Etownian Staff Member Shares Study Abroad Experience in Morocco

One month ago, I stepped off the plane in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language, the lifestyle or how much to tip a cab driver. (Just a hint: in Morocco, they don’t get tips.) After trying to talk through a language barrier, ending up at the wrong hotel and overpaying both the porter and the driver, I eventually made it to where the students were being housed for orientation week.

But the adventures didn’t stop there. Along with the other American students in my program, I came to realize, that just crossing the street or sending a letter was a challenge here, things like a “western toilet” and spoon came to seem like luxuries and our desire for personal space was proven very American. The first two weeks of the program we spent more time getting lost on the unmapped streets of the medina – old city – than studying for our classes.

The time it took me to find my footing in the city was discouraging. I had always believed myself adaptable and culturally-aware. I compared my two weeks to those that I had spent in Beijing and was saddened to think I was struggling more here. When I returned from my two weeks in China, my family said I could have talked about it for a month and I didn’t have a bad word to say. I wanted the same to be true of my journey in Morocco, but it seemed that I would have positive and negative experiences to relay.

After brooding over this for days, I realized several glaring differences between the two trips. In China, I lived in a hotel, with other students from Elizabethtown College, was babysat by the professors, had every situation explained in detail and I was always in a group. Not to mention, I had a map. In Morocco, none of those things were true. My abilities were immediately tested in a way they had never been before. When I finally came to understand these differences and how they affected my feelings for my trips, I began to wonder what I would have made of Beijing, if this were how I had experienced the city. The homestay disillusioned me. I was no longer a tourist, but an inhabitant of the city and thankful for that opportunity. I had to reconsider all that I understood to be true, both inside and outside of my classes.

In my study abroad blog, I wrote that I was greeted with beauty and grim in Morocco, as is true of every city. This, among other reasons is why Rabat has grown close to my heart, just like my hometown or Etown. I found that there are aspects of Rabat that I love and realities that I hate. I learned that cafes are generally considered “men’s spaces,” I was told to be inside by dark, I can buy a cheap snack on my way home from classes and I have learned how to navigate Rabat, in spite of and because these facts.

I didn’t get the opportunity to develop the complex feelings I have towards this city when I was in Beijing and I hope that someday I do. I truly feel as though Rabat can be considered my third home. I know that if I ever come back, my family would welcome me in for tea and bread and the staff at my school would have stories to tell me. I revel in the fact that all of the work that I had to put into loving Rabat is what study abroad is truly about. I know more about myself too. I realized that I may have overstated my French ability, I prefer my fish without their scales, I de-stress best at the beach and every experience has something to teach me.

Rabat has taught me many things, some of which will only apply here, others that transcend language and national borders. The list of things I have learned here could go on for days, but the most valuable one is this: forget everything you “know” about a place and begin to learn about it when you arrive. At every turn, take the extra two minutes to discover something. Chances are, you will be amazed with your ability to learn and eventually apply that knowledge to your everyday.

Please note: Staff writer, Samantha Weiss ’15, originally wrote this article for The Etownian published on March 18, 2015. The Etownian is Elizabethtown College’s student newspaper. Click here to view the original article.

About the Author – Samantha Weiss

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