Robae at the Temple of Zeus in Jerash.

Robae, Arabic

Robae is an alumnus of the 2022 Summer Arabic Program in Amman, Jordan from Baltimore, Maryland.

NSLI-Y is excited to honor Black History Month and recognize the achievements of Black Americans, by spotlighting the stories of our Black alumni.

Robae credits the love and support of his family and mentors for making it possible for him to study abroad, as they helped instill in him strong self-confidence and a desire to learn about life outside of his home community of Baltimore. Additionally, Robae noticed that many in his community had never traveled outside of the US, or even outside of Maryland, and wanted to be a positive force for change in that area – both helping others in his community learn more about global opportunities and global citizenship, while also representing Maryland to the world. Robae is proud to note that he is the first of his family who has “lived, learned, and thrived in another country all on [his] own.”

Robae in front of a structure in Jordan.

Even thousands of miles away from his family, Robae found another support system in his host family. Meeting his host mother is one of Robae’s favorite memories from his program, noting that “I knew from the moment I saw her how caring my host mother was, and that I was going to love and cherish our relationship forever. This was so impactful to me because by the time I met them, I was already separated from my family back in the U.S. for about 5 days and I missed them so much.” Robae continued to build a strong bond with his host family throughout his program and knows that if he ever returns to Jordan, he has a home to come back to there.

His experience in Amman impacted Robae in many ways, including by making him a more open and social person. He notes that he often had to serve as his own advocate while in Jordan, which made him more comfortable with sharing his opinions and knowing that his contributions were valuable. While in Jordan, Robae also noticed culturally different views of race. He did not experience prejudice as a black male; he felt that he was treated equally. He tried to use people’s feelings of curiosity about his background as learning moments; he learned to walk with confidence and be open to tough conversations. He continues to use his experiences to try to “always be an exemplar of black excellence and to not let people’s preconceived notions make me shy away from sharing and showing my experiences as well as my black boy joy.”

Robae at the entrance of Jerash.

Similarly, Robae’s time in the Middle East helped him dispel some stereotypes that he held about the Middle East, as well. While on program, he realized that many of the generalizations and stereotypes about the Middle East that he had been previously exposed to were false, damaging, and fostered fear and ‘othering’ of different cultures. From this, he has learned to “not to be too quick to judge people and to not generalize a group of people based on things I’ve experienced from one or two people.” This lesson remains prominent in Robae’s life, as he says that he is “extremely happy to have had the opportunity to learn and the motivation to continue to learn about Arab societies, economics, and politics. I am so glad that these things have stayed with me even back [home] because they made me a better, less judgmental person. I am eternally grateful for that because I long to gain a pure, untainted understanding of the world around me […]”

Besides gaining linguistic and cultural skills on program, Robae also became interested in social anthropology and linguistics, which he is considering studying in university. He has also gained more confidence in speaking and studying foreign languages, which has pushed him to join his high school’s World Language Honors Society. These skills have made him a stronger leader and language learner, as he notes that he has more confidence in interacting with native speakers of the languages he is studying and has been seeking out additional opportunities to learn about languages outside of the classroom, such as learning colloquial phrases, both skills which he feels that he gained from NSLI-Y. He believes that his cultural understanding and tolerance has grown as well, whether that is in listening to others’ experiences or holding conversations in languages which others are more comfortable speaking in.