May 5, 2021

From the Mid-East to the Mid-West: An Academic’s Journey into History

Dr. Mohammad Aljayyousi writes this reflective post about his experience living in the U.S. as part of his Fulbright award and exploring the cultural experiences and exchanges he had along the way.

Written By: Dr. Mohammad Aljayyousi

Fulbright Alumnus 2019-2020

My Fulbright postdoc stay was at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I finished the project which was about educational games successfully. That’s one side, but as we all know, the Fulbright program is meant for more than that. It can turn you into an explorer or a time-traveler; let us see how that happened for me. 

I will start with a short personal history. 

It was not my first time in the States. In fact, I spent four years in Pennsylvania during my PhD study. In short, I loved the country. And it wasn’t a totally new experience. Due to my study field, literature in English, I had been exposed to the American culture and history. Besides, I am a movie fan. So, the American culture with all its aspects was familiar to me.

Dr. Mohammad Aljayyousi at the American Jazz Museum in the state of Missouri

Like all cultural encounters, there were expectations and frustrations, misconceptions and validations. I made sure to dedicate part of my time to explorations. My passion for art, theater and history helped a lot and my daydreaming urge helped me time-travel in my mind. 

Dr. Mohammad Aljayyousi with some of his friends and colleagues
Like all cultural encounters, there were expectations and frustrations, misconceptions and validations. I made sure to dedicate part of my time to explorations. My passion for art, theater and history helped a lot and my daydreaming urge helped me time-travel in my mind. 

Most of my time, I lived in the city of Pittsburgh, PA, the city of the three rivers. I learned new things and quenched my thirst for art and I came to like American football, and that was a turning point in my sports stereotypes. Like all people from our part of the world, football to us is soccer, the American version is too violent. We didn’t have enough care or motivation to seek more knowledge about its rules, scoring system or history. What we saw were glimpses of muscular athletes trying to overrun others who seem to have no impediment whatsoever. Thanks to my roommate and later good friend, Bin, who was a Chinese graduate student studying at CMU. He was a fan of college football. Like me, he hadn’t watched the sport before coming to the US and unlike me, he had developed a passion earlier. Like him, I developed the passion and unlike him, I became a fan of the NFL. I came to understand the rules and even developed my own theory about the sport which I can explain, for those interested, in another post hopefully.

Dr. Aljayyousi during a Fulbright Enrichment Seminar in the U.S.

I graduated and came back and started teaching here at Philadelphia University, the Jordanian namesake of the City of Love or vice versa since Philadelphia is the ancient name of Amman. I was looking for a chance to visit Pittsburgh and the States and I could go for a short trip in 2017. The next year, I applied to the Fulbright postdoc program with enthusiasm, and I was so excited when I got the news that I had been awarded a 9-month grant. 

In a parallel universe, I would have chosen to go back to the city of Pittsburgh, but I welcomed the idea of going to a different state, one that I hadn’t visited. You see, I had already developed the genes of an explorer. Among the universities that I was in touch with, I ended up going to The University of Nebraska, Lincoln. And if you are familiar with the geographical classification of the US, you will know that this is the Midwest. 

The Midwest was not a new term to me but it was my first firsthand experience of the region. In fact, when I came across the term years earlier, I was not sure why the West was applied to heartland states like Indiana or Nebraska, then I educated myself and read about the Frontier and the gradual expansion of European settlement in America. Unfortunately, that was, sometimes, at the expense of native cultures. However, there are programs for reviving the native culture and widespread awareness about its importance in the history of the country.  

My plane landed in Omaha, NE from Chicago and I had to Uber to Lincoln which is around an hour drive. That was a good chance to experience the landscape of the heartland. I noticed the vast cornfields and the yellowish look of it, that broke another visual stereotype of the US as an ever-green country. That felt homelike and that echoed with what my German friend said when she described Jordan as a yellowish country. 

I spent the first month exploring the city. The first stop was at the statue of Lincoln, the man and the president, at the City Capitol which is the icon of the city. Then, the Standing Bear statue (a native American chief) drew my attention. The city also has a great tradition of art exhibits called the Arts Friday. On each first Friday of the month, art exhibits are open for the public and one gets the chance to meet local artists. I met some friends in these exhibits and in our chats, I discovered another warm aspect of the American Mid-West, you can find many people who spent their whole life in their native city, again another aspect that is akin to our Mid-East life. I had to revise my typical answer when someone asked me about the American lifestyle, and I used to say “Americans are usually born in a state, study in a second and end up working in a third one”. 

Before the COVID-19 strict measures took effect and fortunately enough, I got the chance to visit Kansas City for the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar. I was lucky from the first moment. The middle-aged driver who picked us from the airport told us an interesting story about the history of the city and, to my surprise, I discovered that there were two Kansas Cities and we were heading to KC, Missouri. During the seminar, we had the chance to listen to local authorities who told us about the history of the city. The trip was topped by a tour that took us to the Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. The African American museum guide who told us about the history of Jazz did that in an improvised jazz-like way. She made all of us sing and feel the moment. I will keep the feeling forever with me. 

Dr. Mohammad Aljayyousi is a Jordanian Fulbright Alumnus, who was awarded the post doctoral research award in 2019-2020. He spent his award conducting research at University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Dr. Aljayyousi is an Assistant Professor at Philadelphia University in Jordan in the English Department.

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