A recipient of the prestigious Boren scholarship to study abroad in Jordan last year, Dom knows a bit about connecting, collaborating and creating. He is a fourth year studying Global Security and Justice and Arabic. I sat down with him in our first edition of Grounded: Humans of OpenGrounds, to discuss his passions, time in Jordan and what excites him about OpenGrounds.
Niko: So, I’m going to start off with a really broad question: Have you found your passion yet?
Dom: Well, I think I have. But really, after studying abroad in Amman for a whole year, I was able to sort through a wide variety of interests and find my passion. As much as I like reading books about 18th century ships, I would like to pursue a career tackling legal issues, and not just in the US. I think that my desire to understand foreign cultures, engage in cultural discussion and travel can converge with my deep passion for legal issues both domestically and internationally.
Niko: During your time in Jordan, how were you able to connect local Jordanians and engage in deeper cultural discussion?
Dom: The best way to connect with locals in Jordan was at cafes. I would sit down for hours at a time, smoking hookah and playing tricks complex. Most Jordanians could relate to this. It wasn’t always easy to relate to the locals at first, though. And it wasn’t a language barrier that made this difficult. Studying in Jordan helped me appreciate the importance of not just speaking the language, but actually understanding and engaging the people too.
One time when I was at the gym, I went up to the front desk to ask the owner for water. He had always kept water in a padlocked fridge behind the desk. Since he wasn’t there, I figured that I would go ahead and just try and open it myself. As I was fidgeting with the padlock, another regular came up to me and asked what I was doing. So, I told him that I was just taking a water bottle from the fridge and would leave some money on the table. I was a regular too, so this was okay, I thought. He told me something I would always keep in the back of my mind from there on out. Puzzled by what I was doing, he told me, “You’re not just here studying the Arabic language; you’re here to connect with Jordanian culture to understand our cultural norms and actions. Never assume that you can just grab and leave some money. That’s not how we do things here. Your ability to communicate physically is just as important as it is verbally.” Opening my mind to this allowed me to connect and engage the locals with more ease, more understanding.
Niko: That’s a really unique story. I want to switch topics here though and talk about OpenGrounds. Why come to OpenGrounds? What keeps you Grounded here?
Dom: Well, there’s obviously a great atmosphere and it’s a great place to get work done. The space actually brings me back to Jordanian cafes in one way. When it’s so easy to create a Google Doc or work on a presentation without ever having really met up with a group member, it’s refreshing to come to a place where people are always collaborating and connecting. In Jordan, that place was cafes. At UVa, OpenGrounds fills that space.