Category Archives: Introduction

“Jerusalem: Clarifying Palestinian and Israeli Identity” by Maureen Lincke

This past week, I had the privilege to travel to Jerusalem over fall break. For the first time, one of the central conflicts of this region was given a physical place and my understanding of the conflict was clarified, which then subtly changed my perception of this place politically defined as the Middle East. The first day, we took a tour with a group based in Hebron called Youth Against Settlements who are against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We were shown through one of the more volatile checkpoints into the city center, where Palestinian families and business owners have been pushed out by the IDF forces there to protect Israeli settlers. Our tour guide was a Palestinian sports journalist who guided us through the politics shaping the violence, and explained the unjust treatment of Palestinians by the IDF forces in Hebron.

The tour was important on a level that is difficult to describe to one not familiar with life in Hebron or the West Bank, but it can be related to the necessity of hearing underrepresented stories. Although I loved Jerusalem, the Jewish story was very accessible and I was given a picture of the conflict that was heavily weighted towards the state of Israel. In order to understand the occupation and ongoing struggle of the Palestinians to be recognized as autonomous people, this tour was a necessary part of my visit. The group I toured with was friendly and peaceful and very open to holding conversations with us about their lives and the reality of life as a Palestinian in Hebron, for which I was enormously grateful. They cared about our safety and well-being and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Bethlehem or Jerusalem.

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Despite the politics, and my own guilt that my Jordanian and Palestinian friends from Amman can’t visit Jerusalem, the city was very beautiful. The history is tangible, especially in the old city, where we spent hours walking through hundreds of small shops that have been there for generations. At Razzouk Tattoo, the Razzouk family has been tattooing in the same small parlor since the year 1300 and we saw design blocks that were just as old. Although the rest of our trip was wonderful and we were collectively enchanted by Jerusalem, I was struck by how isolated the Israeli cities are from cities in the West Bank, which furthered the importance of our visit to Hebron. Jerusalem is only an hour away from Hebron, but the stark difference in infrastructure and dress makes Jerusalem seem almost European, and it becomes clear what story has been historically emphasized to tourists in Israel.

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My time in Jerusalem changed my understanding of what it means to be Palestinian. Because the Palestinians are denied many rights, including claim to a physical country of their own with cohesive infrastructure, it can be difficult to grasp who the Palestinians are, as an ethnicity as well as body with a unique and common nationality. In the face of an ill-defined border, bureaucracy surrounding citizenship and rights to travel are determined by much more arbitrary rules that easily become racist and exclusionary in nature when applied by the IDF. Despite my limited knowledge of the conflict, my time in Hebron made it clear that an institutional change was necessary to ease the tension that permeates every part of the city that I visited. No city that lives under such violent pressure will be able to culturally thrive, and it becomes necessary to work with local groups such as Youth Against Settlement to find a path to creating a livable environment.

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Filed under 2017, Fall 2017, Introduction, Jordan

A Reflection by Summer ’17 Student Hunter Hall

I’m sitting at home now, on a couch by a window that looks out into a cul-de-sac, but I remember a window from which I could see chickens, pigeons, clotheslines, and in the distance, the ocean. It’s hard to believe that the same person has looked through both windows; it’s harder still to believe that person is me.

Morocco was far different from what I expected, a conglomeration of culture and language completely new to me and yet overwhelmingly friendly, helpful, and kind. The traffic was wild and fast-paced, but the people sitting in the driver’s seat weren’t. They, like their friends and family sitting outside cafes and restaurants, lived life like they drank their tea: slow enough to savor every bit.

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“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

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Filed under 2016, Introduction, Morocco, Spring 2016

Morocco: Nothing short of Poetry — Reflections from a Semester Abroad

Isaiah DuPree, an International Relations Major and Arabic Minor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, studied with AMIDEAST in Morocco during the 2013-2014 academic year.  In this essay, he reflects on his journey through the Sahara.

For the first ten minutes I had to remind my mind that what my eyes were witnessing was real. The rust colored sand dunes that rolled into the horizon, the sky so blue the oceans would be jealous, the echoing white clouds that plumed into the sky, the landscape alone had such a potent beauty it probably left my pupils dilated for the next week. 

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We trekked through the Sahara on camel back for about two hours, the scenery absolutely breathtaking…

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Snapshots of Life in Morocco

The following photo essay was contributed by Spring 2014 participant Sidney Tolo. A student at Northeastern University, Sidney has just returned from a semester abroad in Morocco on AMIDEAST Education Abroad’s Arabic and Area Studies program. Below, she reflects on some highlights of her time in Morocco.


 

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One of our first AMIDEAST trips was to a local artisan association, where we saw everything from pottery and basket weaving to woodcarving and this tile work. All over Morocco there are grand archways and beautifully tiled communal washbasins, so casually integrated into the community. Seeing things like this every day really made me appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the things around us. Artisans like this have been around for centuries and I love that in Morocco, people still support local artists.
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