I have finally arrived now in Meknes, Morocco and have settled in safely at my apartment. First, I landed about a week ago in Casablanca. I had a successful and safe flight. The airplane food is nothing too special and I sat next to someone who we could not communicate at all. The language barrier begins! That night I met everyone from my program and was fascinated with everyone on who they are, their majors, and where they are from. Many of them are international relations majors or major in a language. I soon found out my language skills are very behind. This was my first encounter with not hearing mostly English and not being able to read street signs or menus. We went to our first restaurant after travelling and the time change was beginning to mess with us. I had an authentic Moroccan dish called a…
Serving at the Smile Center in Meknes, Morocco. My service learning program with the women’s empowerment center is such an enriching experience. The purpose of this program is to provide a center for women to be more independent, sew, learn, and have a space for them and their children to come to. The program does a lot for the women as it gives them a place to learn skills such as sewing, literacy classes are taught here, and events to learn more about health or their rights. The idea is not to impose independency or anything like that, but more a center to help the women with what they need and provide support as a community.
At first, adapting to the language barrier was a huge frustration, but I persevered. There were so many questions I had that I had no way to ask or understand the response. Little things frustrated me at the beginning because I had no way to communicate clearly. Doing service abroad is definitely a learning experience as there were so many things I wanted to accomplish right away and at the same time be culturally competent.
Some time had passed at my organization and now when I look back I have accomplished a lot. At this organization I painted walls, brought in local artists to support the community, organized activities with the kids and I am teaching English. Here I am learning new perspectives from the women, such as what women’s empowerment means to them.
From the words of a Moroccan woman “To me it is a sense of finding what I am passionate about. I want to learn and tell other women about it. I am content making these clothes, because it makes me very happy. I do not wish to have a business, just for my kids, or maybe others here in the community.” I asked what other women’s view about this was (as I could not ask them myself). They said similar things and also that they want to be educated so they can make their own decisions or just have their own hobbies. They want to learn other languages, to have better opportunities. That is what their view was on women’s empowerment.
Coming up is an organized event for the women named “Its On Us”. This day will consist of a local speaker to talk to them about physical/mental health, informing them about their rights as women. Also, we will be doing various activities to teach them about recycling and ethical practices with their hair, makeup, skin routine so that they can all buy in the markets. And we will do candle-making.
Here are some pictures of my organization.
I painted these flags so the children and women can learn about different parts of the world, be curious about it. (It isn’t quite done yet)
Also here is a mural from a local artist we brought in. We got to practice and learn some calligraphy skills. ZorgArts
Posters for the kids!
Look at her writing in English. Amazing and so much progress. It is phenomenal.
Overall, there are complications and frustrations when serving abroad, but in the end it is all worth it. You learn so much about people and the community. I finally can see that I have made an impact in Morocco through service. I recently saw progress in the kids as they are beginning to write. I taught them colors, pronouns, some songs, and it touched my heart. They started to learn and I saw that what I was doing was helping them. I taught them that, me. It brought me to tears when I went back to my apartment, as I saw what I did, and also how much I love my organization. Learning from these women and serving at this organization has really opened my eyes to different perspectives and the meaning of community.
Giving back and serving is such an enriching experience. I truly love what I am doing at a Smile Center and will continuing serving in the future.
Hello everyone so I have many thoughts about my experience abroad and I am realizing new things about myself I never thought I would discover. This blog is more personal as it is not just about the touristy places we are visiting or only the positives about travelling. I am going to be authentic in the experience as a whole and what I have learned, discovered, and gained from going to a completely new place.
Let’s Talk Language Barrier
Now, I knew coming into this for a fact I was extremely unprepared with my language skills. I felt confident that I could overcome this and I have (a month later) maybe a better word is “adapted” to it. The beginning was filled with frustration with myself, at others, and just the fact that it seemed like everyone around me was better in my program at communicating. In Morocco, they speak Arabic, Darija a dialect of Arabic, and French. This was one of things that drew me in with the program, the diversity in this culture. However, I found myself once I arrived that the diversity of this exactly was one of the things that was irritating me the most. The language was a hard adjustment. I found myself frustrated with the process. It is a weird experience walking around not knowing what is going on, going to stores jumbling to find clarity in any interaction, and reading signs on the street. Just everything. I wanted to be independent and just simply order my own food easily or introduce myself correctly, ask questions at my Service Learning Organization and the list goes on.
Now I can say that Moroccans are so inspiring with their language skills. They are so kind and welcoming, even when a foreigner is attempting a new language. Once I learned basic phrases, responses, and greetings in public I tried them out. This is where I saw the change. By practicing, even if it is wrong and probably pronounced wrong. Now, Moroccans are exposed to many languages through school, culture, and movies. This was news to me as learning about interests of other Moroccans and I had found out they watch American films and listen even to very similar artists as I.
I found myself frustrated again that I was struggling so much to communicate to the people here. Then one day my mindset changed and I became interested in language learning, linguistics, and attitudes about language learning. I looked up many videos on how people learn languages, read many articles about language learning, and asked people who are fluent in other languages their tactics. This motivated me more to learn and really accept this process of learning. There were clear signs that I was supposed to just accept this process and practice instead of staying stagnant and upset about not retaining or understanding the language around me. I am no where near knowing the language, but I am now willing to actually be okay with not knowing it, attempting to learn it, and motivate myself to learn a new language in my lifetime. It is all about how you view the process.
What blogs do not normally talk about is the indecisiveness, newness, frustrations, and problems with travelling or being immersed in a new place.
I can say that going to Morocco has done more than make me try new things, it has completely taken me out of my comfort zone and just flipped it all around. A good example of this would be the Hammam (Communal Bathing), the perspectives of Moroccans, and their values in society.
With this comes a lot of different emotions. In the Hammam I felt so embarrassed and terrified at the thought of this. Also, the contradiction in my mind of a conservative Muslim country and then bathing together. What a contradiction, was my perception. I was so unsure about this and debating not going even. I pushed myself to go as this is an important part of their culture. This was way out of my comfort zone and I must say I learned a lot about just the outcomes of trying new things. If you don’t like it then, don’t do it again. I wanted to immerse myself in the practices so I decided I would go to the Hammam. I did it! That was a amazing experience and I overcome a fear of mine. This was really huge and one of my notable fears of this trip.
In my classes and with people I meet here I learn about new perspectives. I get to see how people communicate, interact, and treat one another. I choose to take this information as a way to gain perspective and journal the new things I learn from people. The values of Morocco I have learned are to go with the flow more, take your time to slow down a bit, trust the process and life will take you where it will take you. Don’t be so persistent on time and scheduling. I noticed while being here how stressed I was about the time I have left to get everything done I want to do in my life. How worried I was about my future, and just stressing on my timeline for whats next, what will be my future carrier where will I live, and so on. I am learning everyday and am allowing new perspectives in to understand the world more and to learn about myself.
Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional
“Change is inevitable, growth is optional” is a good quote and fits this blog perfectly.
My experiences with a new language, cultural immersion, new perspectives, fears of trying new things, and adapting are all apart of the process when being in a new environment.
I heard from people that being immersed and hearing a new language for the first time is frustrating, but I didn’t really believe that fully or at least didn’t take those comments seriously. A new culture/country is really hard if you are not open to changing your views some and if you aren’t willing to learn or challenge your previous preconceptions. This was a big part of the process of study abroad and many people go through this when travelling, yet it progress differently in everyone. Some people might be completely fine with a language change as it does not frustrate them, but maybe they would be frustrated with new social norms such as the way Moroccans drive (by the way it is chaos and crossing the street is a new skill I am so proud of), nonetheless the frustrations and fears people face will all be different. What is important is how one views the situation in this uncomfortable position and what they learn about it.
This change is apart of the process and it is just life. You can choose to adapt, learn more about the situation, and view it in a more positive mindset. This is what enhances growth and helps gain new insights about life, others, and yourself. I have learned to laugh at myself and just enjoy the process of struggling or the unknown.
Morocco I thank you for bringing me here for this experience, the new perspectives I have gained, and for the stories I have know to tell. I can look back at this and see how much I learned and the joy that being in a new place can truly bring.
In the past week or so I have tried some new things and am eager to share my experiences. It includes surfing, communal bathing, adventuring and trying new foods.
Surfing in Rabat
Cowabunga! Lets begin with surfing! A group of some of us from the ISA program traveled for a weekend trip to Rabat, Morocco. We had stayed at a surf hostel right in the medina. This hostel was very cool and extremely convenient because of its close access to the ocean and the medina. We also had rich conversations with other people staying in the hostel from all over. We met people from Spain, London, the states, other abroad students and got to have language exchanges. We got to have rich conversations in Spanish, some French, and talked about life, politics, travelling, and shared long through the night. We sipped tea, shared snacks and stories while enjoying one another’s experiences, the view, and the sunset.
Now, surfing how did it go you might ask? Well in all honesty I had completely failed at mastering surfing. We put on our wet suits, grabbed the surfboards and were on our way to the cold ocean. It was a beautiful sunny day and the waves were not too big, which is perfect for us! We ran some laps on the beach to warm up our bodies, do some stretches and were on our way. I swam with excitement to try my first wave, but wiped out immediately when the wave hit me. I tried again and again and got similar results. I found it comical in my attempts as I would stand for such a short time on the board then be washed up on the shore from a serious wipe out. Others in the group were much better at getting the flow of standing and balancing. I found myself often being wiped out by the wave, but I did make progress and this was just my first time surfing. I had really enjoyed trying something new and I felt as if I had absolutely no worries when thinking about surfing.
I remember being out on the ocean and hearing the call to prayer and just enjoyed the moment while wading untop my board. I took in the moment of the sounds, the smells of the ocean, and the beautiful sight of the ocean. The call to prayer is something I had never experienced hearing really before. And now it is a part of my everyday life. For me when I hear call to prayer, I allow myself to not think about my daily tasks or stressors and to just enjoy what I currently am doing or have accomplished that day no matter how big or small.
Now communal bathing is such a weird concept for Westerners, I know it was for me too. But guess what I faced my fear and have lived to tell the tale of going to the Hammam with other students in my program, and bathe with the local women. Yes I loved it and it was a very rich cultural experience you should definitely try when going to Morocco. It is a way for women in the community to come together, converse, and be pampered. It is a very basic room with faucets all around the room and is hot like a sauna. We enjoyed being pampered with the argan oil soap, lathered in henna, getting scrubbed and a deep exfoliation. I would go again, but I will give it some time for the exfoliation was pretty intense and my skin would need a break.
Culture and Food
I have had no issues with adapting to the Moroccan foods and have enjoyed many of the dishes I have encountered. For one I am very open when it comes to trying new foods and am willing to at least try it. Moroccan food includes a lot of color and the presentation of the food is important. Couscous is a must for Fridays and often a “siesta” or afternoon nap follows as a tradition I could definitely get used to. The rest of their foods include tagines, stewed vegetables, rice, potatoes, beans, seasoned meat, and bread to eat it with. I will miss having Moroccan mint tea everyday as I can easily drink a whole pot by myself. Enjoy some pictures of foods I have tried and I will continue to keep trying new foods.
Moulay Idriss is known as the “Holy City”. Moulay Idriss is filled with the richness of Moroccan culture. It has many religious and traditional aspects of the town. It is located on a mountain and is just a 30 minute taxi ride from Meknès. We went to stay in Moulay Idriss in hopes to go hiking and to experience the Roman Baths. We did not fulfill this, however we will come back! No hiking because of precaution and we need to bring a Moroccan friend to hike with us. The paths are very free so it is important to have someone knowledgeable about the trails.
Look at how beautiful the nature is here though!
We stayed at an air bnb and we had the sweetest hosts. They lived on the mountainside of course and they view was spectacular. I found their Moroccan hospitality to be outstanding. We were made dinner with typical dishes such as tagines, bread, Moroccan tea and for dessert oranges with cinnamon. Delicious!!
The picture below is not the food that was made by our air bnb, but this is a good portrayal of food that is ate in Morocco.
Moulay Idriss is not touristy at all and is the place to go if you want to relax and truly experience the culture. We experienced the Saturday souks, the farmer markets, the streets filled with food to buy and products to buy. We bought a bunch of oranges for around 5 Dirham (MAD) this equivalents to around .50 USD. The oranges are delicious in Morocco and were the perfect treat for our day.
When wandering around the town we met a local who took us on a tour. In other places of Morocco people are pushy to get you to buy things such as in Marrakech or Casablanca, but we did not feel forced or pushed. Coming to Moulay Idriss is perfect for experiencing the culture and was a chance for us to practice our language skills.
We went on a tour with a local Moroccan who guided us through the extremely confusing roads of Moulay Idriss. It is very steep with very narrow roads. There are no taxis inside the town, but you will see donkeys often. The guy kept saying that is Moulay Idriss’s taxi the donkey!
We finally made it to the top where we overlooked the town. It was beyond gorgeous. It was very nice to be able to watch the sunset here and also be with a local who spoke English well. He helped also with teaching us some words and it was nice to be able to have that connection.
The sunset was phenomenal. Look at this view!!!!
We had learned a lot of the culture by asking our air bnb hosts, practiced our French, and even went on a picnic with the family. Conversing with the local Moroccan gave us perspective on what locals live like, the culture, and skills with communicating. He was very kind to us when we used as many Arabic, Darija or French words with him. Also, I barely know how to communicate in these new languages so body language has been extremely helpful. When you are immersed in a new language there are cues that you try to look for in desperation for understanding. I am understanding gestures more and when traveling to a country it is important to research body language and gestures along with the language to help you!
Overall I am learning a lot every day in class and just walking around. I am gaining so much insight of their culture and it is fascinating. With learning a new language and immersing yourself in culture it is important to gain multiple perspectives of that culture.
Go out and adventure my friends. Moulay Idriss was extremely humbling and showed the care and hospitality of Moroccans.
When you learn about the world you learn about yourself.
I am approaching the second week of classes and I am starting to adjust really well to everything here so far. I am loving my roommates and our apartment. Classes are going well so far and they are really interesting. The first day we moved in, we were given a warm welcome from our housekeeper Moona. She cooked us a lovely meal and we have gotten to do a lot of bonding with one another. Unfortunately, I do not know the names of a lot of the dishes we have been eating. There is definitely a language barrier between us with our housekeeper. I am very interested in looking up some of the dishes she has made us and maybe learn how to cook it too. I will say I am very open when it comes to trying new food and have loved everything she has made us. I was surprised that most of the dishes include, rice, potatoes and vegetables which seem to be flavored with olive oil. We eat a lot of bread with our meals and Moroccan tea is an essential. Moroccan diet I could definitely live with and am loving it. I cannot say how thankful I am to have someone cook us meals, it was extremely unexpected.
We haven’t had any true Moroccan cultural experiences thus far, which is a bit of a bummer. I didn’t realize that our program was just the ISA students enrolled in the courses. That just means we have to go out and try to meet people. We have done some walking around the Hamaria, which is the area near our apartment. We found a cute plant shop and got some plants for our apartment. I named my cactus sunshine :). Also, it is very easy to navigate at the supermarkets to buy food and snacks. Everywhere I go I want to get the Moroccan mint tea because I am in love with it.
We have visited the Medina in Meknes and it was very interesting to experience. The medina is very lively, busy, and filled with locals everywhere. There is a lot of fresh food to buy such as, fruit, vegetables, olives, nuts, and freshly made pastries throughout the medina. Also, the different shops are very beautiful with their different products including – linens, clothes, carpets, and anything you would want to buy. It is important to know how to bargain and have a good idea on what things are worth in the medina so you don’t get ripped off. I plan to visit the medina more and learn how to navigate around more with their winding roads. Meknes might be my favorite place in Morocco so far. There are a lot of cafes and the environment is more relaxed compared to the other cities. There are many new things I am looking forward to trying and will be blogging more now that I have gotten more settled in.
I have finally arrived now in Meknes, Morocco and have settled in safely at my apartment. First, I landed about a week ago in Casablanca. I had a successful and safe flight. The airplane food is nothing too special and I sat next to someone who we could not communicate at all. The language barrier begins! That night I met everyone from my program and was fascinated with everyone on who they are, their majors, and where they are from. Many of them are international relations majors or major in a language. I soon found out my language skills are very behind. This was my first encounter with not hearing mostly English and not being able to read street signs or menus. We went to our first restaurant after travelling and the time change was beginning to mess with us. I had an authentic Moroccan dish called a tagine , and I got the vegetable tagine with Moroccan mint tea. Casablanca is a crazy busy town and the do not follow the lights or road signs it was like chaos walking around.
Next up was more on the road travelling. In Casablanca we had got to experience the Hassan II Mosque, which was sooo beautiful. Also, we had stopped in Marrakech, Ouzoud with the huge waterfalls, and Beni Mellal then Meknes (my new home). In Marrakech it was amazing with all of the new things to see and to try. There were many shops and we stopped in the big medina. The medina was crazy busy with many people, mostly Moroccans. I unfortunately lost my phone in the hotel and have not found it. So I have not been able to take my own pictures, however I have been using photos from other friends in the program. I will share more photos later and they will come!!
It has been quite an adventure adjusting to the culture, navigating the unknown places, and not understanding the language almost at all. I have learned how to read menus better from the other students who know Arabic or French. The biggest change and most frustrating thing thus far has been the language barrier for me because I do not know how to read anything or talk to the people. I have learned some words in French because it is very common here for the menus to be in French, so soon enough I will pick up on it! Overall, I am loving all of this and the other students are lovely. I have made it to my apartment and am all safe and sound. I can’t wait for classes to begin here soon and will keep in touch! Salam 🙂
Hello everyone! (Marhaban!!) as the Moroccans would say 😉 I am patiently waiting for the big day. I am all packed (pretty much) and very eager to begin my travels to Morocco. I leave on Tuesday from Chicago, have a couple layovers and then will arrive in Casablanca with the rest of my program. WOW. This does not feel quite real yet, but I am doing this. I have never flown alone before and I will be flying for around 16 or so hours. I have managed to fit 3 months of stuff in a couple of suitcases and a carry-on. For sentimental value I printed some pictures of my friends and family. I have never traveled alone so far from them and this will be a big change.
I am so excited for this new journey and opportunity to be able to go abroad to Morocco. I have been so excited and have been trying to learn as much as possible about the culture. I have been reading books about their culture, some history, and cultural norms. It is going to be a big shift from the norms we practice here in the states. I am very eager to hear the new languages. In Morocco, they speak many languages– including Arabic, French, English, Berber, and Spanish. I have been practicing for a while and have learned some Arabic. I have prepared as much as I can with the resources I have and I feel comfortable now that I know some basic words and phrases at least.
I will be posting again in a few days when I finally arrive to Morocco. Bye now (Wadan).