Tag Archives: Hospitality

“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

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.

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Filed under 2016, Morocco

Photo Journey Through a Fall in Morocco

Kristin Licciardell’s time away from Rutgers University on the Morocco Area & Arabic Language Studies fall 2014 program was well documented through the lens of her camera. Here are her favorite moments from four months abroad.

Kristin Licciardello

Jumping Off the Edge

Jumping off the Edge:

Taken along the river separating the city of Rabat from neighboring Sale, this location is a hot spot for locals and travellers alike. The river is lined with cafes, a small amusement park for children, and small boats that take people from one side to another. On a casual afternoon walk, I spotted a group of young boys jumping off the sidewalk edge. I tried to sneak a shot without them noticing, but they quickly recognized the foreigner with a camera and began doing stylish jumps and flips to show off. I have noticed that cliff jumping is a popular activity for young boys throughout many Moroccan beach towns. A Moroccan friend of mine in El Jadida (one of the best places to jump, because of the old Portuguese fort walls) pointed out to me that there are often separate levels of jumping— the higher the jumper, the higher the level. The older boys like to jump from the highest levels, while the younger boys jump off lower levels.

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Filed under Adventure, Beauty, Education Abroad, Morocco, Photography

(Sixty) Arabian Nights – An Look into the Beauty of Oman

Emmett Potts, an AMIDEAST scholarship winner, studied with the Intensive Arabic program in Oman over the summer of 2014.  In his end of term scholarship essay, he reflects about some highlights from his time in Oman.  All photo credit goes to Emmett Potts.

Sunset over Mutrah

On the night of June 12th, I was about to land at Muscat International Airport on Gulf Air Flight 566 from Bahrain.  Although the past day of travel was not much more than a blur, a blend of unsettled thoughts and diffuse excitement enveloped my mind as I looked down from my window at the scarcely outlined coast of the Persian Gulf.  Did I bring everything the packing list recommended? Would I adjust to life in this new environment smoothly? Would I be able to communicate efficiently?  Trying to maintain a façade of composure, I discreetly tried to review my Arabic vocabulary words, although in reality my behavior was probably more frantic than I realized.

The man sitting next to me on my flight, an Omani citizen, apparently noticed my internal tension and offered me a drink of his water.  Without thought, I immediately responded (in Arabic) with “No, no thank you,” just as I was taught by my Arabic language professor in the United States; it was the proper, culturally sensitive response. I was, however, offered the water again by the man next to me: “My friend, please have a drink. I insist. It is good for you.” I relented, and with quivering hands graciously drank the water he had poured into my flimsy plastic cup. “Welcome to Oman, my friend,” he said, as the orange lights from coastal Muscat came into view below.

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Filed under Arab Friends, Arabic, Oman, Politics