Category Archives: Education Abroad

“Missing Morocco: The Home I Never Expected” by Sofia Deak

One week after leaving Morocco, I am still feeling an unsettling sensation of “homesickness” for a place that began to feel more like home than anywhere else I could go back to. I have not immediately returned to the United States from Rabat; I am spending the next three months teaching English to refugees in Greece. I feel like this has really compounded my longing for Morocco, because in leaving I was not met with any comforts of home but rather an entirely new and foreign environment. I blush when my accidental “shukran” is met with a confused stare from a coffeeshop barista, I make a mental note to not be outraged at how many Moroccan dirhams a dinner just cost, converting currencies automatically in my head. I am trying to replace the free-flowing Moroccan Darija in my brain with Syrian greetings instead. Mostly, I find myself falling silent, not wanting to annoy anyone by wistfully remarking, “In Morocco, here is how things are done. In Morocco, this item costs this much. In Morocco . . .”

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In Morocco, I was not a native of course, but I could read the signs and menus, I could chat with shopkeepers in Darija, I could find my way around Rabat and people recognized me in cafes and on the beach. Here in Greece, it’s almost like studying abroad again but without the  pre-existing cultural or language preparedness that I took with me to Morocco. I remind myself not to be shocked by a beach full of scantily clad sunbathers, that there’s no couscous Fridays or coconut slices sold on the road for 10 cents, that I probably shouldn’t start casual conversations with strangers out on the street.

In Morocco, I learned how different I am (or have become) from the once-familiar American/ European young person. I fully embraced my personality in Morocco and felt that there was not any sense of judgement for being myself. I now know what is meant by so many study abroad students who return to their home culture and are all of a sudden shocked or even revolted by things that were once accepted without question. I became much more contemplative and spiritual during my time in Morocco, so it is hard to be surrounded by other young people who I feel do not share my values or perspective. While I really respect the Europeans I have met thus far in Greece, I am confused by what I cannot describe as anything other than frivolity, wastefulness, and excess. For me, specific things I saw in Morocco have fundamentally changed the way I see the world: the sea of sand in the Sahara desert, starving or disabled children begging on the street, hundreds of men and women praying outside a mosque in 90 degree heat because there is no room left inside. These images are everyday Morocco. They also are unique in that they touched me in a way that I did not realize until I left the country, things that moved me to see the world in a new way.

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In the days leading up to my departure from Morocco, I could not really process what was happening, I did not feel sad saying goodbye to my host family or friends or teachers because I just could not quite believe that I would not just seem them again tomorrow. I am still amazed at how comfortable Morocco had become for me. As I sat on the plane, though, my nose was pressed against the window and I felt a weird urge to cry; I did not want to see the Moroccan shore line disappear from my view. It felt like I was losing something, something precious and important and something I would never get back. I hope that is not the case. When Moroccan friends and family urged me to stay, to not return to the US or go on the Greece, I usually smiled and replied, Insha’allah. It did not seem possible; I have so much to do in the US before travelling to Morocco seems possible again. But one thing I learned in Morocco is that our lives do not progress in the ways we think that they might. I would never have imagined to have grown or changed in the ways that I did over the past four months. I never expected to love going to the hammam with my host mother or to learn to surf or to feel a closer connection to quiet, traditional, hardworking life in rural Zaouiat Ahansal than the busy, modern, easy-going life in Los Angeles. I did not anticipate falling in love with Morocco and North Africa when I initially saw it as more of a stepping stone to improving my Arabic and eventually moving on to work and live in the Middle East. So it is with this knowledge now that I hope and believe that one day I will find myself back in Rabat, a place no matter how far I go or how long I am gone will always somehow feel like home.

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Filed under Education Abroad, Morocco, Sofia Deak, Spring 2017

“Saying ‘I Learned a Lot’” by Quinn Stevenson

Since returning home, everyone has been asking me “How was study abroad?”

During our reflection session at the Dead Sea, our program talked as a whole about how to answer this question. We want to say something more than “it was good.” Instead, we want to seize the opportunity to share something relevant about our experience: about the lessons we learned, the people we met, and the country we tried to immerse ourselves in. I settled on the expression “I learned a lot.” While fairly general, whenever I say “I learned a lot” people are compelled to ask me what I learned. And that’s when I get to share.

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“My host family taught me how to live in the moment”

Throughout my study abroad experience, I learned the most from my home stay and host family. They taught me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. At first, I felt uncomfortable in my home stay because I was so unsure of my surroundings. Everywhere I looked there would an unfamiliar language, unfamiliar people, and unfamiliar food. At first, it felt awkward and would make me homesick for my own house and family. With time though, I learned to embrace feeling uncomfortable. It would prove to be the best lesson I learned in all of Jordan.

Learning to embrace your own discomfort is elemental in another country. It turns every day into a learning opportunity or a unique moment. Instead of missing American food, I would try to learn the name of the Jordanian dish I was eating. Instead of missing Coloradan Mountains, I would marvel at the beauty of Amman and the desert. My host family taught me how to live in the moment and appreciate being uncomfortable because it meant something new, different, and special is occurring.

Another important lesson I learned abroad was about being proud of small successes. I’ve often discussed my struggles with Arabic. While it’s certainly possible to survive in Jordan with English, I wanted to do more than just ‘get by’ for 4 months. I wanted to learn as much Arabic as possible and to actually use it with Jordanians. This was a big challenge. Especially starting from the ground up in January with the alphabet. Forcing myself to use Arabic everyday with my host family, cab drivers, and shop owners, taught me to delight in small successes. As a college student, I’ve never faced a challenge or goal that will take years to accomplish. Trying to learn Arabic is my first attempt at a lifelong goal and I’m grateful to Jordan for giving me the right approach and optimistic attitude when faced with overwhelming challenges.

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“I’m grateful to Jordan for giving me the right approach and optimistic attitude when faced with overwhelming challenges.”

However, it wasn’t until that I returned to the US that I realized another important lesson. Living in Jordan taught me to appreciate the US more than I have had before. I talked once about the environmental conditions of Jordan where water is a precious resource. Different reports place Jordan as the third most water scarce country in the world. Coming home, the first thing I did was take a very long shower. While it felt amazing, it also highlighted my privilege in the US. I also have a greater appreciation for the small comforts of home. Pancakes and pork bacon was a wonderful luxury my first day back!

Altogether, I learned too many lessons than I could describe in this blog entry. In fact, I expect to learn more lessons from Jordan as I acclimate back to the US and recognize the small and big differences. From my Amideast courses to my daily Arabic use, living in Jordan taught me more than I ever anticipated. I now view the MENA region more personally and the US more critically having lived in both. How I approach uncomfortable situations and overwhelming challenges has completely changed due to my time in Jordan. I know I will take these lessons with me in my future travels, my last year of college, and my future career.

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Filed under Education Abroad, Jordan, Quinn Stevenson, Spring 2017

“How is Morocco different from the US?” by Sofia Deak

As my first month in Morocco comes to an end, I am starting to be accustomed to life here. I feel more comfortable with the food, am able to have an entire conversation in Darija with my host mom (albeit with many mistakes, I am sure!), and easily know my way around Rabat. As I talk to my friends and family from home, I am constantly posed with the question of “How is Morocco different from the US?”

Initially, I brushed this question off as way too broad to even begin to tackle. “In many ways they are the same!” I usually reply. Mothers walk their kids to school, taxi drivers honk in the streets, couples stroll together by the beach. I am very accustomed to looking for ways in which I am the same as other people; it is in my nature and part of my personal philosophy to focus on shared values and traits rather than the things that divide people.

However, as I have thought more about this question, the more I have come to realize that it needs to be answered. Many friends and family members expressed their shock and worry when I told them I was planning to study abroad in Morocco — a response that baffled me, as all I felt was excitement and some nerves. A cousin asked me if I would be forced to wear a veil while in Rabat, and my doctor asked me why I was not studying in a “safer” and “more Western” country. These questions, I have realized, come from the lack of an answer to that greater, vaguer, question of how Morocco and the United States differ. Even highly educated Americans might be confused about life in a Muslim-majority country and what that life might look like for a twenty-year-old American college student with a Christian upbringing.

So, with only a few weeks experience to draw on, here are a few special moments that strike me as distinctly Moroccan:

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Each Friday, my host family gathers with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for a couscous feast, chatting for hours before the meal without the distractions of cell phones or television. This is pretty foreign to me, because my family is spread out all over the US and only gathers like this for major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was amazed and touched by the closeness of Moroccan families. My family loves to dance, and oftentimes my host sister Fatima Ezzahra plays music on the TV so she, her cousins, parents, aunts and uncles can all dance and sing together in the living room . . .

One late Sunday night, I arrived at the train station with friends, returning to Rabat from a weekend trip to Essaouira. It was dark out and pouring rain; a woman sitting in our train compartment insisted on driving us home, making sure we got inside safely, and invited us to share a meal with her family. She even gave us her daughter’s phone number so we could meet some Moroccans our own age (Rim is a university student in Rabat, like us) . . .

Upon seeing my friends and I walking around in the rain, a woman rushed out of her shop selling wood crafts and dragged us indoors. She pulled a large plastic tarp from a back room, cut it into five equal pieces, and made a hole in the middle of each — homemade ponchos for us all! She gave us tea, saying we reminded us of her daughter, and sent us on our way . . .

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These are just three examples of the Moroccan values of hospitality, friendship, and family that the people here seem to really exemplify in their day to day life. I feel very lucky to be studying in such a welcoming, friendly country, and want everyone reading my blog to know that these outward acts of kindness are just one of many things that makes Morocco so special!

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Filed under 2017, Arabic, Beauty, Cultural Feature, Education Abroad, Food, Host Family, Introduction, Morocco, Music, Photography, Sofia Deak

“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.

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Filed under 2017, Adventure, Beauty, Dan Fitzgerald, Education Abroad, Introduction, Morocco

Learning is a Two Way Street

The following entry was submitted by Becky Rawle, an academic year 2015-16 participant on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Jordan. A student of Middle East Studies at Dickinson College, Becky reflects on her MENA 390: Community-Based Learning class with AMIDEAST during her Spring 2016 term.

Reflecting back on my semester, I have a lot I wish to talk about. Despite all the amazing experiences I have had, I will focus on just one aspect, my community based learning. This semester I had the unique opportunity of getting out into a different Jordanian community than I was able to experience last semester. After I completed my Fall semester I wanted to find a way to experience more of Jordan, so I decided to take the Community-Based Learning (CBL) class. Through the class I had the opportunity to work at the Collateral Repair Project (CRP). CRP is committed to helping refugees, CRP’s website states that they “seek to restore dignity and community among displaced urban refugees as well as to ensure that their basic food and housing needs are met.” CRP offers many programs, one of which is an after school program for the children in the community in East Amman, where CRP’s headquarters are situated. This is the program I participated in.

When my fellow AMIDEAST peers and I arrived at CRP, we were tasked with teaching the children English and math. The children were very quick learners and extremely bright, but learning another language is tricky for almost anyone. The children could sing the alphabet song and recite the letters in order, but they did not understand the value of each individual letter. For example, if you pointed to a random letter they often could not tell you which one it was. Despite this constant struggle, by the end of my time at CRP I did see a difference. Once again, we were going over the alphabet and when a random letter was pointed out, we got a resounding correct answer from most of the children. It was a very satisfying moment because it showed that the frustration of feeling like we could not get our lesson through to them had been overcome.

Our lessons were done almost completely in Arabic because the children spoke almost no English. This proved quite challenging for me because I only started learning Arabic last semester. However, one of the perks of my placement was that it forced me to practice my Arabic. I believe that it actually helped me improve my Arabic. The children were very forgiving when I made mistakes speaking Arabic. They allowed me to make mistakes in a nonjudgmental setting, which made it easier for me to speak Arabic to adults. The more I spoke Arabic the more confident I became and the more I learned. In other words, it was not just me teaching them English, but them teaching me Arabic.

A Sunny Day in Salt

A sunny day in Al-Salt.

The relationship I had with the children at CRP allowed me to see a different part of Amman and meet different people living in Jordan. The program is in Eastern Amman which is economically disadvantaged especially compared to the bubble of wealth I lived in in Shmeisani. It let me see another way of life in Amman, which helped me develop a clearer picture of the various communities that make up Jordan. However, most importantly for me, my CBL placement allowed me to work with children which I love to do. The children were all wonderful and super excited to learn. They were always vying to answer the questions and their insatiable appetite for knowledge was very inspiring. If it was not for the CBL class offered at AMIDEAST, I would not have been able to grow as an Arabic speaker and engage with a different community in Amman.

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Filed under Education Abroad, Jordan

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

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