Tag Archives: learning

“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

Why I (Still) Live in Morocco

Eleanor Easton, originally from University of Chicago, studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University in the fall of 2012. Three years later she decided she wasn’t done with Morocco, so she made Casablanca her home.

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca is a big, sprawling, and complicated city.  Sometimes the stoplights and walk signs don’t match up, sometimes simple tasks take hours to complete, and sometimes the garbage collector doesn’t come for weeks.  But it also has some hidden gems: organic fruit stands on every street with the sweetest fruits I’ve ever tasted, markets tucked into corners of the city, waiting to be found and explored, and incredible diversity of language, culture, and history.  There is always something new to discover or somewhere new to explore.

Nearly three years ago, I decided to apply for AMIDEAST’s direct enrollment program at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.  I chose the program because I wanted to be an exchange student at a university instead of traveling with a group of Americans.  I thought I would learn more from being in a situation where I couldn’t easily rely on what I already knew.  But the greatest benefit of choosing this sort of program was not just that I was able to experience life as a student in Morocco, but also that those I met during the program were people who lived semi-permanently in Morocco, and so are still here.  After I finished my program with AMIDEAST, I returned to the U.S. just long enough to graduate from my university, and then came right back to Morocco.  I started teaching English at AMIDEAST in Casablanca this fall, after a year of teaching at an American school, also in Casablanca.  I am lucky to have old friends from my semester in Ifrane as well as new friends from my job in Casablanca.

Although there are moments when I feel like my classes are as chaotic as Casablanca at rush hour, teaching is one of the best ways to feel connected to Moroccan culture.  I teach several different classes, and each one has to be approached totally differently.  In my morning class, my students speak Arabic more fluently than French, so sometimes they teach me words in Arabic while I teach them English.  In my children’s classes, most students prefer to speak French.  In my business classes, I sometimes learn from adult students about their jobs and the companies they work for.  I have students who are studying English so that they can live outside of Morocco, and I have students who are studying so that they can find their dream jobs without leaving Casablanca.  Even though I am no longer in Morocco as a student, I feel like I am always learning something new.

Life in Casablanca is totally different from life in Ifrane; Ifrane is quiet, clean, and friendly, while Casa has too much traffic, too few trashcans, and not enough stop lights for its many busy intersections.  But my time as an exchange student in Ifrane prepared me in many ways for life in Casablanca, despite how different it was.  When I returned to Morocco as a teacher instead of a student, I felt that I was continuing something I had already started.  And now it’s not just a place I live for the duration of a program; it’s my home.

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Filed under 2012, Morocco