Grant-Funded Trip to Jordan Will Expand International Education at JJC

Halfway across the world, in a Middle Eastern country with a culture rooted in ancient history, Joliet Junior College Professor Oksana Alfredson found that she had much in common with her counterpaGrant-Funded Trip to Jordan Will Expand International Education at JJC rts at Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) who teach architecture, CADD and interior design.
“I enjoyed meeting my colleagues – I was just absorbing and learning,” she said. “Knowledge of different ethnic cultures is important for me as an interior design instructor and professional. I also met some Jordanian students from related disciplines. Everybody speaks English, so it was easy to communicate.”
Alfredson was one of six JJC faculty members who traveled to the country of Jordan along with President Debra Daniels March 22 to April 1, thanks to a U.S. Department of Education Title VI Grant for Enhancement of International Education and Foreign Languages. The purpose of the trip was to internationalize curriculum at JJC by building relationships with educational institutions across the world and incorporating a broader spectrum of worldviews into classwork.
Besides Daniels and Alfredson, the other representatives from JJC were: Professor Roya Falahi-Kharaghani, Social Sciences; Professor Max Lee, Physics; Professor Roxanne Munch, English and World Languages; Professor Susan Prokopeak, Library; and Professor Bill Yarrow, English and World Languages.
The trip brought the JJC group to JUST in Irbid and the University of Jordan in Amman where they met with administrators, faculty and students to learn more about each other’s cultures and explore the idea of exchange programs. They were joined on the trip by colleagues from the College of Lake County, which is JJC’s consortial partner in the grant.
“We live in a global society today, and an understanding of different cultures is essential to a college education,” said Daniels. “Thanks to the Title VI grant, the trip to Jordan allowed us to engage with our counterparts at Jordanian universities and seek to understand their culture and approach to education. As a result, we have established relationships that will allow for a future exchange of students and faculty members between our institutions, and we can enrich our curriculum here through the things we learned.”
While the numbers of American students and faculty traveling to Jordan for international education may not be very high, the group learned that Jordanians were much more familiar with the concept of studying beyond their borders.
In Jordan, many citizens earn their bachelor’s degrees within the country, but travel outside of the country to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees.
“The majority of faculty obtained their degrees from different universities in the U.S., and teaching at JUST is mostly in English,” said Alfredson. “I was also surprised to see that a dominant percentage of students were women.”
Prokopeak, who traveled on JJC’s previous Title VI trips to China and India, said that she has been able to integrate information from her international library visits into her courses, particularly Library and Technologies.
“When I met with Professor Mohammed N. Al-Ali, the director of the library at JUST, we were able to compare our experiences of moving into new buildings,” she said. “They had just moved into the building in the last year. They have self-check machines so patrons can manage their own materials. They do not; however, check out any media. So, no films, music, audio books, etc. are checked out for use. They also have encountered the same problem in the new building that we had in our old building: not enough outlets. So you have students working in groups with power cords running from a wall to the edge of their table as they try to keep their machines powered.”
In addition to visiting the two universities, the group had opportunities to explore cultural and historical sites around the country.
“I don’t have the words to describe the experience,” said Yarrow. “We explored the Old City in Amman, swam (that is, floated!) in the Dead Sea, rode camels at Wadi Rum, snorkeled in Aqaba, saw the Sea of Galilee from Umm Qays, visited Mt. Nebo and Jesus’ baptismal site, marveled at the ancient city of Petra, walked the Roman ruins in Jerash, dipped our feet in the hot springs near Ma’in, saw a map of the ancient world in the floor of a church in Madaba and a Bedouin map in a cranny in a sandstone cliff in Wadi Rum, and climbed a castle in Ajlun.”
The group also experienced culinary delights unique to the region such as falafel and green almonds and chickpeas purchased from a roadside vendor.
Reflecting on the cross-cultural communication aspect of their experience, Prokopeak said she found that understanding language and words in the context of a particular culture is crucial to building good relationships.
“It wasn’t until nearly the end of the trip that we learned the first name of our driver – we had been introduced to him by his last name. But we learned that his first name is Jihad, which evidently is a rather common name that means ‘to strive.’ Ahmed, our team leader, revealed that the decision had been made to not use his name around us, presumably because they wanted us to feel safe and secure. They were sensitive to what that word means in American parlance, and how it might make us feel. I am not so sure what that says about us as Americans or even what it says about the perception our Jordanian hosts had of us, but it is something that has stuck with me as an example of the sometimes very complicated path to intercultural communication.”
The Title VI grant that provided the funds for the trip was secured in 2007 by Dr. Berta Arias, JJC’s international education coordinator. JJC was one of four community colleges in the nation to receive the $240,000 grant, which allowed the college to send representatives on three international excursions: India in 2011, Japan in 2012 and this trip to Jordan. A separate Title VI grant paid for a trip to China in 2008.
The objective of the most recent grant was to develop an International Studies Program, with more than 50 international courses and many courses with international content. The program will officially begin in fall 2013.
Thanks to Arias’ dedication, international education at JJC, now in its 25th year, has come a long way since she first started working at the college in 1986. At that time, the college offered only two language courses: French and Spanish. Because of the four Title VI grants she has secured since 1990, students can now take language courses at JJC that include Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Tagalog. Dozens of new courses across many programs have been also been developed that either have international content or are entirely international in nature.
“Joliet Junior College is unique among U.S. community colleges in celebrating 25 years of concerted international education efforts,” Arias said. “These initiatives provide our students with the necessary tools to be engaged, knowledgeable and competent citizens in the 21st century workplace through understanding global issues and cultures. I hope the college continues to be a leader in this field and continues to nurture activities and pursue opportunities which will build on our current 25 years of success.”
Yarrow, who traveled with the college on the India trip, said that as a result of that experience he put Satyajit Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” into his English 190: Introduction to Film Study class.
“My experience in India helped me better explain some of the geographical and cultural dimensions of that film to my students,” he said.
After visiting Jordan, he said he will be developing a new class in international film which will have a unit devoted to films of the Middle East.
“The cultural experiences I had will filter into all my other classes,” he added.
Alfredson also found inspiration during the trip that she will bring back to her classroom.
“When I explain to student specifics of Greek and Roman architectural orders, I can show my own pictures from Amman and Jerash now,” she said. “I touched these columns, their Ionic and Corinthian capitals. It means a lot for a person who studied architecture from pictures and was deprived of opportunity to travel (I am from Ukraine, and my master’s degree in architecture was earned in Soviet time). I hope that this example will be encouraging for students to explore the world not only by books, TV and Internet, but also by travel. “

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