Eleanor Easton, originally from University of Chicago, studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University in the fall of 2012. Three years later she decided she wasn’t done with Morocco, so she made Casablanca her home.
Casablanca is a big, sprawling, and complicated city. Sometimes the stoplights and walk signs don’t match up, sometimes simple tasks take hours to complete, and sometimes the garbage collector doesn’t come for weeks. But it also has some hidden gems: organic fruit stands on every street with the sweetest fruits I’ve ever tasted, markets tucked into corners of the city, waiting to be found and explored, and incredible diversity of language, culture, and history. There is always something new to discover or somewhere new to explore.
Nearly three years ago, I decided to apply for AMIDEAST’s direct enrollment program at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. I chose the program because I wanted to be an exchange student at a university instead of traveling with a group of Americans. I thought I would learn more from being in a situation where I couldn’t easily rely on what I already knew. But the greatest benefit of choosing this sort of program was not just that I was able to experience life as a student in Morocco, but also that those I met during the program were people who lived semi-permanently in Morocco, and so are still here. After I finished my program with AMIDEAST, I returned to the U.S. just long enough to graduate from my university, and then came right back to Morocco. I started teaching English at AMIDEAST in Casablanca this fall, after a year of teaching at an American school, also in Casablanca. I am lucky to have old friends from my semester in Ifrane as well as new friends from my job in Casablanca.
Although there are moments when I feel like my classes are as chaotic as Casablanca at rush hour, teaching is one of the best ways to feel connected to Moroccan culture. I teach several different classes, and each one has to be approached totally differently. In my morning class, my students speak Arabic more fluently than French, so sometimes they teach me words in Arabic while I teach them English. In my children’s classes, most students prefer to speak French. In my business classes, I sometimes learn from adult students about their jobs and the companies they work for. I have students who are studying English so that they can live outside of Morocco, and I have students who are studying so that they can find their dream jobs without leaving Casablanca. Even though I am no longer in Morocco as a student, I feel like I am always learning something new.
Life in Casablanca is totally different from life in Ifrane; Ifrane is quiet, clean, and friendly, while Casa has too much traffic, too few trashcans, and not enough stop lights for its many busy intersections. But my time as an exchange student in Ifrane prepared me in many ways for life in Casablanca, despite how different it was. When I returned to Morocco as a teacher instead of a student, I felt that I was continuing something I had already started. And now it’s not just a place I live for the duration of a program; it’s my home.