This is the second article in the 2019-20 academic year series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Atallah Hawamdeh from Amman, Jordan. He is one of seven foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year. He won a prestigious Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (KL-YES) scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study in the U.S. He is here through the AFS program.
Hi, Attallah! Tell us about yourself.
I am from Amman, Jordan. It’s the capital, and second largest city in Jordan. I just turned 16 – and the most major thing I did was to get on a plane for the first time to come here! Right now I want to be a doctor, and also to study Artificial Intelligence. I love to study and learn new things. I was a nerd in Jordan. I go to Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield. I love that it’s a magnet school so I can meet people from all around the state.
I’m sharing this year in a host family with Yigithan from Turkey. So now for this year I have an American mother, a French father and a Turkish brother.
Why did you want to be a KL-YES exchange student?
I am taking this year to learn more about myself, and to share my culture. I learned about the YES program from school, and finally decided to apply. When I think about the U.S,. it’s the “best” in so many areas. Our country is still developing, and I hope that I can go back and make Jordan better in the future. I was really interested in living in a family – we only know Times Square, Beverly Hills, and High School Musical. But it’s better to know the real culture, not just what we can see on TV.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Jordan and here?
I’ve seen Washington, DC for a few days. Then I spent a few days in Falls Village, CT. I found out that I am not comfortable living in the nature when I was in the northwest corner of the state. It doesn’t feel safe to me with all the wildlife. In Jordan, we have animals only in zoos – no pets inside, no wildlife out the window. I’ve learned that things can be DIFFERENT, but not better or worse. So it’s helped me learn that that are so many differences and that it’s okay.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I love that it’s so calm and yet we have everything around. Everything is so convenient – in Amman, it’s a city built on seven hills. Here, we don’t have to go far to find everything we need. I love that everyone says hello on the street on in the shops – even if they don’t know us personally. It’s so welcoming.
I also like all the foods. I love everything my host father cooks. I enjoy cooking for my host family, too! I have made some lovely friends, and I am feeling more at home here.
What do you do outside of school here?
I do a lot of homework. I enjoy cooking and spend time cooking for my family. I love to crochet – and I’ll do it in the winter. I tried fishing. I went on the zodiac yesterday and sailed for the first time! I plan to join clubs at school, too.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Jordan: Jordan has forest, sea, desert and grassland. Every biome exists in our little country. I hope you will come visit!
Hosting an AFS exchange student: Imagine having a whole country in your house! In our house, we have four languages and four nationalities every day (Turkish, Jordanian (Arabic), French, and American (English).
Being an AFS exchange student: It’s totally hard but know that if you’re an exchange student you get to see new cultures, to meet new people, and enjoy it!
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high school-aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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