Category Archives: Spring 2017

“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