“Tips for Being Mindful” by Mary Marston

Mary Marston is a senior at American University and currently interns with AMIDEAST’s Education Abroad Division. The first time she studied in Morocco was through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth in Marrakech. She returned to Morocco in Spring 2016 to Study Abroad with AMIDEAST in Rabat, Morocco.

This is Mary, enjoying January in Rabat in the L’Ocean neighborhood


Having been fortunate enough to study abroad in Morocco twice, and finally reflecting upon these experiences, I realized that most “travel tips” will tell you: what to pack, where to go, what to eat… et cetera. However, the single most important thing you can pack is:

Mindfulness (adj): the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment.

… Otherwise defined as being aware of what you are doing, and how your presence, impacts your surroundings. “Surroundings” can be defined as your host family, AMIDEAST institution (including employees and faculty, neighborhood, etc.)

I know this is a really abstract concept. So, here are some tips on how to break down this concept of “mindfulness” and how to apply it to your study abroad experience.

Educate yourself on the history and culture of your host country

                In other words, look beyond the travel book. Taking classes relating to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and/or Arabic is a great place to start learning about the intersections of culture and history. If you don’t have access to these courses, or want to supplement them, reading local newspapers, watching television shows, and movies produced in and by the people of the country will both help develop your personal cultural competence and maybe, your language skills. Don’t worry; if you’re just beginning to learn Arabic or are a Francophone, there are plenty of locally-produced content in both English and French.

Understand that your host country isn’t your study abroad playground

Living, studying, and traveling, in a country that is not your own opens you up to a breadth of opportunities and new experiences. However, when exploring your host city or country, make sure to be cognizant about your actions and to respect local customs. Sometimes people feel “freer” to do whatever they want when living in an area short term because of a perceived lack of consequence, which causes some people to engage in not so well thought out decisions. Remember, what you do will impact locals’ perceptions of you, your study abroad group, and your host organization. By studying abroad, you are representing the United States, or your respective nation of origin. In other words, the way you act when studying abroad both reflects on you and your country of origin.

Respecting local customs can take many forms. One way is to dress appropriately for different regions you will visit during your study abroad, such as these American students



Aim for cultural competence, not assimilation

Let’s be honest. You’ll never become “Jordanian” or “Moroccan”, especially if you are just living in a country for four months or so. Instead of assimilation, which is defined as:

“The process by which a person or persons acquire the social and psychological characteristics of a group,”

… It is better to aim for cultural competence:

“… having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.”

So, what are some ways to become culturally competent? As previously stated, educating yourself on the history and customs of your host country is a great place to start. In addition to this, you should aim to:

Invest yourself in experiencing your host country with your host family and local friends

It’s great to develop relationships with American and other foreign students in your program. In fact, it is a great idea to go on group trips with them. However, experiencing a country through neighborhoods and wandering about Old Medinas with locals that know them the best are truly the basis of a life changing experiences. In addition, spending quality time with your host family is one of the best ways to show them respect. Even the smallest acts such as watching television programs with them, helping your host family (or asking them for help) with homework, or hanging out with your host siblings outside of the home.

Eating couscous with your host family on Fridays in Morocco is a great way to spend time with them, and enjoy Morocco’s national dish.


What tips do you have for being mindful while studying abroad?


A Lifetime in Four Months

The following entry was submitted by Shante Fencl, a spring 2016 participant on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Morocco. A student of International Studies at American University, Shante reflects on her highlights of Morocco and what first surprised her.

On a cold January morning before dawn, my mother and I packed up our car. I had already said my goodbyes to friends and family, and it was time to start the six hour drive to JFK airport from my small town outside of Cleveland, OH. That night I had a plane to catch that would take me to Morocco where I would spend the next four months of my life learning about the culture and language of the land. I felt as though I was saying goodbye to the people I loved for a lifetime, but I never expected that I would have the same emotions about new friends and new family once my semester abroad came to an end.

As soon as I landed in the airport in Casablanca, the realization of being in a foreign land hit me. As I walked outside I could see the sun rising through the palm trees (a sight I could never see in Ohio!) The only thing I knew about Casablanca was from the black and white Humphrey Bogart film, and the vivid colors of the landscape took me by surprise. My driver took me to the city where I would be living and studying during my semester abroad with AMIDEAST: Rabat. Not knowing the language and being an ocean away from anyone I have ever known made me feel so alone. After our first week of orientation with AMIDEAST, all of the students were placed into our host families. I met my new roommate, my new family, and moved into my new home within a matter of hours. I can remember thinking that these new people and places would never become normal to me. I could not imagine getting used to life in Morocco, but I am happy I was proven wrong.

Within a few short weeks of being in the country, I learned basic phrases for survival in Arabic and could express myself in simple words to have conversations with locals. I made amazing friends both in the AMIDEAST program and in Rabat and I began to travel the country I called home for the semester. As each week passed, I began to feel more comfortable in this new place. The sights I saw everyday were now commonplace, the people I came to know and love were now an important part of my life. By the very end of the program, I had experienced a lifetime in only four months. I started to appreciate and understand the new culture I was living in. I began to see the similarities and differences between my country and Morocco and I was so thankful for being able to experience life in both places. Most importantly, I fell in love with a new place away from home.

Sand in Hair

Immediately after leaving Morocco, I was heartbroken. The only thing I wanted to do was go back to that first day when I got off the plane in Casablanca. I wanted to do it all over again. Now that I knew the country, the people, and could communicate in the language, I knew I could make the most of my time if I could just go back and start over again. But I couldn’t start over. My semester was done. As I sat there in my home thinking about my time in Morocco, I realized how fortunate I was to have had even four months in the country. I learned so much not only about the culture and language, but also about myself. I learned to be proud of where I came from, but to find the beauty in other places as well. I learned to challenge myself and do things I never dreamed of doing before. I guess you can say that I learned to live, and I will always be grateful to Morocco for teaching me that.