At New King’s Academy in Jordan, Alumni Work As Students, Teachers, Administrators and Prefects

Despite graduating less than five months ago, two Andover alumni have already assumed administrative roles at a new boarding school in Jordan. John Gwin ’07 and Matt Schubert ’07 arrived at King’s Academy in Mandaba, Jordan in August to begin their tenure there as Gap Year Fellows. Over the course of the 2007-08 academic year, Gwin and Schubert will play a significant role in making the school, dubbed “Deerfield in the Desert” by The New Yorker, a fully functional school. King’s Academy is the brainchild of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who based his vision for the school around his experiences as a student in the 1970’s at Deerfield Academy. King’s Academy first opened its doors this August to ninth- and 10th-grade students only. The school does not currently have 11th- or 12th-grade classes. According to Gwin and Schubert, who communicated via email, the Gap Year Fellowship combines the roles of students, faculty and administrators into one position and entrusts those admitted to the program with many responsibilities. Because of this, their experience is very different from that of an international postgraduate at Andover. “We are charged with acting as more than students,” wrote Gwin. “We are involved with discipline, school policy and other aspects of residential life that PG’s never deal with.” Both Gwin and Schubert are “dorm residents.” Like prefects or teaching fellows, they live in the boys’ dorm and have evening duty once during each school week and weekend duty twice each month. While on duty, they monitor the students’ study habits and answer questions or concerns their charges may have about adjusting to boarding school life. In addition to dorm duty, Schubert works as an intern in the Communications Office, where he helps with the maintenance of the school website. He is also an assistant coach for the boys’ soccer team. Gwin wrote that both he and Schubert are paid for their work. Even though both have fellowship duties to fulfill, Gwin and Schubert also attend classes. Their course load includes Introductory Arabic, Ancient Arab Architecture, Arab Literature and a weekly Junior Fellow Seminar where they reflect on their experiences and work on individual yearlong projects. Despite a regular workload of eight classes for both fellows and students, Gwin said that King’s has a social scene, albeit one of a very different nature than Andover’s. Schubert wrote, “The essential dividing factor is the inter-gender relationship rules here. Though boys and girls are allowed to hang out, any sort of physical intimacy is against the rules, and no one is ever allowed to go in the dorm of the opposite gender. He continued, “During the week, the students have limited free time, so they really have only a few hours here and there, aside from classes, to interact.” Schubert did indicate that the weekends are more flexible, with regular mall and movie trips. The school does not hold dances. Despite the somewhat restrictive nature of the student social scene, fellows regularly leave campus for the weekends to visit Amman, the Jordanian capital, and to see other parts of the country. On such trips away from school, cultural differences become more apparent. Gwin wrote, “I think the biggest difference is the language barrier. It seems obvious, but it is difficult to overcome.” Schubert had similar feelings regarding the difference in language. “For one thing, it’s easier to get taken advantage of by cab drivers or store owners. Also, tasks that might seem routine in the U.S. become complicated here. Yesterday, when I wanted to buy some milk in the store, I had a hard time choosing the right kind because the labels had only a few English words, and I wasn’t able to communicate with the shopkeeper in Arabic,” he wrote. “The stronger emphasis on religion has been a notable difference as well,” wrote Schubert, who indicated that headscarves, burqas, and Islamic phrases such as “insha’Allah,” which translates to “God willing,” are commonplace. Both indicated that the desire to experience such differences attracted them to King’s Academy in the first place. Both have a passion for Middle Eastern studies and a desire to learn more about a place most people know little about. “I hoped to develop personal connections that would allow me to move completely beyond assumptions and stereotypes,” Schubert wrote. “I also wanted to take a break from the academic grind. I imagined that the out-of-classroom learning I’d do in Jordan would enrich my university experience.” Schubert and Gwin encourage “open-minded” and “flexible” PA students to look into gap year experiences at King’s Academy and elsewhere. Though King’s Academy is just in its infancy, the fellows are optimistic about its future. Wrote Schubert, “Check back in five years, and I think King’s will have a much richer academic program. Check back in a couple hundred years, and I hope King’s will be right on par with Andover.”