Excitement, apprehension, guilt. Those are just a few emotions flooding through my stomach as I sit at the gate in John F. Kennedy International Airport, waiting to board my flight for a semester abroad in Amman, Jordan. A lot of work has gone into this trip – sleepless nights, endless conversations, and piles of paperwork. But through it all, as I submitted form after form, I didn’t actually believe that I was going until I arrived at the gate in JFK.

So how did I get here? How did all the pieces finally fall into place?

Closing the Door

When I was a first semester freshman, I never imagined that I would be going on this journey. While study abroad was a point of interest when I was applying to college, I decided early freshman year that I didn’t want to miss out on campus life for an entire semester. I looked extensively into summer programs in Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia, but none of them fit my interests and all of them were far too expensive. So I resigned myself to the strong possibility that I would graduate without studying outside the US.

Wanderlust

Sophomore year brought several twists and turns – two degree changes, a final major declaration in International Studies with a regional focus in the Middle East, and the 2016 election with its increased scrutiny on the Middle East, immigration, and terrorism. Closing out my sophomore year in May left me feeling restless. I loved the life that I had built on the Homewood campus, the organizations I was involved with, and the friends that I had made.

But I was painfully aware that I had only really lived in two cities – Atlanta and Baltimore – and I felt that I was ready for more. I was spending the summer in New York interning for the US Attorney, and I was getting ready to embark on a fellowship semester in DC. But particularly in the wake of the election, I was increasingly curious about life in the Middle East.

To Go or Not to Go?

I started thinking seriously about studying abroad in Amman, Jordan for the spring. I spent my free time over the summer going over my options, discussing the idea with my parents and friends, and researching possible programs. Similar to my struggle with my DC fellowship, I felt tied to campus by Octopodes and the mock trial team. I struggled to justify a second consecutive semester where I wasn’t involved in campus life.

To compare the benefits and costs of studying abroad, I thought about what my college life would look like if I returned to Hopkins in the spring. I wanted to run for an executive position in mock trial, and I would still be very involved in the Octopodes. Beyond that, I was doing an honors thesis, I wanted to intern for a nonprofit in DC, and I had an amazing job at CollegeVine that I hoped to take more of an active role in. There was no doubt that staying in Baltimore would keep me busy and engaged.

But in comparison, studying abroad in the Middle East was beginning to look far more attractive. Some reasons were academic. Because my fellowship in DC had a pre-planned course load, I was unable to study Arabic in the fall, and because of the way Hopkins’ Arabic language program was structured, I was ineligible to enroll in the spring. Additionally, after studying, reading, and writing about the Middle East in my classes, I was fascinated with the idea of living there, exploring the culture, and lending credibility to my academic work. The program itself was research-based, requiring every student to conduct an independent study project over the course of the semester. The research I’d conduct and the paper I’d write would be a great foundation for my honors thesis.

Study abroad was also financially feasible. Because the program fees were less than Hopkins tuition and my financial aid was still applicable, I was even giving my parents a break financially. Spending five months in the Middle East? This was the cheapest it would get. Everything seemed to point to my going.

Before I could change my mind, I confirmed my enrollment in SIT Jordan: Geopolitics, International Relations, and the Future of the Middle East.

Second-Guessing

In December, I went back to Hopkins for a few days to visit some of my friends and see the Octopodes fall concert. ‘Bittersweet’ was the word on my mind all weekend. Watching my friends perform songs I didn’t know and hearing about their plans for ICCA and album recording, I felt a sharp pang of regret that I wouldn’t be a part of the group for a second consecutive semester. I felt especially guilty that I’d miss spending time with friends who were graduating in May – especially since I hadn’t been on campus in the fall either.

For one crazy second, I imagined forfeiting my deposit, ending my apartment sublet, and not booking my flight to Jordan. I imagined staying in Baltimore and going to class, studying in Brody with my friends, singing at ICCA, and competing for mock trial. I realized, more intensely than ever, exactly what I was giving up to go abroad, and I wondered if this experience would really be worth it.

Looking Forward

But when I returned to DC, I opened my laptop and looked up pictures of Petra, Jerash, and Wadi Rum. I read blog after blog of other students who had studied abroad in Amman, absorbing travel tips and restaurant recommendations. I planned a trip to Israel for after my program ended, researching tours to Jerusalem and booking hostels in Tel Aviv. As I combed through the search results, I felt excitement flutter in my stomach, and I knew that I had made the right decision.

Eventually, all of my reasons to stay collided with one fundamental fact: I’d never get another opportunity like this. I had the chance to spend five months living and working in Amman, conducting international field research, and visiting places that I’d only ever read about. I had the chance to explore an entirely different culture on someone else’s dime. I knew that if I said no to this opportunity because of my friends, I’d regret it for a very long time.

So as I sit here at Kennedy Airport, on the cusp of a life-changing experience, I’ve realized that change is never easy, and that there will always be something I’d leave behind. But I’ve also realized that I ultimately want to be someone who is brave enough to step outside her comfort zone, search for adventure, and see the world. My trip to Jordan is the first step on this quest; I only hope that the experience will give me the courage to take another step, and another, and another.

Ramya Prabhakar

Ramya Prabhakar

Ramya Prabhakar is a junior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, majoring in International Studies and Political Science focusing on the Middle East and security issues. In her free time, she loves singing, laughing, and doing things she's not good at, like bowling and laser tag.
Ramya Prabhakar