In Overseas Study, Student Assesses the Politics of Water

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If there’s one thing that conflicting countries in the Middle East should be able to agree on, it’s the need to protect everyone’s common sources of water. And that’s the ideal that brought Miranda Morton halfway around the world for her final undergraduate year at Fordham.

A recipient of a Boren scholarship, she’s living in Amman, Jordan—taking classes, absorbing the culture, and learning Arabic so that after graduation she can help seek solutions to water-related problems that are readily apparent in day-to-day life.

“Water conservation is second nature for everyone” in Jordan, Morton said, noting that most households get water delivered only once a week and have to make it last. “When the water runs out, the water runs out.”

The Boren Scholarship, part of the National Security Education Program, was founded to expand America’s expertise in the needs and perspectives of countries that are underrepresented in study abroad programs. It sends undergraduates to regions that are important for U.S. interests so they can learn the language; in return, the students spend at least a year working for the federal government in the national security arena after graduating.

Morton has set her sights on the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She hopes to help with policies that balance water security and environmental protection and that ease tensions between Middle East nations that have water-sharing agreements.

The scholarship has brought her a world away from where she was just two years ago, when, in the middle of her junior year, her growing qualms about her pre-med focus prompted her to make a change.

With “a lot” of support from Assistant Dean William Gould, she switched to international studies and started to actively seek learning opportunities in global affairs. A Fordham travel grant sent her to Scandinavia for a backpacking and leadership program that jumpstarted her interest in sustainability, an interest she developed in senior year as a youth representative in the United Nations public information department.

Morton needed a fifth undergraduate year to complete her major, and chose Jordan because it’s the best place to learn Arabic—“a beautiful language,” she said. She takes classes offered by the Council on International Educational Exchange at the Princess Sumaya Institute for Technology in Amman.

In addition to her classes in Arabic, area studies, and other topics, she’s been finishing up a senior thesis focused on the links between water problems and social unrest, with a focus on Syria. In her Boren application she noted the importance of helping Jordan—a key U.S. ally—address its own water issues as a way of avoiding political instability.

Doing something about water problems could promote peace in the region, she said, giving the example of a proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline project that would require talks between Palestine, Israel, and Jordan.

“I think that’s an important step,” she said. “If you sit down and try to have a political discussion among these three parties, I don’t know how much success you’re going to have. But when you are talking about a specific issue, such as water, I think it is easier to make an agreement. Because everyone needs water.”

Jordanians have been outspokenly curious about why she’s there—“always wanting to know why I study Arabic,” she said. And their hospitality seems to be showing in the actions of their government, which has been “truly incredible” in welcoming Syrian refugees despite Jordan’s water woes and tight resources, she said.

“Jordan doesn’t have oil, Jordan doesn’t have a huge economy, Jordan certainly relies on a lot of foreign aid, and so to put those resources to work for the refugees that are coming from Syria, I think that’s very impressive,” she said.

She and a few friends recently visited some of those refugees outside the Za’atari refugee camp, playing with a group of Syrian girls to help keep their spirits up. Rather than being a service activity, she said, the trip was about “just being there and being physically present and understanding more and seeing it myself.”

The experience reminded her of her Global Outreach projects at Fordham, she said. “The emphasis was always on walking in solidarity with others and in finding common ground.”

 

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