1st Lt. Ala Shraideh arrived in the United States in October expecting to struggle with a foreign culture and a language barrier.
But on Thursday, nine months later, she was at the top of her class at Fort Gordon and receiving a personal commendation from the post’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn.
Shraideh said afterward that the handshake and kind words were a validation of her decision to take a risk and travel solo across the world from her native Jordan.
The experience “has made me stronger and depend on myself more,” Shraideh said.
The Signal Corps plays host to international military students representing about 50 countries every year. Shraideh is the first Jordanian female officer to graduate from Signal Corps instruction at Fort Gordon. She entered Jordan’s Royal Military Academy in 2005 and graduated in the inaugural class of female field officers. Her degree in information technology led her into the country’s signal corps.
She traveled to Colorado briefly in May 2011 as part of a military delegation, but her first long-term exposure to the United States began in October.
Her anxiety was tempered when she met her stateside sponsor, who quickly became a friend. Together they’ve explored Savannah and South Carolina, and Shraideh has developed a taste for Mexican food. The only downside is “that I’ve started to gain weight,” Shraideh said with a laugh.
Some cultural differences stand out in her mind. Americans, for instance, typically leave home at age 18. In her culture, children don’t leave home until they’re married.
American soldiers’ exposure to the Middle East is typically limited to Iraq, and that’s most often a negative experience. Shraideh said each country in the Middle East has a unique culture; the Jordanian way of life is not the same as that in Saudi Arabia or Yemen. She encourages Americans to broaden their views of the Middle East.
Shraideh has one class remaining before heading home July 21. She’s sad to leave her adopted home, but she is eager to get back to her family and her mother’s cooking.
It’s been an all-around positive experience, Shraideh said, and she would encourage women in any country’s military to branch out and try new experiences.
“You can find yourself by trying,” she said.