Jonathan Thrall on the ESJ Project
January 30, 2020
What did you study through the ESJ Project? What are some of the larger takeaways from your research?
I was hosted by the Higher Education Center at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Amman, Jordan. It had an English-language program that had a diploma track, as well as informal English classes.
Ultimately, it was my interviews with students and staff—the members of that community—that really gave the research shape and direction. My main findings were that this center was very important for what it was as an education opportunity for the students, but it was more than that: It was a community center, a place to foster community for individuals who have had their ties severed from their home countries and, in many cases, their families.
How did you change during the course of the ESJ Project?
I think my ESJ experience was without a doubt, an experience of personal growth, challenge, and perspective-building. I had certain breakthroughs on problems that I was thinking about during my undergraduate studies, which were focused on nationalism. Talking about nation-building with these students, one of whom talked about nationalism as an experience they personally lived that had such a violent impact on their life, really put me in my place and added a greater sense of importance to what I was studying.
What did you find to be the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the program?
ESJ was challenging because for many of us, it was our first sort of independent fieldwork experience. We had done our background research and received training in research techniques, but nothing can really properly prepare you to do research alone in a foreign country.
But I think a huge plus of the ESJ Project is that the basis of the research is interviews with community members: You let yourself be guided by your hosts.
What is your current occupation? How did your involvement in the ESJ Project inform your career choice and graduate study?
I now work as a program assistant at the Council on International Educational Exchange in Amman. Last year, I completed a Fulbright Research Fellowship in Jordan. Having in-country research experience and being entrusted to do my own research project in the field not only made me more appealing as a candidate for Fulbright but also made me more prepared to navigate my experience as a Fulbright researcher. The project I proposed for Fulbright was on civic education in Jordan. The ESJ Project itself really sparked a sustained interest in education that I continued through my Fulbright research.
I ended up spending a chunk of my last year here volunteering for the International Refugees Assistance Project, an NGO that assists refugees and displaced people for third-country resettlement outside of Jordan. I was interested in doing that work explicitly because of my ESJ experience.