My life has been a series of unique moments: graduating early, climbing St. Peter's Basilica, spending Christmas Eve in a Whataburger parking lot. And then there was this past week, that evening when 19 high school kids sat around an empty fireplace, shielded by a faux hedge, chanting Arabic numbers up at the stars, that is a moment for my growing repertoire. (I would like to formally apologize to all the other individuals attempting to sit and make peaceful conversation in the fake hedge patio of Avenue Suites - Georgetown. The Arabic Alphabet song can simply not be sung quietly.) My Pre-Departure Orientation for NSLI-Y in Washington DC was a crash course in language, safety, and adaptivity; one step closer to Amman.
While in DC, I spent three days attending seminars, listening to the spoken versions of the forms I swore I had signed twice each, at least, and getting to know the other language lovers on the NSLI-Y program. Demographically, we are a mess. There are 19 students (15 girls and 4 boys) from California, Maine, and a plethora of states in between. We are at the point in our language learning where self-introductions summarize our abilities. But even simple questions like age and family makeup provide a diverse range of answers; however, the number of shared birthdays is a statistical anomaly. Meeting the other participants and, of course, receiving my Jordanian visa made me realize the full scope of my upcoming trip. I was really going to be living abroad in a country I had never seen, living with people I had never met, incapable of communicating such essential emotions as hunger and the need to do laundry. By the second day, I was counting down hours to takeoff.
Yes, I was quite anxious to leave, but DC deserves some credit. It treated me right. I discovered Trader Joe's, tried ice cream filled mochi, and learned just how many seconds could be left on a traffic light timer for a group of 19 to feasibly cross the street. I met the wonderful directors of the American Councils office and some crazy impressive alumni, who were happy to answer questions and promise application help. I visited the White House for the first time. It wasn't as climactic as I had envisioned. It was elegant, slightly imposing, and rather out of place in the hustle of city traffic. Maybe it was the frantic alphabet chants from the night before, but it seemed I was more aware of the diversity of language around me. I heard Spanish, Hindi, and Chinese for sure, with the occasional tidbit whose origin I couldn't recognize. Six weeks will not put me close to fluency, I know, but the proposition of communication with a new group of people, people I had formerly had little way to connect with, was rather awe-inspiring.
On June 28th, at 1:03 pm, we crossed the Potomac River. We were on our way to Dulles International Airport to catch a red-eye flight to Vienna, Austria. I spent the ride watching whatever there was to watch outside my window (The most interesting? A woman attempting to eat french fries and watch phone videos while driving down the highway). I listened to our French driver explain his work history, while my bus mates, in French, asked him about the beautiful places he had seen.. Amongst us we represent at least four languages; five in six weeks, fingers crossed.
Our flight left at 5 pm. As always, I sat bolt upright in my seat, a ridiculous grin on my face as the giant metal tube bumped its way up into the sky and out towards the ocean. I look forward to many more international flights, and hope that never lose the crazy, joyful, adrenaline pumped feeling I get starting a new adventure.