From the starkness of Wadi Rum to the teeming center of urban Amman and the majestic ruins of bygone civilizations to the timeless splendor of the Dead Sea, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – to give the country its full name – is a unique study abroad destination offering breathtaking and mysterious sights, exquisite cuisine, and countless activities that provide international students with inspiration, motivation, and rejuvenation. But you can’t just study abroad in Jordan, you have to make the most of every minute of your time there too, here’s how:
Tips to Make the Most of Study Abroad in Jordan
As the crossroads of the Middle East, Jordan connects Asia, Africa, and Europe making it an incredible place to study abroad! Immerse yourself in the political, cultural, and historical significance of a land rich in natural wonders and sites so ancient, that by comparison, the Crusader forts guarding the old trade routes are considered recent additions.
Moses is said to have led his people through the parched Jordanian deserts, Alexander the Great paved the way for Hellenistic cities and culture, and the Natabeans carved grandiose buildings, temples, and tombs out of the red Petra sandstone. Later still, Jordan became an important trading center of the Roman Empire and lavish backdrop for some of history’s most enthralling tales.
Remarkably, the landscape has changed little in the last 2,000 years, giving you the opportunity to explore a place where your studies of history, middle eastern traditions, or the ancient world leap off the pages of your textbook.
The capital of Jordan, Amman is a fascinating city of contrasts – a unique blend of old and new, situated on a hilly area between the desert and the fertile Jordan Valley. In the commercial heart of the city, ultra-modern buildings, hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques rub shoulders with traditional coffee shops and tiny artisans' workshops. Everywhere there is evidence of the city's much older past. The most impressive relic is the Roman Amphitheater, while the ancient Citadel still towers above the city.
Most of Jordan’s citizens are Muslim and one of the most impressive mosques is the King Hussein Mosque in Amman with four minarets, tall vaulted ceilings, and gleaming exterior walls. Jordan is not all Muslim, however. Travel south to Madaba, known for its 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. The Madaba Archaeological Park preserves the mosaic-rich Church of the Virgin Mary as well as artifacts from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras.
North of Amman is the ancient Roman ruins at Jerash, an area that has had human occupation for more than 6,500 years. See public plazas and fountains, standing pillars of hilltop temples, and a well-preserved amphitheater, all protected by sand until late 20th-century excavation.
South of Amman are Biblical sites like Mount Nebo, associated with the last days of Moses and famous for its dazzling views across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea into Israel. Along the King’s Highway, the striking silhouettes of the fortified towns and castles recall the bloodthirsty days of the Crusades. Yet these national treasures all serve as a precursor to the undisputed jewel in Jordan’s crown – the lost city of Petra.
Petra is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here sometime around the 6th century BCE. They developed the city into an important junction for the silk, spice, and other trade routes that linked China, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome.
Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge flanked by soaring cliffs. As you reach the end of the Siq, you catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh (The Treasury), a massive façade, carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and dwarfing everything around it. It was created in the early first century AD as the tomb of an important Nabataean king and represents the engineering genius of these ancient people.
As you enter the Petra valley, the natural beauty of this place and its outstanding architectural achievements will overwhelm you. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings. Here you will also find a massive Nabataean-built, Roman-style theater, which could seat 3,000 people. There are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars, and colonnaded streets. High above, overlooking the valley is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery – a flight of 800 rock-cut steps takes you there.
Stand Amongst History
Also known as ‘The Valley of the Moon’, Wadi Rum is the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence ( Arabia) based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War I; their exploits intrinsically woven into the history of this amazing area.
A maze of monolithic rockscapes rise up from the desert floor. You can enjoy the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces and explore the canyons and water holes to discover 4,000-year-old rock drawings and the many other spectacular treasures this vast wilderness holds in store. Hire a 4x4 vehicle and driver/guide at the Visitors’ Center and drive into the Wadi desert to explore some of the best-known sites. Alternatively, hire a camel and guide and stay under the stars in a Bedouin tent, where you can enjoy a traditional campfire meal accompanied by Arabic music.
Step in the Dead Sea
On the country’s western border, step into the Dead Sea, one of the lowest points of land on earth. The unusually warm, incredibly buoyant and mineral-rich waters have attracted visitors since ancient times, including King Herod the Great and the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, all of whom have luxuriated in the Dead Sea's rich, black, stimulating mud and floated effortlessly on their backs while soaking up the water's healthy minerals along with the gently diffused rays of the Jordanian sun.
The Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost otherworldly beauty. Although sparsely populated and serenely quiet now, the area is believed to have been home to five Biblical cities: Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zebouin, and Zoar (Bela).
Dive into the Red Sea
From as far back as 5,500 years ago, Aqaba's greatest asset is the Red Sea itself. Here you can experience some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. The temperate climate and gentle water currents have created a perfect environment for the growth of corals and a teeming plethora of marine life. You can swim with friendly sea turtles and dolphins as they dart amongst the schools of multi-colored fish. Night dives reveal the nocturnal sea creatures as they search for a midnight snack.
Besides being a delightful place, Aqaba is actually a great base from which to explore various places of interest in southern Jordan, such as Wadi Rum. If you are planning to combine a visit to the Dead Sea with a diving trip to Aqaba while studying abroad in Jordan, do the Dead Sea experience first. If you do it the other way around, the small cuts or grazes you may pick up from the coral reefs will soon let you know why this is the better option!
Before you can make the most of it, you have to CHOOSE study abroad in Jordan!
There are literally thousands of study abroad programs available in locations all over the world, how can you possibly choose the one that’s right for you?! Remember to consider the following as you begin to research your options:
- Do I want to study abroad in an urban or rural setting?
- Do I want to study in a place that speaks mainly English or do I want to learn and practice another language?
- What is the most important aspect of my semester abroad? (i.e. experiencing the local culture, understanding of peoples from different walks of life, gaining global perspective, etc.)
If you’re interested in a destination that offers a modern city with ancient roots, opportunities for action-packed excursions to some of the most awe inspiring landscapes in the world, and access to a plethora of religious and cultural history, then Jordan is for you!
Wherever you study abroad in Jordan, you’ll have an amazing experience. Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and a hat to protect you from the sun, and always carry plenty of drinking water!
This article was contributed by the Foundation for International Education (FIE), a nonprofit organization based in London. Providing customized study abroad programs in Amman, London, and Dublin, FIE has nearly two decades of experience in international education.