Jessica in Jordan

Jessica is working for the National Center for Policy Analysis’ debate institute, “Debate Central.” The NCPA will be holding a debate camp in Amman, Jordan, along with General Tommy Franks, The King’s Academy and Oklahoma Christian University’s Institute for Leadership and Liberty. Jessica travels to Jordan in July to instruct debate and public speaking with the camp, as well as educate the students there on the debate topic, which addresses the Middle East peace process. Jessica also is serving as managing editor of the White Rock Lake Weekly, a Dallas-area newspaper whose editor-in-chief is an SMU graduate

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Debate coach

Jordan is absolutely beautiful. I have included in this post a view from my window. How amazing is it to wake up to that every morning? I can’t wait until I can wake up to the view from Wadi Ram when we go camping in the desert.
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The King’s School is such an interesting place. It is amazingly beautiful. It is sprawled out on several well-landscaped acres, and all of the buildings are made of white stone and wood. None of the rooms except for larger gathering spaces are air conditioned, but that’s fine because it never gets above 85 degrees here and it is not humid at all.

My dorm room is extremely small; it has a bed, a desk, a set of drawers and a small armoire, and maybe a total of six square feet of walking space. It also has no air conditioning, but if you open the window the temperature is perfect. (PHOTO: view from my window, right)

The school is also very, very progressive. In the country of Jordan itself, you can be punished for debating Christianity, but at the school they offer the study of Christianity as a class you can take if you choose to opt out of the Islam classes. The school will even drive its Christian students to the few churches in the area on Sunday mornings if they students ask them to. Every student on this campus speaks English, and the classes are held in English. jordan-%20kings%20academy%20sign%20-1-1.jpg All students are required to take Classical Arabic, but everyone must speak fluent English. (PHOTO: King’s School, left)

I have seen very few women wearing hijabs. This actually surprised me, as I was told that I should expect women to dress extremely traditionally. I have actually seen no woman under the age of 40 wearing a hijab. Most women dress exactly like women in America do, especially the students. The girls in my dorm wear short skirts and tank tops during the day, and spend more time than the American students putting on makeup and doing their hair. I am obviously more comfortable with the clothes I brought, since they are about five times more modest than the students’ clothing. I actually feel a little out of place in my long pants and high necked shirts.

This country actually stuns me. Since the current king, King Abdullah, began his reign in 1999, he has basically transformed this country. He has made it a true constitutional monarchy, and reduced his own power to put more democratic power in the hands of his people. He has opened up the free market here, making it one of, if not THE, fastest growing country in this region. He has also transformed the educational system. The literacy rate is the highest in the Arab world, and there is an outstanding 99 percent literacy rate among children here.

I would not think twice about sending my child to school at the King’s School. It is more open-minded than many American private schools I have been to, and certainly better equipped. They have selected teachers from all over the world. One look down their faculty list and you’ll see teachers from the U.S., South Africa, England, everywhere.

dorms.jpg The program I am with, Four Star Debate, seems to be going really well so far. The students are (mostly) receptive to the information we are teaching them, although their are some Palestinian students who are extremely militant in their views against Israel, which often makes it difficult to teach them anything they don’t already agree with. We don’t have any Israeli students here, so I can’t speak for them, but I would imagine that if we did they would have the same issues. (PHOTO: student dorms, left)

Teaching students in any part of the world, much less the Middle East, about the Middle East peace process is a difficult thing to do. Students from America have heard so much about Israel in the news that they have formed their own opinions just like the Middle Eastern students have. The outstanding thing is how much misinformation both sides have.

There is so much propaganda coming from both sides of the issue that it is very difficult for students to sort out what is fact and what is opinion. While I am confident that every piece of information we have given them is 100 percent accurate, the students are having a difficult time accepting that sometimes what they understand to be true is, in fact, completely false.

The program has brought in several very qualified speakers from both Palestine and Israel that are making it easier for the students to come to terms with the reality of the situation. So far the students have heard lectures from Dr. Mahmoud Labadi (a former spokesperson from the Palestinian Liberation Organization and current editor of the Palestinian Bulletin) and Dr. Nouh El Harmouzi (the Editor-in-Chief and General Coordinator of the Minbar Al-Hurriyya Project, the Arabic project of The Atlas Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace and Prosperity and Cato institute in Washington).

But I think the most interesting experts that the students have heard from so far have been speakers from One Voice Palestine and One Voice Israel. This organization is one of the biggest supporters of peace in the region and works to spread the truth about what is happening there.jordan-expert%20debate-1.jpg They work jointly, so it was interesting for the students to hear from people who have no misconceptions about the other side and look rationally upon the situation. Both of these speakers where young, and so they related well with the students. It was refreshing to hear them talk about progress that was being made, and the work they were doing to attempt to banish the lies that both sides tell about the other. (PHOTO: One Voice Palestine and One Voice Israel, right)

My official title at this camp is a “lab leader,” which is basically just a debate coach. I have a lab group of eight students: four from America and four from Jordan. There are five other groups just like mine. Students debate in pairs, and each pair has one American student and one Jordanian student. My group of eight continue to astound me. They have taken in so much information in the past two days, and they have processed it and can speak about it openly and intelligently. We had our first round of practice debate yesterday, and they needed very little help from me at all.

To be fair, at first they were very disinterested and very lazy. After I gave them their first assignments, they simply did not do it. When they came back when the assignment was due and I found this out, I was extremely disappointed. I am very assertive, and I think I may have shocked them when I told them that not accomplishing their assigned tasks was unacceptable and a waste of time. Once I got through to them that they were basically robbing themselves of a fantastic opportunity to learn, they stuck it into high gear and got everything done. They work during meals, and I hear them working late at night in the dorms. They have really turned themselves around, and I am extremely proud of them.

jordan-%20keyboard-1.jpg So far I have only had two embarrassing experiences here, and for me that is a bit of an accomplishment. Very few of the cleaning staff at the school speak English, so when they ask you things you have to kind of guess. I had left my computer in a room that the cleaning staff had locked, and I needed to get it.

After doing very elaborate sign language to ask them to open it again, the woman said “You Colombia?” I thought she was asking me if I was from Colombia, so I said “No, United States.” And she just looked at me funny, and I couldn’t figure out why. It turns out that there is a group here from Columbia University, and that is what she was asking me. But I didn’t find that out until sometime later, and then I immediately understood why she looked at me strangely. (PHOTO: Jordanian keyboard, left)

Then yesterday I was concentrating on sending an e-mail on my phone, and walked straight into a concrete bench and proceeded to fly forward, hit the bench flat and roll off of it. I did this in front of about seven students from Four Star Debate, who first were concerned for my well being and then broke into a fit of laughter. While I am fine (I only walked away with a few scrapes), I feel like a complete idiot. I’m sure I looked like something out of a cartoon. I literally flew.

But, other than that I am having a fantastic time!

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    One Response to Debate coach

    1. Paul Hanna says:

      Dear Jessica,
      loved reading your comments on Jordan.
      Being a Jordanian and an SMU Alumni living in Amman. Would like to oportunity to meet you and offer you some Jordanian hospitality.

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