Connection to the Global Community in Morocco

This entry features a submission by former AMIDEAST Education Abroad student, Everest Robinson. Everest participated in the AMIDEAST Morocco Regional Studies in French program during the Fall 2015 term. From Macalester College in Minnesota, Everest is a student of Psychology and Religious Studies. We hope you enjoy his reflection on his experience in Morocco!

It’s very hard to sum up four months of my life in Morocco, to extract a single lesson or even a single story. There are so many stories so many ways that my life has been altered by Morocco.

The place I would start with to describe my time in Morocco is not a location or an experience, but the people, for people always make a place. The people of Morocco have taught me so much. As a tourist, I sometimes found myself in situations where it would’ve been very easy to take advantage of me. However, this rarely happened. By and large, Moroccan people were not only helpful but they went above and beyond just extending courtesy and aid; they treated me as a family member and showed genuine interest and investment in my well-being. In a similar vein, I noticed community solidarity every day whether it was four people jumping at the chance to help a mother get her stroller on the bus or a stranger watching someone’s kids as the parents went into a shop. I will never forget this community solidarity which has become a part of my identity, and I will never forget that many times I was vulnerable in an unfamiliar place where if not for the assistance of strangers I could’ve encountered trouble.

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Buying a rug from villagers on the Zawiya Ahansal excursion.

Overall, I found my experience abroad to be simultaneously challenging and illuminating. During my time abroad, I was forced to use muscles that I had rarely used before. I confronted myself just as much I confronted the socio-cultural obstacles. In general, I tend to be more of a follower/people-pleaser. I rarely drive the plans or the conversation within a social group. When I stay at someone’s house I try to be invisible and rarely express my needs. While I was abroad, I learned very quickly that they are times when it is necessary to advocate for yourself and be assertive. I could’ve let the semester move along with my various discomforts and had regrets at the end, but instead I learned to confront people with my desires and I even made a trip by myself to Chefchaouen when no one wanted to go the particular weekend I had available. There were so many experiences that became available with me at the small price of asserting myself. Because of this perspective-shift I was able to leave Morocco with zero regrets and with an increased ability to assert myself which is quite a useful skill to have in adulthood.

Another hugely important thing I take with me back to the states is an increased awareness of the global community. By going to Morocco I was exposed to viewpoints that simply aren’t available in the United States in my upper-class liberal arts bubble. I learned far more about Islam than I could’ve learned in any textbook or web search. Greater than the French I learned was the shockingly simple revelation that other people use all sorts of languages all around the world and that this language in turn influences their perceptions. Furthermore, many things cannot be translated into words. I learned a great deal about wealth disparity from living with a middle class Moroccan family and teaching English to refugees from many Sub-Saharan nations. Finally, I learned that there are so many different ways to live life on planet earth in community and that although I may be more comfortable living one way, that does not mean that the others are less correct on a universal level. After being abroad, I feel a greater connection to the global community.

I can’t put a price or any sort of measure on what my semester abroad has meant to me. It is invaluable. It is part of me. It has shaped me irreversibly. I strongly believe this opportunity should exist for every person on this wonderful planet, and I’m immensely grateful to have had this opportunity.

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Filed under 2015, Adventure, French, Morocco

Highlights of Morocco Fall 2015

This entry was shared by Sarah Donaldson, a participant on AMIDEAST’s Fall 2015 Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Rabat, Morocco. Sarah, a student of Political Science at the University of Kentucky, shares the highlights of her semester experience in Morocco.

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Within our first week in Morocco, we were welcomed with the Rabat Challenge. After a few days of being shown around the city for orientation week and what not, it was time to put what we learned to the lest. We were required to find everyday things that we would need like ATMs, places to get food, Hannuts (little stores) and certain buildings around AMIDEAST and near the areas our host families lived, the place that we would soon call home for the next 4 months, as well as navigate the medina the best way that we could. It is funny looking back and remembering how much we struggled on this challenge. First of all, we went to the wrong train station, and then we thought we made it to the medina and it turned out that we were far from the old city. I’m sure the cabs we took all were about double the cost of what they should have been and we were still strangers to each other at this point so it was just overall very awkward. We were just so new and clueless and looking back on this adventure shows us just how far we came in our experience studying abroad. I loved this experience because it gave us some independence and a task of navigating through the city in a more relaxing mindset. This challenge also brought me close to the two people that I would later call some of my best friends. Now at the end of this program, I can confidently say that I can easy accomplish this challenge in half of the time they gave us to complete it.

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Zawayat Ahnsal was easily the most important excursion that we took while on this program. Before leaving for this small village in Morocco, everyone was concerned; no one had heard of it and it sounded like there was not a lot to do, and everyone wanted to spend there week doing something “more fun”. Then what happened was we came and taught some of the most adorable, most intelligent kids English who were so driven to learn. We had dinner at the Sheikh’s house, with traditional music where the whole town came and sung and danced with us. The girls were given Jlabbas to wear during the celebration and they offered food and tea and woman were there to give everyone henna. To everyone’s surprise we had the most fun on this excursion than any other. We got to see the most breath-taking views of the village and we really got to connect with individuals there in ways that you can’t do when you are in a big city. The reason why this was so important is because a lot of Morocco is made up of small villages like this one and we got to see and experience a huge part of Moroccan culture that we would not have seen or known about if we continued to visit the big popular cities that we all planned to see.

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It would be a disservice to write this piece and not include a picture of my host family. It was great because no matter what they always tried to be engaging with us and really invited us into their home. It was good to be with a host family like this because it forced us to learn and use the language and they also got to show us their culture. There is something to be said for getting to experience a culture first hand and it is an experience that I wouldn’t have gotten with out this family. They were there to help us with homework, and to give us love when we were feeling especially home sick. It truly felt like having another family while you were in Morocco. Which at first, sounds almost exhausting to constantly be with other people all the time, but to have people there to care about you and to look out for you while experiencing a culture so different makes all the difference.

 

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Filed under 2015, Education Abroad, Morocco

MENA 101: Making Friends in Your Host City

We hope you enjoy another installment from the MENA 101 series. This is a series of featured articles about living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including MENA history and culture, as well as advice for students preparing for travel to the MENA region. The entry below was crafted by Education Abroad interns and former participants Grayce McGregor and Rachel Durning. We welcome submissions from alumni of AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs—please send your articles and photos to DocsEdAbroad@AMIDEAST.org!

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A group of friends in Rabat, Morocco.

So, you have arrived and settled into your new living arrangements in your new host city. Whether with a host family or in an apartment, you are ready to go and start experiencing all the city has to offer. Just one issue – who can you call to adventure with you?

There is nothing wrong with some solo exploring, but it can be intimidating and possibly even unsafe in an unfamiliar city. Making friends is one of the most fun ways to immerse yourself in your host country’s culture! It can be difficult, however, to make the move from meeting someone to forming a real friendship. Here are five tips to help jumpstart those relationships when staying in the Middle East.

  1. Don’t be afraid to make plans, and keep them.

How many times have you suggested “Let’s hang out sometime” to an acquaintance, only to lose touch for months? Take responsibility here, and follow up with real plans. Mostly likely, people will be flattered that you think they are worth your time, especially if you already seem to have a bit in common. This can be as simple as inviting them to do something you planned on already, or asking where their favorite coffee shop is and meeting there sometime. Visitors should be aware of local social norms in which inviting members of the opposite gender to a solo coffee date may be taboo; usually, group activities are a safe bet. And plan to be flexible on the timing; you will need to adjust to the local attitude about time, which is generally less strict than the typical Western focus on punctuality.

  1. Latch on.

No one likes feeling like they are being clingy, but the most surefire way to make lots of new friends is to be persistent, especially in the early stages of meeting someone. Past alumni have found success in asking one friend to introduce all their friends. You could also start by hanging out with your host siblings’ friends and working from there. Just be consistent and clear that you are interested in a friendship by getting in touch regularly, every week or so. Soon you will have a group of new friends.

  1. Break the language barrier.

The language barrier is aptly named, as it can act as a wall between you and potential friends–but it will just take a little effort to break through it. A great icebreaker in new groups is card games. A deck of cards is a really simple thing to carry everywhere, and if you and your new friends know different games, teach them to each other! Games may seem a bit forced at first, but they are a good way to get conversation started and make you forget about feeling awkward, which can make the language barrier seem insurmountable.

  1. Always get phone numbers.

This is a no-brainer. If you like the person and want to stay in touch, say so and ask for their number! If Facebook seems more acceptable, that is also a good way to chat with new friends. It is always good to have people you can ask language or culture questions, or a buddy to explore with. Remember—once you have someone’s contact information, make sure to follow up and make plans.

  1. Remember: If you don’t reach out, no one will.

Take the initiative! You will be waiting forever for your new friends to make plans with you—they have friend groups and social lives already established. Local students may not be thinking of inviting a foreigner into their world, until you make them a part of your world. So, assume that nobody is going to do the planning, unless you do. It takes effort, but you won’t regret it.

Once you’ve made these friends, make sure to read our post about the different expectations for friendships in the Middle East.  Social relationships are different in every culture, so be sure you are aware of these differences and make sure not to accidentally offend anyone in your new host country!

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MENA 101: The Oud

MENA 101 is a series of featured articles about living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These posts include MENA history and culture, as well as advice for students preparing for travel to the MENA region. We welcome submissions from alumni of AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs. Please send your articles and photos to DocsEdAbroad@AMIDEAST.org!

Looking at the oud from another angle.

Looking at the oud from another angle.

If you do not know much about the Middle East or you are not a musician, you may not know about the oud. The oud is said to pre-date the lute and guitar. It is a stringed, gourd-shaped, instrument with four to six pairs of strings tuned to the same note. There are several regional styles in which the oud is played, among these are Syrian, Turkish, Egyptian, and Iranian. These styles are much like Arabian dialects; indiscernible to the foreigner, but to an expert, they tell stories about where the player is from. Since the oud has pairs of strings which are played together instead of individual strings like the guitar, the tone has a unique echoing sound which sets it apart from other stringed instruments.

The neck of the oud has no frets, so it is played completely by ear. It can be a quite a task for one learning how to play, especially when tuning the oud. The lack of frets also allows for more fluidity in the Middle Eastern scales than Western ears are used to. In Middle Eastern music, they have quarter tones. They sit between a note and its flat or sharp. To a Westerner, it may sound off-key. Played in context as a scale or song, the note has a unique sound that creates a step between the moods of major and minor keys.

Music in the Middle East is said to have gone through a ‘dark age’, during the time of the Ottomans and the British/French mandates (spanning around 700 years). This has not been helped by the fact that history in the region tends to be passed down orally. As a result, much of the traditional music history has been lost, although the songs have not. The most famous oud players have made their names in the past 100 years, unlike the great Western musicians, such as Bach, Mozart, and others. A few famous oud players are Nasseer Shamma, Farid al-Atrash, Mohamed al-Qasabgi, Riyad al-Sunbati, and Munir Bashir. Despite these expert oud players, there are many songs that are very old, but are not attributed to a particular artist.

The cultural role the oud plays is similar to a piano, as the music played on the oud tends to be considered more traditional whether or not the musical piece is old. You can find the oud in ensembles, but often if you stumble across a cafe or restaurant with an oud player, it will be played solo. As a traveler to the Middle East, you will likely see ouds, whether they are being played by a musician in a cafe, or hanging from the ceiling in the tourist shop. If you get a chance to visit a Bedouin camp overnight, they will often play music and dance around a campfire in the evening. Especially for the musically inclined, it is a definite treat to see an oud in action.

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Filed under Cultural Feature, MENA 101

Memories of Jordan

Sharon Hoeck, of American University, studied abroad in Jordan a year ago, in the summer of 2014. Here are some of the places in Jordan that left the biggest impression on her.

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

One of the first things that struck me about Amman is the juxtaposition of old and new. I took this picture in the Temple of Hercules at the Citadel—in a place that has been continuously occupied since the Neolithic Period—to remind myself of the civilizations on which our modern world stands. This column has seen thousands of years of history and continues to stand over a city of cell phones, satellite dishes, and honking cars.

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum brought more adventures outside Amman: climbing up rock formations to find a rare spring in the desert, setting off fireworks after dark to celebrate the 4th of July, sleeping under the Milky Way, and a pre-dawn hike to watch one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. The quiet of the Wadi at sunrise drew a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city, leaving each one of us with our own thoughts to witness the reds, blues, purples, and oranges of the sun painting the desert.

Ajloun Nature Reserve

Ajloun Nature Reserve

For the Eid al-Fitr vacation, eight of us went camping in the Ajloun Nature Reserve. Four days of my friend cooking gourmet meals over a coal-fire camp stove and listening to the wolves howl at night culminated in a six-hour hike that four of us undertook. Halfway through, after eating our fill of wild figs and pomegranates, we rested in the shade of an olive tree and looked over the valley we had just traversed.

Arabic Carving

Arabic Carving

All the travel and trips aside, most of my time was spent studying this ancient language. With the help of my classmates, my teachers, and my host family, I was able to make gains beyond anything I expected. Although I was frustrated at times because of vocabulary words that slipped my mind after hours of study, the complexity and beauty of the language only increased my love for it and for this country.

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Filed under 2014, Education Abroad, Jordan

Big Things and Football

While abroad during the summer 2014 semester in Morocco, the grand size of the country’s sites impressed Mitchell Oeler, of Duquesne University. But Mitchell found personal connections when discovering American football on the beach.

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

The first weekend in Rabat, a few of my friends and I made the trip down to Casablanca. After a fun Friday night on Avenue de la Corniche, we woke up Saturday and took a walk to see Hassan II Mosque. It was easily one of the largest things I had ever seen! (That little man in the grey shirt is me; needless to say, I felt tiny.) When we tried to go inside for visiting hours, we were turned away because, as it turned out, the King of Serbia was visiting that day!

Cascade d’Akchour

Cascade d’Akchour

In keeping with the theme of things bigger than me, this one is of Cascade d’Akchour in the Rif Mountains near Chefchaouen. After hiking for 2 ½ hours, we were presented with this awesome sight! Of course after a long hike nothing sounds better than jumping in the cool mountain water, so with very little forethought we all hopped in. How I didn’t come out with hypothermia is still a mystery to me, but nevertheless the Cascade was one of my favorite things in Morocco.

New friends made playing American football.

New friends made playing American football.

My roommate and I ran into this bunch on the Rabat beach playing football. American football. Wait, WHAT?? We went over to talk to them, using our best Darija of course. After a little chuckle, one of the players introduced himself in perfect English as Medhi. He and his friends are trying to get American football more popularity in Morocco by forming a league. After a pretty intense game (which we won), we rinsed the sand out of our mouths and took a team photo! They were a great group of guys, and I hope their league keeps on growing.

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Filed under 2014, Morocco, Summer

Why I (Still) Live in Morocco

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.

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

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.

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Filed under 2012, Morocco