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Language tourism

Nov 19,2017 - Last updated at Nov 19,2017

One of my favourite activities is to interact with young people in their undergraduate years. I learn a lot from probing their minds, which are intellectually curious, idealistic and highly critical. They epitomise the purity and intensity of the human spirit.

I mention this because last week I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of American students who have come to develop their Arabic and learn about Jordan.

I respect their endeavour because they have followed the good advice: “Travel early and travel often. Live abroad, if you can. Understand cultures other than your own. As your understanding of other cultures increases, your understanding of yourself and your own culture will increase exponentially.”

At present, regional developments have made Jordan a choice destination for students from Western countries to study Arabic and regional studies, not least because people feel safe here.

In the past, Jordan was presented with similar windows of opportunity, but on this occasion, the Jordanian private sector rose to the challenge. Language institutes have mushroomed and they attract students from everywhere. Not surprisingly, all these institutes are small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Jordanians are enterprising, but for a number of reasons, most Jordanian enterprises remain SMEs. This may be a good thing. Many economic theories advocate the development of SMEs, as a viable solution for Jordan’s economic challenges because SMEs can be established for a modest investment, and because a cluster of SMEs creates more jobs than a single large enterprise.

The problem with SMEs is that they cannot afford to market themselves internationally. This is where the government has an important role to play.

Jordan runs impressive campaigns to market the country’s great tourist attractions such as Petra, Aqaba, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea, which is a very good thing. But, just as a suggestion, why does not the Jordan Tourism Board also market Jordan as a centre of learning languages?

Granted, language institutes are all private sector enterprises, but this is what the private-public sector partnership is all about.

Educational tourism may even prove to be a better money earner than traditional tourism.

A sightseer spends three days to a week at his destination, while a student spends months or possibly years. During this time, students rent accommodation, buy food, pay fees, and possibly receive visits from family and friends. A bit of arithmetic would show that they end up spending a non-negligible amount of money.

But a more important gain for Jordan is that all people maintain a special fondness for the places where they spent their youth, particularly if they had a good educational experience there.

The interaction between American students and their Jordanian counterparts, for example, builds openness and reciprocal tolerance, which does not imply lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather, it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.

Real tolerance means respecting other people even when they baffle you and you have no idea why they think what they think.

This is a process of building goodwill ambassadors for Jordan.

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