“Shukran Morocco” by Dan Fitzgerald

Know where you’re going, and know how to get back. For some reason, I couldn’t get this saying out of my head during my 29-hour flight travel from Rabat to Pittsburgh. Granted, this phrase is used to describe returning home to the United States and technically this is true for me, since my real family is in Pittsburgh. Yet the more I pondered on this saying, I realized that I wasn’t thinking about my family in the United States. I was thinking about my host family I left behind. I was thinking about the daily beach sunsets. I was thinking about Morocco. I’m dedicating this final blog to two groups of people that I will carry in my heart forever.

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For those of you who know me personally, I am not a very emotional person when it comes to goodbyes, and I certainly don’t cry. This all changed on May 13th as I stood in my host family’s apartment with my luggage and bags beside me. I had already hugged and cheek kissed my Hajji and Hajjah several times and made promises to call each other from time to time. Suddenly, as I stood there in the silence of the apartment, all the memories I shared with my Moroccan parents over these four months came flooding into my head, and I began to cry. Hajji and Hajjah started to cry, which only made me cry even worse and soon I was a complete disaster. I would like to apologize to my taxi driver that took me to the airport that day, I promise I’m not always a hot mess.

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“Conner, Hajji, Hajjah, and I”

My host parents taught me kindness and patience, as they certainly needed both when speaking with me in French in Arabic. They taught me to life when life throws something your way, as Hajjah will never let me forget the time I got my pants wet after I got hit by a wave… in January. Lastly, they gave me the ultimate gift anyone can receive on study abroad: a loving home and family. Shukran Hajji and Hajjah.

The other group I need to recognize is my Rabat Beach friends. I going to be honest here, Rabat Beach is not the best beach in the country, and it certainly isn’t the cleanest, but it by far one of my favorite places in Morocco because of one reason: the people. Never in my life have I found a group of people who adopted me into their friend group so quickly and accepted me as one of their own, especially my friend Afif. I met Afif playing beach volleyball two weeks before I left Morocco and that didn’t stop us from becoming brothers to each other. We went to the beach almost every day to either play beach tennis, beach volleyball, swim in the ocean, or just hang out on our towels.

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“Afif and I’s final good bye”

He taught me French and Arabic (including some swears) and I taught him English, a fair trade off in my book. He taught me what life was really like for a young Moroccan. But above all, he taught me loyalty and true friendship. You think I’m exaggerating this? This guy drove all the way to the airport to say good bye to me one last time. If that isn’t true friendship, I don’t know what is.

My study aboard in Morocco is finally “saffi” and it is time for a new group of students. If I can one piece of advice for you, it is this: take risks and put yourself out there. You will be surprised at what you find. Now, if you need me, I’ll be on my next adventure: Senegal!


“On the Marrakesh Express” by Dan Fitzgerald

I love trains. Actually, I’m obsessed with trains. As a kid, I always played with and watched Thomas the Tank Engine, I read piles of books about different kinds of trains, and when I was three years old I dressed as a train for Halloween. It’s one of the earliest forms of industrialized transportation dating back to the early 19th century, and even now I can still feel a certain magic about riding in one.  If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a nerd for trains. Putting my obsession aside, you would love trains too if you rode one in Moroccan. Many tourists typically don’t use the train system in Morocco and instead use planes, but I am about to tell you a train is the best “off the beaten path” experience.

My goal since I arrived in Morocco has been to meet with real Moroccans and experience Morocco alongside them. Tourists can easily afford to ride première classe in a train, but not many locals ride in that compartment. If I wanted to truly live like a Moroccan and talk to locals, I had to go where the locals would be. Let me tell you, deuxième classe is where the fun is. The best way to describe deuxième classe is like a game of tetras, where you see how many passengers and baggage can fit into a train car since trains are always over-booked and seats are a on first come, first serve basis. Not convinced yet to brave this journey? You will be after I tell you about my trip from Marrakesh to Rabat.

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It was a windy afternoon at le Gare de Marrakesh when my friends and I were literally running to catch our train back to Rabat as it is just departing. The train is a rustic style from its design in the 1920s-1930s with vibrant tan and orange patterns along its side. We were the last ones on the train that was clearly overbooked and we knew that we would never get a seat. Carrying our bags in the hot and crowded spaces, we walk through the first car with no luck finding seats. Second car, still no seats. By the fourth car, I gave up. I put my bags down at the end of the car by the train doors and sat on the floor. Best decision I’ve made in Morocco.

A Moroccan man sitting across from me propped the door with his foot while the train was moving and this gust of fresh wind hit my face. “C’est d’accord si la porte est ouverte?” he asks (“Is it okay if the door is open”). I responded with a cheerful yes as I watched the country pass before my very eyes. I saw patches of cactuses and the steep Atlas Mountains, roaming goat and sheep herders who waved to me, children playing soccer on dirt fields, secluded mosque towers in the middle of expansive fields of crops. I sat by this open door with the wind blowing on my face and the smell of the Moroccan man’s cigarette on me.



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Soon other passengers joined us as they too realized there were no more seats on this train. For the rest of the train ride I talked to an elderly couple from Casablanca about their life in Morocco and how excited they were that “a foreigner wanted to learn Darija”, and I played peak-a-boo with a small Moroccan girl from Mohammedia who shared her cookies with me. After a weekend in Marrakesh filled with tourists and classic tourist sites like the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, it was amazing to see and learn so much about Morocco just on this train. If you want adventure and to truly see Morocco, take the Marrakesh Express.