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.
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.
Filed under 2016, Morocco
This entry features a submission by former AMIDEAST Education Abroad student, Everest Robinson. Everest participated in the AMIDEAST Morocco Regional Studies in French program during the Fall 2015 term. From Macalester College in Minnesota, Everest is a student of Psychology and Religious Studies. We hope you enjoy his reflection on his experience in Morocco!
It’s very hard to sum up four months of my life in Morocco, to extract a single lesson or even a single story. There are so many stories so many ways that my life has been altered by Morocco.
The place I would start with to describe my time in Morocco is not a location or an experience, but the people, for people always make a place. The people of Morocco have taught me so much. As a tourist, I sometimes found myself in situations where it would’ve been very easy to take advantage of me. However, this rarely happened. By and large, Moroccan people were not only helpful but they went above and beyond just extending courtesy and aid; they treated me as a family member and showed genuine interest and investment in my well-being. In a similar vein, I noticed community solidarity every day whether it was four people jumping at the chance to help a mother get her stroller on the bus or a stranger watching someone’s kids as the parents went into a shop. I will never forget this community solidarity which has become a part of my identity, and I will never forget that many times I was vulnerable in an unfamiliar place where if not for the assistance of strangers I could’ve encountered trouble.
Buying a rug from villagers on the Zawiya Ahansal excursion.
Overall, I found my experience abroad to be simultaneously challenging and illuminating. During my time abroad, I was forced to use muscles that I had rarely used before. I confronted myself just as much I confronted the socio-cultural obstacles. In general, I tend to be more of a follower/people-pleaser. I rarely drive the plans or the conversation within a social group. When I stay at someone’s house I try to be invisible and rarely express my needs. While I was abroad, I learned very quickly that they are times when it is necessary to advocate for yourself and be assertive. I could’ve let the semester move along with my various discomforts and had regrets at the end, but instead I learned to confront people with my desires and I even made a trip by myself to Chefchaouen when no one wanted to go the particular weekend I had available. There were so many experiences that became available with me at the small price of asserting myself. Because of this perspective-shift I was able to leave Morocco with zero regrets and with an increased ability to assert myself which is quite a useful skill to have in adulthood.
Another hugely important thing I take with me back to the states is an increased awareness of the global community. By going to Morocco I was exposed to viewpoints that simply aren’t available in the United States in my upper-class liberal arts bubble. I learned far more about Islam than I could’ve learned in any textbook or web search. Greater than the French I learned was the shockingly simple revelation that other people use all sorts of languages all around the world and that this language in turn influences their perceptions. Furthermore, many things cannot be translated into words. I learned a great deal about wealth disparity from living with a middle class Moroccan family and teaching English to refugees from many Sub-Saharan nations. Finally, I learned that there are so many different ways to live life on planet earth in community and that although I may be more comfortable living one way, that does not mean that the others are less correct on a universal level. After being abroad, I feel a greater connection to the global community.
I can’t put a price or any sort of measure on what my semester abroad has meant to me. It is invaluable. It is part of me. It has shaped me irreversibly. I strongly believe this opportunity should exist for every person on this wonderful planet, and I’m immensely grateful to have had this opportunity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While abroad during the summer 2014 semester in Morocco, the grand size of the country’s sites impressed Mitchell Oeler, of Duquesne University. But Mitchell found personal connections when discovering American football on the beach.
Hassan II Mosque
The first weekend in Rabat, a few of my friends and I made the trip down to Casablanca. After a fun Friday night on Avenue de la Corniche, we woke up Saturday and took a walk to see Hassan II Mosque. It was easily one of the largest things I had ever seen! (That little man in the grey shirt is me; needless to say, I felt tiny.) When we tried to go inside for visiting hours, we were turned away because, as it turned out, the King of Serbia was visiting that day!
In keeping with the theme of things bigger than me, this one is of Cascade d’Akchour in the Rif Mountains near Chefchaouen. After hiking for 2 ½ hours, we were presented with this awesome sight! Of course after a long hike nothing sounds better than jumping in the cool mountain water, so with very little forethought we all hopped in. How I didn’t come out with hypothermia is still a mystery to me, but nevertheless the Cascade was one of my favorite things in Morocco.
New friends made playing American football.
My roommate and I ran into this bunch on the Rabat beach playing football. American football. Wait, WHAT?? We went over to talk to them, using our best Darija of course. After a little chuckle, one of the players introduced himself in perfect English as Medhi. He and his friends are trying to get American football more popularity in Morocco by forming a league. After a pretty intense game (which we won), we rinsed the sand out of our mouths and took a team photo! They were a great group of guys, and I hope their league keeps on growing.