Author Archives: John Mitchell

Jerash and Umm Qais Photos


One of the many Greco-Roman remains in the ancient city of Jerash. This was a temple dedicated to the Greek God Artemis.

The ancient city of Jerash is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the “Pompeii” of the Middle East or Asia”, referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation (though Jerash was never buried by a volcano). Jerash is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Middle East.


The sky was ominous and silent. It was such a beautiful experience. You could almost hear a bustling city from the silence.


A pathway leading to a once Greco-Roman temple.


Ancient ruins are scattered across this once vibrant city.


I thought the herd was a nice touch to the scenery, so I had to snap a picture!


Doesn’t this remind you of the Disney film Hercules? Except, this is definitely in the Middle East and not Greece. The influences are undeniable huh?


The nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by a fine colonnade.


This area was once the market place of the city.


This is situated in the extreme north-west of the country, where the borders of Jordan, Israel and Syria meet, perched on a hilltop (378 metres above sea level), overlooking the sea of Tiberias, the Golan heights and the Yarmuk gorge. Crazy you can look in every direction and a different country is in the horizon.


The entrance to the ancient city of Jerash.


Touchdown in Amman, Jordan

By John Mitchell

After being on several planes for 18+ hours, I finally landed in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (اَلمَمْلَكَة اَلأُرْدُنِيَّة اَلهَاشِمِيَّة), in their capital of Amman, around 4 a.m. Sunday. Because it was so early, I didn’t really get the glamorous entrance I was hoping for where I would be flooded with Ahlan wa Sahlan, Marhaba or other forms of the word “welcome/hello.” It was probably better that way because I was exhausted! After getting my luggage from the slow conveyor belt, I headed to my first destination, the Landmark Hotel, where the people in my program and I would stay temporarily until we move to our homestays or apartments.


On Monday, we headed off to explore the city of Amman. One of my first stops was the Royal Automobile Museum. This was a museum devoted to the former King Hussein’s car collection an, boy, did he have one. The museum had every car you could ask for. King Hussein had great taste! I, of course, marveled at the light Blue Aston Martin (being a James Bond fanatic does that to you).


Our next stop was the Roman Citadel and Theatre. This was such a picturesque area. The Roman Theatre felt like I had just walked into the scene in “Gladiator” where Maximus looks around to the silent Romans screaming, “Are you not entertained!?” This theater was huge and the steps to go up were so steep, one could fall to their death. I made it to the top, but it was a traumatic experience trying to get down. The Roman Citadel rises above the city of Amman, overlooking the ancient city. I found it fascinating when our guide said that, just like Rome, Amman was built on seven hills. Due to expansion and laws on how tall buildings can be, Amman now covers more than 23 hills. You really felt like the king of the world gazing across the city at the Roman Citadel.


For food, we headed to a popular place in downtown Amman called Jafra. When we got there, several Arabic dishes such as kebab, hummus, and various salads and pita lay spread across the table for us. For those who don’t know, I kind of like to eat a lot, so I had a blast. Also, like many cafes around Amman, the smell of argeela (hookah in the U.S.) fills the air. It is a favorite past time here.


The next day, I moved in with my homestay family. The family, a lovely nuclear family, does not speak much English, which is good because it forces me to use the Arabic I know and improve on it. So, although sometimes it is difficult to get my point across, in the long-term, I’ll be very thankful. They have two little kids named Rami (6 years old) and Lara (9 years old). They treat me like an older brother, which is good sometimes and bad when I’m trying to study, etc. The family has taken me in as their own, so I have to visit family and travel with them, but they also give me the freedom I need to do my own thing. My house mom, Rania, keeps the food coming non-stop. A few days ago, she asked me if I was hungry and I said I wasn’t… well the next minute, she came from the kitchen with three huge burgers all for me and said eat! So if I get fat here, you all know why. Also, every 30 minutes she asks if I’d like shiae (tea) or qahawa (coffee), and won’t let me help out with anything. It’s definitely different.

Look out for my next post about my visit to the lowest point on Earth, Bahar al-Miiyaat (the Dead Sea), my first experiences with taxi drivers and being a student at the University of Jordan.


Destination 2: Carpe diem (aka YOLO in Istanbul)


By John Mitchell

Teşekkür ederim teşekkür ederim” (pronounced Tes-shae-koo-lah) I repeated many times to random Turkish folks who helped me navigate the metropolitan area known as Istanbul, Turkey. Teşekkür ederim, the equivalent of the English “Thank you,” was the only phrase I knew to aid me in my carpe diem (YOLO for you young’ins) moment. I had a nine-hour layover in the city where east meets west and I was going to take advantage! Without proper pre-planning, I left the airport and began to explore (whoo spontaneity!).  The main destination I wished to see was the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) , which is one of Turkey’s most popular destinations. The Grand Bazaar is like a huge outside mall, spanning thousands of acres. With stands selling Persian rugs, spices, jewelry, shoes , leather jackets and tea sets — it has it all. But…. I’m getting too far ahead of myself; let me discuss my journey to the Grand Bazaar.

There are a few factors you must know about me: 1) I’m directionally challenged, 2) I’m directionally challenged, 3) I can’t read or speak Turkish PLUS I’m directionally challenged… Put these components together and it equates to a pretty “adventurous” experience.  Before you can leave the airport in a foreign land, you must purchase a visa which gives you access… And it took me forever to find it. After you purchase your visa, you must stand in line and wait for the people to stamp your visa — it was a lonnnnnggggg line. Once you get your visa approved, you probably want to put your bags in a locker, so you won’t have to carry them around in the city and attract attention, right? Well, herein lies what took the longest time to communicate to the airport people. I kept saying, “Does the airport have a locker, so I may put my bags (lifts bags to express a point) there as I travel Istanbul?” Sounds like a simple inquiry, but each answer would take me around the entire airport on a wild goose chase! I finally found the lockers but, of course, I had to find a money converter first. This was the point where I was beginning to become quite agitated with the airport people and just everything in general! Luckily, I repeated to myself “You are a foreigner in a new place, you don’t speak or read Turkish, so don’t fret, all will be fine — be optimistic, this is a learning experience.” The words worked, I converted some money (the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Turkish liras!) and I walked out of the airport ready for the Grand Bazaar!

Istanbul is just like New York City; there are many metros (subways) to take you to your destination, people are always in a rush or busy, and the city never sleeps. I found my way to the Metro and read the directions on how to purchase a coin to ride the metro. The English directions weren’t helpful to me, so I just watched someone else put their Turkish coins in a machine and followed suit. Around this time, I’m feeling pretty good about myself and my steady conquest of this foreign land. Unfortunately, my Cloud Nine mentality would soon evaporate by what seemed to be a million subways! I walked to a random Turk and said “Grand Bazaar” in a forced accent and he pointed to the subway on the right. I jumped on this subway and waited to get off on a transit station, so I could switch subways and get to my destination. Getting off, I saw a fence impeding my way to the next train, which meant I needed to buy another coin. I proceeded to walk toward the machine. As I got closer, along comes a little child, who walks up to me, points to the machine and says, “I help.” I didn’t need help, so I did the universal head-shake for “No,” but he ignored and dragged me to the machine. He placed my coins in the machine, pressed the button and out came my coin. I should have known there was a catch because he then asks for money. I began speaking in French, pretending not to know what he meant, but he stuck out his hand and again said “Money.” My irritation rose and I declined and walk away (you have to be firm and tough in these situations, I realized). When I past the fence, there were two subways. I found a police officer and asked for the Grand Bazaar. He pointed me to one metro and I jumped on. I must have been on that subway for a good 15 minutes when it finally hit me that I had missed my stop. I got off that metro and jumped on another going the opposite way. This continued for another 15 minutes and I finally arrived at the Grand Bazaar!

The Grand Bazaar was packed with people of many different walks of life bargaining and scavenging for the best deals. I didn’t stop, stare or get close to any item more than 15 seconds because the merchants are like flames and I am a moth, being lured in for the kill! Also, because I couldn’t speak the language, I chose to window shop instead of buy, thinking I’d be cheated out of a deal. This went on for a good 30 minutes and when I looked up from the many items, I realized I had not been watching where I was going. I was lost yet again. My window-shopping turned into a hunt for the exit because it is a labyrinth and it was about to close! I honestly felt like Theseus, racing for the exit before the Minotaur (aka “time”) caught me. I did what I knew best from the previous experiences — follow others, which led me to the exit! As I was walking toward the exit, I decided I would wait until I returned in May when I would be mentally prepared to shop like a mom racing for the last Christmas ham. The trip back to the airport was easy, since I had learned (through trial and error) to find my way.

I learned a few things about this spontaneous adventure: 1) Sometimes you shouldn’t live life in serendipity — you should prepare for things, 2) This was the first time I’ve ever felt like a foreigner — confused and gullible in a new place, 3) you have to keep a positive attitude and joke about your mistakes or you’ll surely fall victim to frustration and depression, 4) I should learn more Turkish words, 5) The Grand Bazaar is a cool place, just don’t get lost! Onward, I hopped on my last plane to my final destination: Amman, Jordan. I cannot wait to tell you my adventures there!

Teşekkür ederim for reading my posts!

Pre-departure: Arabian nights…’Neath Arabian moons

By John Mitchell

There’s a sudden rush of anxiety, excitement and fear through my body as I glance over at a calendar declaring I have one more day left in the States. I continue to glance at my favorite book, “One Thousand and One Nights” (aka “Arabian Nights”), hoping that it would somehow come to life and tell me of the adventures that await me overseas. This collection of stories, originally written in Arabic, was what sparked my interest in the Arabic language and culture. Because I was captivated at a young age by this book, it inspired me to take the opportunity to spend the 2013 spring semester in Amman, Jordan, through the CIEE Language and Culture Program. Before I continue, let me formally introduce myself — my name is John E. Mitchell and I am a junior at the University of Missouri, studying international studies (with a Middle Eastern studies focus), political science and Arabic.

Now, I won’t give you the cliche statement that “all my life I’ve wanted to travel” because that wouldn’t be accurate, but I have always been fascinated with witnessing new perspectives this world has to offer — call me a kaleidoscope observer. From this interest, I’ve realized just how significant studying abroad can be. This opportunity gives you the courage to leave your comfort zone, explore a whole new world (cue the “Aladdin” song) and have an experience that will last a lifetime.

Currently, I am about to travel to this foreign land that I have heard so much about in stories, but never seen for my own eyes. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi to it — I understand that I’m traveling thousands of miles from my home, family and friends, but I haven’t fully grasped it yet (if that makes sense). I know not what awaits me, but I do know that I will take advantage of this auspicious moment in my life. What I hope to accomplish from this blog is not only share the adventures I will have in the exotic Middle East, but also inspire others hesitant of studying abroad to, just as Jasmine did in “Aladdin,” take that leap because it’s worth it.

Enough for now, I am readying to depart on my magic carpet ride, also known as the Turkish Airlines (haha). Once I find some Wi-Fi, I will tell you about my arrival!

The stars are NOT the limit.

~J. E. Mitchell