By: Hunter E. ('20)
Last summer, instead of joining my Bucs teammates for boiling hot August days on the football practice field in Charlotte, I left for Amman, Jordan to attend the King’s Academy, a boarding school for kids from all over the Middle East and across the globe. The school, modeled after Deerfield Academy where Jordan’s King Abdullah II and my father attended school together, is the King’s way to help his war-torn region educate kids to be thoughtful, respectful, and visionary global leaders. At Kings, Muslims, Christians, and Jews learn together side by side in productive, peaceful ways. Though set in a desert, this beautiful school became a home away from home, sandwiched between two amazing, historic Jordanian cities: Amman and Madaba.
Why did I go? I wanted to experience the world outside of Charlotte, to broaden my view of global problems and to see who kids in the Middle East were as people, not only the image illustrated by the media.
Arriving at Kings was like landing on a different planet. The language, the people, the food, and the culture were all very different. In Charlotte, as a white Christian, I am in the majority. In Jordan, I was a minority. It was shocking; I got a glimpse of what it might feel like to be a minority in America. I became acutely aware of how open everyone was to letting me into their lives.
Three months and a whirlwind of experiences later, I was making the 13-hour flight home. My thoughts were filled with all of the wonderful things that happened at King’s, and having that quiet time on the flight made me realize how terrific my time there had been.
Here are a few things I will always remember…
I remember being one of a herd of teens from all edges of the earth – all trudging to the bathroom at 8 in the morning, all dreading the next 7 hours of hard work and a new class every forty-five minutes before they can sleep again.
I remember waking super early on school days and going to the gym with Taine, a tall South African, and Ramez, a huge, native Jordanian. We exchanged jokes and cultural humor along the way. I remember and seeing Mr. Tim and Ms. Laila, two teachers, working out with the “Buff Trainer.”
I remember AY Arabic and learning every bit of Arabic I know now, laughing with Radithya, a small Malaysian freshman in my Arabic class, about pronunciations, and with the girls about how bad we are at it. I remember Ms. Lina, my Arabic teacher, not understanding of all of my questions in English, and Chloe, Maya, and Julia, the Americans from New York, bursting out laughing because of it.
I remember going into the room of two friends, Ayesh (from Palestine) and Mohammad (from Egypt) when study hall ended at 10:15 and speaking English with an Arab accent (it sounds funny because you don’t pronounce b’s).
I remember volleyball practices -- the vicious spikes of Metwally and Hoshing set by Marcus – and pick-up basketball games with Abdul-Rathman (Nigeria), Anas (Jordan), Marcus, and Abdullah (Jordan) air balling every shot and attempting ankle-breaking crossovers.
I remember coming back to the dorm from sports practice and smelling a fresh pot of spicy rice that Hoshing (Shin Jin) and Marcus (Taiwan) had cooked. Or ordering Darna or Baraka, two delicious local food outlets, with the dorm mates and paying a cheap 2-Jordanian dollars (or “JD’s”) for a chicken filet sandwich (roughly about $2.80 USD).
I remember study hall with Mr. Jamie, my English teacher from Lawrenceville, NJ, talking about Fantasy Football and about life in the US. I remember Mr. Ruji and Mr. Iyad, my dorm teachers, coming from their rooms in the dorm late at night to chastise us for being up after lights out.
I remember late night dorm parties with kids jumping on tables while dancing to music and slapping the swinging, overhead light. I remember late night games of Salah, where hundreds of necks were bruised and red after being slapped by everyone in the dorm, especially Metwally, an amazing Egyptian athlete.
I remember going on weekend trips to food places like Brisket or Taj Mall in Amman, where 30 minutes were awesome and the rest of the time we walked aimlessly into stores.
I remember Arab card games played by Audai and Ramiz, two very funny Jordanians from Chicago, where screaming happened every other minute. Or the Thursday/ Friday night Fifa 2v2 tournaments (Muslim weekends run Friday/Saturday) with Mohamed after a match in the stadium with the constant scoring of goals and switching of goalies.
I remember Eid Break friends like Maya, a Palestinian from China, and Khalil, a Palestinian from Saudi Arabia, and special times spent floating in the Dead Sea and laughing in the back of the bus about the poor eating habits of Omar, a Saudi Arabian prince.
I remember my trip to Wadi Rum, a massive desert, where we stayed up all night looking at the stars; to Petra, an ancient wonder of the world engraved in sandstone, where we walked like zombies after the all-nighter in Wadi Rum; and to Ajloun, a nature retreat in the mountains, where we woke up our teacher with our loud games and, the repeated trips to the amphitheater, where a man wanted to take a novelty picture with “the white people,” and the ancient ruins.
I remember the delicious brunches where I would sit listening to people at my table talk in Arabic and thinking deeply about how alike we all are while eating a Nutella omelette.
I remember Saturday mornings in solitude after a delicious brunch, doing homework, playing piano and Face Timing family members. I remember watching movies and talking about life, then coming back to the dorms after check-in from the red chairs on the lawn, where new friends from across the Arab World – Ramez, Khalil, and Kenan (Egypt) -- had leftover fast food for me to eat.
I remember the hours spent with all my dorm mates procrastinating, watching “the best movies ever,” compiled by Mohammed, the Egyptian.
I remember watching Jeiwong and Marcus drinking fake beer while besting each other in the computer game, League of Legends.
I remember going to Amman’s famous Rainbow Street with all my friends and getting a haircut with Metwally, then getting slapped on my shaved neck a thousand times, which is culturally done after haircuts.
I remember going to Habitat for Humanity, hearing the life story of Alicija, a tall, sturdy athlete from Poland, playing cards against humanity with Mr. Jamie and Ms. Emily, his girlfriend, listening, and sleeping on the cushions.
I remember leaving my dorm mates to spend late nights spent walking around with Chloe and Julia, two girls on the same exchange program from New York, listening while they gossiped and gave me the scoop on everyone at school.
I remember my Palestinian roommates and their parents telling stories about their experiences with religious and social stress in the Occupied Territories.
I remember the car ride with Ms. Lina and the girls to the restaurant and the profanity on a shirt being pointed out by Ms. Lina. I remember coming back from that dinner to my mom where I hopped into her arms and teased the girls about not going home.
I remember flying to Abu Dhabi where I met Gretchen, the crazy mom, on a boat in the Persian Gulf with some of our close family friends, going to the magnificent “Sheikh Zayed” mosque and meeting their military friend from Charlotte, bringing me closer to home. I remember JP playing ping-pong shirtless against another doctor from Charlotte.
When my mom arrived to meet me at the end of the trimester term, I remember crossing the Jordanian border with her into Israel and the complexity and chaos of the customs vetting and visas. Then being met by Jacob, our new tour guide for the old city of Jerusalem. This was the first time I saw the city, and I was amazed that I knew so much about it due to my World History I teacher, Charles Coddington, teaching me so well.
I remember going to Old Jerusalem and the mount of Olives, saying the Lord’s Prayer while everyone around me prayed in some strange language, walking to the garden with the church where we lost Jacob, our tour guide from Israel, reading the passages from the Bible while looking at historical sights, eating pizza and shawarma, a native meat dish to the Middle East, while we waited to make a deal with a market man. We then went to Jacob’s house in the Christian sector and bought some locally made pants and bracelets in the market. We saw Jesus’s tomb and prayed at the Western Wall where Jews rocked back and forth while praying. We walked through the mall to find a rabbi in orthodox dress singing Hotel California. The events in Old Jerusalem were topped off by Hershey’s ice cream after a delicious and crowded meal at chakra, in one of Jerusalem’s new malls.
I remember how much I have grown and how much I experienced while I was a Kings Academy .
While I was away, I learned so much about Middle Eastern culture, as well as about myself. I had a lot of time to be away from home and the time difference really distanced me from my friends. Though challenging sometimes, I learned to become a self-problem solver with no friends or parents to protect me. I had cool experiences and felt at home there. I have many new “friends for life” now thanks to this experience and I had so much fun learning and embracing Middle Eastern culture. The many different people, places and overall culture were very new and exciting to learn about. I made this journey and highly recommend it. So many great things happened and new experiences have changed my views tremendously about my Charlotte community understanding all the things that need to change and stay the same, and the world as a whole. All in all, this trip showed me a whole new world, how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and how much fun anyone can have, anywhere.
My Experiences at SYA Spain
By: Margaret B. ('19)
Third child: one who is classically considered fearless and sometimes lacking of the action of fully thinking through everything. That would be me. Therefore, the idea of leaving home for 9 months and living with a random family seemed like a new and exciting thing; an adventure. However, the whole idea of this “adventure” did not really hit me until it was too late. I was sitting on the bus waiting for a random teacher to call my name to meet the woman who would be my mom for the next nine months. However, the only thing I could think about was keeping down the airplane food from the 6 hours before. But there was no going back. The first couple weeks I was exhausted from speaking Spanish, jet-lag, and smiling. I can’t even count on 10 hands the amount of statements I answered with “sí”. But I would like to report that I just recently managed to watch a whole movie in Spanish without falling asleep (listening and comprehending Spanish can be incredibly tiring I have learned). I have had some crazy experiences and heard many stories of the experiences of my friends, one kid drank olive-oil thinking it was juice, I told my mother that I was delusional, which really means psycho, and someone tried to tell their family
The last few months, as I would like to describe it, it has been a combination of cross-word puzzles, mad-libs, and word jumble all in one. However, I have enjoyed (almost) every moment. I took cooking classes with a man named Guillermo, and learned how to cook traditional Spanish food. Although after showing him a photo of some pizzas that I accidently burnt, I was given the jobs away from the oven. that they were embarrassed, but they actually said that they were pregnant, (the word for pregnant is “embarazada”)
¿How do you fit your life in two, fifty-pound suitcases? The real answer, you don’t. I certainly struggled to.
¿What do you do when a Spaniard asks you something you don’t understand? Smile and nod your head.
¿What do you do when your teacher tells you something 5 times and you still don’t understand? Stare at them confused and wait for them to repeat it a sixth.
¿Will I ever understand the Zaragoza bus lines and schedules? Probably not.
¿What’s the latest time I can get up and still make it to school at 8:30? 8:20
If you want: this is something I made for a project of exploring my “barrio” which means neighborhood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=Hy8Zab0ainU
Also I give photos to SYA to post on their website and here are the links: