. They may infer that you don’t want to meet with them if it is always they who try to maintain the relationship, so take the initiative to meet with mentors and Jordanian friends.
Keep in mind the strategies you would use at home to meet people you are interested in knowing: you try to be where they are, you try to share an interest or an activity that will bring you into contact with them, and you get to know people who know them. It goes without saying that if you make one or two Arabic-speaking acquaintances to start, it can only make things easier in meeting others.
Jordanians are very friendly people and generally love to engage anyone in conversation. These conversations, whether they take place in a taxi cab, an ‘ahwe (coffee shop), or while shopping, can provide you with excellent opportunities to practice colloquial Arabic. Don’t be surprised if you are asked about your religious or political sentiments by a complete stranger. This is not a trap, but rather a common question for foreigners, though it often takes Americans by surprise at first. As a student of Arabic, you know that it is nearly impossible to have even the briefest exchange in Arabic without mentioning God. It should not be surprising therefore that Jordanians will be curious about your beliefs.
For your own well-being, it is best not to divulge much information about your religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital status to someone you do not know well (e.g. a taxi driver). Sensitive ideas are definitely topics to avoid with strangers, as certain issues can cause a lot of curiosity or tension, especially among the more conservative members of society. Once you get to know someone better, you can get a sense of their worldviews and judge when it is safe and productive to share your personal views, particularly if they are of a sensitive nature.