Ibrahim Khalaylih is a recent MA graduate from the Department of Middle East Studies in the Arabic Studies (TAFL) Program at the University of Michigan. His original home country is Jordan, where he grew up and studied geography and sociology, and earned a graduate degree in geography at the University of Jordan. He is passionate about learning and teaching the Arabic language and literature, which has given him a mission to connect people with cultures. His research interest is studying and improving teaching Arabic as a foreign language techniques and methods and studying different political and social issues in the Arab and Muslim regions. His mission is to promote social justice and inclusion for those who have been misunderstood, mistreated, and oppressed.

My name is Ibrahim Khalaylih, I am a recent MA graduate in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language (TAFL) and a recipient of the 2022 GISC Fellowship Award. This award helped me conduct research about Syrian refugees in Jordan after a decade of homelessness.

I was born and raised in Jordan and then moved to live in the US for more than 20 years, starting with Chicago, Iowa, and now Michigan. Some of my interests and hobbies are traveling, photography, and learning about other people's languages and cultures. I am a very diverse person with different educational backgrounds. I studied computer science, geography, language and literature, and education. This colorful background enabled me to appreciate the differences and treasure the knowledge we could learn from each other as human beings. I currently teach Arabic as a GSI lead instructor at U-M and enjoy what I do.

My fellowship took place in Jordan for about 11 weeks, during which I was interested in knowing more about the current conditions of the Syrian refugees in Jordan and their plans and hopes for the future. The GISC 2022 Summer Fellowship supported my project, it made it possible to spend on necessary expenses related to the project, including several trips to the Syrian refugees' camp Al-Za'atri in northern Jordan. Other places were also visited, such as other governorates in Jordan where other Syrian refugees live. It also allowed me to cover expenses needed to conduct my research, such as renting a vehicle with a professional driver knowledgeable in the area and covering on-the-road expenses such as food and gas.

In the last few months, I had many questions and thoughts urging me to study the Syrian Refugees in Jordan. As a graduate student, I received an email encouraging students to apply for the GISC summer fellowship. I found that to be the answer to my thoughts of researching Syrian refugees becoming a reality. I was thrilled and honored to receive such an award, which gave me more motives than before to pursue research in the Islamic and Arabic world about language, cultures, religion, and politics.

Conducting such research about Syrian refugees in Jordan opened up many unanswered questions regarding the prominent refugees' issues. I was wondering about the psychological conditions, the governmental and security regulations applied to the refugees in and out of the camp, the integrity of data collection, privacy, confidentiality, and ease of access to researchers to study subjects. The most critical question the refugees asked was how these researches would affect and help them.

It is safe to say that, after more than a decade, the Syrian refugee situation in Jordan still suffers and lacks the proper care from international agencies and communities. In this study, there are four main research questions have been answered, and those answers come strictly from the responses of the participant in the study. The research concluded that Syrian refugees were fleeing from war and running for their safety in Jordan. When they crossed the orders to Jordan, they were safe and found a place to stay within the governorates in Jordan.

Most Syrian refugees in Jordan live on the assistance given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR. They have no declared steady jobs to generate any other source of income. Their hopes and plans are centered on the availability of health care and migrating to an EU, especially Germany. The participants' responses showed that returning to Syria is not an available option; even if it were, they would not consider it.

I also had a few observations after physically visiting the Al-Za'atri camp and the rest of the region. There is tight security around and at the camp entrances. People cannot enter or leave the camp without proper permission or valid proof to identify them as camp residents. Such procedures may be justified, especially for camp residents, for their safety and to avoid illegal actions or criminal acts. Although the people of Jordan have been very welcoming and good hosts of refugees over the last 80 years, that doesn't mean that refugees may feel vulnerable or intimidated by anyone to take advantage of them in the camp. Most Syrian refugees live in different governorates in Jordan, work, and have homes, just like other Jordanians. They are hard workers, filling in the job markets and sometimes taking some opportunities from Jordanians that are also much needed.

Syrian refugees in Jordan are resilient and survivors. I think they are a blessing to every country they migrate. They inspired me always to have hope and to work to achieve my goals. They taught me never to lose faith. My dream and hopes for the future are to discuss several topics about refugees in different parts of their lives and to alert the local government and international agencies such as The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for any violation in provided health and livelihood care, as well as a recommendation in how to ease the regulations and grant more freedom to refugees, especially for refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. On an individual level, I will be advancing and expanding on my study in language, culture, religion, and politics to help provide education and humanitarian services to all those in need.     

My advice to future summer fellows is to explore any topic of your interest and dive. Don't be intimidated, and focus on something you can do in a specific budget and time frame. There is a lot to learn, and new horizons will appear from fieldwork conducting research with people than just from reading books.


Wondering how this can be you? All students currently enrolled at the University of Michigan in an undergraduate or graduate/professional degree program (master's or doctoral level) are eligible to apply for the GISC’s Fellowship Funding.

The GISC Fellowship Funding may be used for the following:

  • Language training - to offset costs of program fees for language learning.
  • Research support - to offset costs for an original project supporting Senior, Master’s, or Doctoral thesis completion.
  • Travel expenses (graduate students only) - associated with conducting original research or language training

For more information, visit our undergraduate funding or graduate funding pages.