Journey to Jordan: State Department sends US teens, UW-Green Bay reps to Mideast

Fritz Erickson and Jay Harris spent part of their summer advancing Green Bay and American connections in the Mideast.

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The two men —UW-Green Bay’s dean of professional and graduate studies and its coordinator of international projects — returned in August from Amman, Jordan and meetings with representatives of government ministries, private agencies and a partner institution, the University of Jordan.

Their two-week visit coincided with the successful conclusion of another “Journey to Jordan” summer.

Since 2006, UW-Green Bay has coordinated Journey to Jordan, sending select groups of American teen-agers overseas for two months of experience in Arabic language and culture.

It’s summer school with a global reach. Funding comes via a $250,000 grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to encourage students to explore cultures and languages they otherwise might not consider.

The 2008 Journey to Jordan enrolled 25 high school and college students from 16 states. Seven were from Wisconsin: Abigail Cardinal from Germantown; Jenna Erickson from De Pere; Kelsey Larsen from Sturgeon Bay; Sean Rao from Hubertus; Kadie Ray from Poynette; Nura Younes from Madison; and Ian Weller from Waunakee.

The students completed intensive Arabic language study at the University of Jordan, took part in service learning projects, made four-week home stays with Jordanian host families, and took field trips to places such as the old city of Petra, the Wadi Rum Desert, and the Red and Dead seas. Their journey began and ended in Washington, D.C., including meetings with Middle East experts and presentations on using Arabic in careers.

Harris calls participants “young ambassadors,” and adds that most thrive on the experience “in part because most Jordanians welcome Americans warmly.”

For the students, the program didn’t end with their return to the States on Aug. 12. Throughout the fall, they will receive additional Arabic training through online exercises and related contacts. “We also like to keep them informed about other opportunities available to them, scholarships and more, especially with this experience under their belt,” Harris says.

UW-Green Bay Social Work major Opal Carlson (light blue shirt, at left in front row in the group photo of Jordanian and American students together) was in Jordan all summer as program assistant to an in-country program director. Four alumni from previous Journey to Jordan programs were also on hand to assist and to develop discussions and activities with youth groups in Jordan.

Harris says the initiative enjoys a rising profile across the U.S. among Arab American communities and organizations — one talk-show host in the Detroit area has highlighted the program at least three times, with positive audience feedback — as well as with education associations, and at the State Department and on Capitol Hill.

“We are on some important radar screens, both here and in Jordan,” he says. In my view, UW-Green Bay is as well-known there as some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. We have many good friends and supporters who respect and appreciate efforts for mutual understanding.”

For details on the “Journey to Jordan” program, visit

2008 American teens participating

Acharya Garuth State College PA
Behar Brianna Seattle WA
Cardinal Abigail Germantown WI
DeBlois Megan Newport OR
Erickson Jenna DePere WI
Hadlock Lorna Sarasota FL
Hoak Molly Tucson AZ
Hossainzadeh Zainab Prunedale CA
Hveem Joshua Ephraim UT
Knapp Benjamin Indianapolis IN
Koss Hilary Richmond VA
Kozin Daniel Longwood FL
Jordan Sydney Hampton IL
Larsen Kelsey Sturgeon Bay WI
Noble Madison New Orleans LA
Rao Sean Hubertus WI
Ray Kadie Poynette WI
Rich Patrick Evansville IN
Schilmoeller Janessa Cottage Grove MN
Ulmer John “Masato” Olympia WA
Younes Nura Madison WI
Weller Ian Waunakee WI
Westendorf Elizabeth Lincoln NE
Wheeler Meredith Ft. Collins CO
Winder Bayly Princeton NJ

Jordan and US Students
American students in “Journey to Jordan” had a group meeting with their Jordanian counterparts recently returned from, or headed to, the United States.

2008 host family
Two American students pose with a Jordanian mother (center) and her child.

Streets of Amman, Jordan
The old city of Amman, Jordan.

Fritz Erickson and host family
Academic dean Fritz Erickson and Jay Harris, at right, present one of the host families a certificate of thanks at the Summer 2008 closing ceremonies in Amman.

Jay at reception
UW-Green Bay’s Jay Harris (at lectern, with Arabic interpreter) speaks at the Journey to Jordan wrapup reception in August.

Wadi Rum Desert
A snapshot of students visiting the Wadi Rum Desert.

Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum Desert
The Journey to Jordan group, inside an authentic Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum Desert. Dean Fritz Erickson is at far right. The American visitors stayed the night and slept on the sand under a star-bright sky.

Students at language center
The 25 students who made the U.S. State Department-funded trip pose outside the Arabic Language Center at the University of Jordan.

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