U.S. Fulbright

Making Friends in Unexpected Places

September 28, 2015
Philmon H.

Philmon Haile, 2014-2015, Jordan (right), with Abu Abed pouring tea after a delicious meal

After arriving in Amman, Jordan for the second time, I was very excited to see my old friends that I had made when I visited in 2013. Most of all, I was excited to reconnect with Abu Abed, the security guard at the language school where I studied during the summer of 2013, which is also the same school where I completed my Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA). I did not tell him I would be coming back, wanting to surprise him. When I walked into the language school, he was shocked, immediately greeting me with kisses.

He is sort of a jack of all trades, and through our conversations, I have learned so much about Jordan’s history, language, and people. I would share stories about my hometown, Seattle. I would tell my story of being resettled in the United States as a refugee when I was a child, and talk about the diversity that makes the United States great and unique.

As a refugee from Eritrea, I connected with Abu Abed because he is one of millions of Palestinian-Jordanians who are refugees of previous conflicts. From our conversations and because of my background, I was inspired to learn more about issues facing current Syrian refugees in Jordan. Combining that desire and my passion for working with youth, after my CLEA, I decided to research the conditions of refugee youth through a research-orientated internship with the UN Refugee Agency.

Even though my CLEA is complete, I often go back to visit Abu Abed to talk about my work. Beyond his endless knowledge, Abu Abed has shown me nooks and crannies of Amman that I would have never found myself. I have met some of his extended family and gone to parts of the country that I had not heard of before.

Abu Abed is truly one of my closest friends. Every time we talk, I think of the mission of Fulbright. As Fulbrighters we are cultural ambassadors and citizen diplomats. In Arabic there is saying, العربي” “كرم roughly translated as “Arab generosity.” Through Abu Abed’s generosity, I have experienced the truth of that phrase and, hopefully, have shown him a little bit of “American generosity” as well.

Reflecting on my year, I strongly encourage future applicants to apply for CLEAs. It is an excellent preparatory step for any type of research you may want to conduct. And who knows? You may make some new friends along the way.

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