Making a Home Abroad

I have been in Morocco for almost two months now and so I want to share some of my initial and more current thoughts on the country, the people, and how it has become my home. 

 a rooftop view of Meknes

a rooftop view of Meknes

Excerpt from my thoughts after being here a week and a half:

My time has been split between two cities. I started in Rabat and will return there to start my regular courses. However, I have a host family in Meknes for my orientation and Darija (the local dialect) class. So far they've been absolutely incredible to me and the other girl from my program. I was really nervous the night we got our families; worried that there would be a communication barrier, that they wouldn't like me, or that they would only offer me meat dishes (a true fear as a vegetarian). And while it isn't always easy or simple to cross cultures and live a different lifestyle, so far I've felt welcomed, understood, and included. 

There's a lot of places where they say the hospitality is great. But it's definitely true of Morocco. My family--which is the cutest, sweetest ever--welcomes strangers into their home all the time. They showed us gifts from past students and a trunk they keep with notes that the students left when they were going out of the house or wouldn't be home for lunch, etc. There was one instance where our host uncle took us to a village about an hour away. He bartered for the best taxi price, showed us a good restaurant, and then led a hike into the woods along the river. There we met up with his sister in law's family, who proceeded to serve all fifteen or so of us cake, mint tea, and fruit. When they heard that some of the students overpaid for a taxi and then the driver tried to charge them extra after he went to the wrong place, they family did their best to intervene and insisted on talking with the taxi driver over the phone. This is just a small taste of Moroccan hospitality. 


The hospitality and the kindness of people has still remained the most striking thing about Morocco a month or so later. What was unexpected was the ability of this country to continually surprise and interest me. Although I have become comfortable here and settled in, there are still situations that I find are strange and details of the culture that I struggle to understand. The beautiful part about study abroad is that all of the social, historical, and political aspects in class I see on the streets and at home. Because of this, I have a deeper understanding of the place I’m living, especially since Morocco has undergone colonialism, Arabization, and other sweeping, dramatic movements.  

 study abroad trip to the royal palace in Rabat

study abroad trip to the royal palace in Rabat

The beauty of settling into a place is that comfort and knowledge: knowing where to get the best, cheap food; how to use public transportation; recognizing people on the street; having conversations with people on the train. I first knew I had a home here when I returned from traveling for a weekend and felt overwhelming relief to unlock my door, see my host mom, and flop down on my bed. 

Making a new home in a place comes with time and a little courage. Still I am trying to make friends with Moroccans in Rabat, as it often takes effort to get out of your comfort zone and grab coffee with the strangers you met on the train. Also, specifically in Morocco, it can be difficult to meet people on the streets as a woman, because very often you are too busy trying to ignore the catcalls and not meet any male eyes who might be creepy. I’ve been working on balancing my defense mechanisms and my instinct to trust of others. Other ways to feel at home can be exploring or just hanging out, doing what the locals do (here it's chilling at a cafe with friends for hours). Getting into a routine also really normalized living in Rabat for me. Saying hello to shopkeepers and neighbors always helps too!

It is a little bittersweet finding a home here, knowing that I will leave in under three months. Still I have a lot of time to enjoy plenty of mint tea on my rooftop, as the call to prayer reverberates eerily around me. 

 the Rabat Kasbah, basically a walled, historic part of the city

the Rabat Kasbah, basically a walled, historic part of the city

 I still can't believe this view is 10 minutes from my house

I still can't believe this view is 10 minutes from my house

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When Things Go Wrong, and I'm Alone

I get asked about this all the time:

What if something terrible happens to you?

Are you ever really scared?

How do you handle weird situations when you’re alone?

Finally I decided to write about it, mainly for those who don’t travel alone and are curious. I’ll tell you now, I’ve heard just about every travel horror story and have been warned many times by friends, family, and acquaintance to ‘be very careful.’ And I am. But I also have faith in myself.

 Despite the trials and mishaps, I love exploring alone. 

Despite the trials and mishaps, I love exploring alone. 

I’ve had weird and unnerving experiences abroad, especially traveling alone. Yet every time, I am able to figure my way out of the situation, usually in one piece. Take for example, my arrival in the south of France during my gap year. I took the TGV train from Paris to the south of France and from there I hopped on a local bus. The bus driver helped me figure out where to get off, a tiny town with one small grocery store, a bakery, and a bank. From there I did my best to follow the directions my hosts had provided, thanking my foresight to look up the bed and breakfast on the walkthrough version of Google maps. Still I was confused when I got there. There were two gates onto the property, both of them locked. One was obviously for the bed and breakfast, and the other was down the hill and around the side of the property and looked to be for staff. I couldn’t see anyone and tried calling out to no avail. I checked my last email with my hosts, where I told them when I would arrive. I sat on my suitcase for a while, until a woman passed walking her dog. She knew of the people who owned the B&B, but didn’t have their phone number. I saw a group of people pull up and unlock the front gate, and quickly hurried that way. Chatting with them, they had no clue about the owners and had just been hired for the night. They suggested I go to the other gate. Now, a few hours after being dropped off, I was really wondering what I had  signed myself up for. Finally, as I was trying to figure out where to go for the night, I saw a figure walking down the road toward the back gate. I jumped off my suitcase, waving a little frantically.

It was another volunteer, and he told me that I was expected tomorrow due to an email mixup. He had been heading to the beach for a swim when he saw me. My hosts were visiting Morocco at the time so the B&B was pretty quiet. He helped me get settled in my small, sparse room before showing me around. Throughout that afternoon and laying in bed that night, I was anxious about my choices and situation. I took some basic precautions--I used my doorstop on my room door that night and my family knew where I was going. But I stuck it out, trusting my instincts. As I settled in, I made amazing friends, learned a lot about gardening and running a B&B, and enjoyed living between the beach and the mountains. This first workaway experience was unforgettable and changed my outlook on life. And I wouldn’t have gotten there if I wasn’t willing to take a few risks.

To be okay through almost any situation abroad, here is what you need:

  1. Travel Insurance - I recommend World Nomads, an affordable insurance that varies by length of stay and region of travel but always offers two levels of insurance. They have helped me find reliable emergency clinics in Bangkok when I had a staph infection and then covered the cost of the visit. They also will cover some electronics and personal items, helping me pay for a new iPhone when mine got wet while traveling. A dependable travel insurance that is easy to contact will help you know that you have someone to help if you get sick or your plans are ruined.

  2. Emergency money and medications - It is super important to carry some backup cash (this can be U.S. dollars or any currency) just in case ATMs are not accessible or your cards are not working. I usually keep $50-100 dollars stashed in a few places in my luggage.Also traveling with some basic medications is smart. This means Advil, Imodium, and any prescription medications you use regularly. It’s very possible to get medications abroad, but it’s easiest to carry some with you.

  3. Your instincts - There have been moments where I have switched metro cars or taken a better-lit street even if it was a longer route. Once I was waiting for a bus in Thailand, at a stop next to a police station. A policeman came out of the building and a driver pulled over. They obviously knew each other and chatted for a few moments. Then the policeman came over to me and told me the man in the car could give me a ride back to the city. I declined, saying I would wait. The policeman asked again and told me it was okay to go in the car. Reluctantly, I hopped in. We made light conversation and the driver was very polite. However, the second we got into the city and I knew the area, I thanked him and hopped out. Maybe he was fine, but I prefered to take the reins and control the situation.

  4. The ability to ask for help - I can’t even count the number of times I’ve stopped someone to ask for help. This can be directions, a translation, or to use their phone. At a small restaurant in Bangkok the businessman at the table next to me translated the menu for me and conveyed to the waitress that I was vegetarian. Asking for help is something that comes naturally to me now and I understand that often, people can be trusted. I believe the American viewpoint is often distrustful of others abroad, but so many people have been willing to help me that I now I have a different viewpoint.

  5. The knowledge that you’ll get through it - This may not sound like a lot, but often the simple understanding that I’ll come out on the other side of a situation keeps me calm and allows me to get through it. This stems from my past experiences that have tested my reflexes and emotions, giving me a confidence in myself and my coping abilities.

I hope you found these tips and stories helpful. Also I have a post specifically about safety and the questions I often receive about staying safe abroad.

Why you should study abroad (if you're ready)

Okay so I'm back! I thought for a second there I was going to shut down Girl in Love with the World, but I just could not resist writing and blogging while I study abroad in Morocco. 

Yes, that's right, Morocco! A new country and a new continent for me. Already I'm enjoying the crazy smells and sights of the souks and old medinas. I'll share plenty of that on here with time, but right now I want to speak a little about study abroad. 

 bluetiful Rabat

bluetiful Rabat

Everyone knows there are benefits of study abroad--a more conscious world viewpoint; experiences in different cultures; an expanded palette in food, music, dance, etc.; maybe even proficiency or practice in a foreign language. All of which are amazing. But I think probably more than half of the students who go abroad list these things on their applications, but do not fully experience them. There really should only be one pre-requisite for study abroad: open-mindedness. Without the willingness to be outside of your comfort zone, you can hear, see, and experience new and different lifestyles without changing yourself. To learn is to take in new information and be able to use it; to allow your mindset to change and alter. And from what I've seen on social media and heard in conversation (by no means take this as a definitive study of American students abroad), study abroad does not always change students. 

 my first real Moroccan couscous

my first real Moroccan couscous

I know that a good student, someone with the acceptance and openness I speak of, can benefit and grow from an experience abroad no matter where they are. However, sometimes I have a sneaking suspicion that they chose to study abroad in a place purely for the nightlife and the instagram photos. I'm not against having some fun or taking lots of pictures, but this can all be done at home. Better to be motivated by an interest in another culture and the possibility of meeting new people there.

While everyone travels differently, I wonder if students abroad are challenging themselves. England or Australia are amazing places, worth studying and living in, but I think it's important to travel beyond cultures and languages that are so close to your own. I will admit, part of studying abroad in North Africa for me is the thrill of the challenge, of the amount of cultural difference between the United States and here. What it boils down to is pushing your boundaries; which, of course, are different for everyone. So maybe its difficult for someone to travel alone, even to a place which speaks English, and interact with locals and other travelers. Or maybe a student is enrolled in a program with other Americans, but looks for chances to learn the local language. This simple willingness is how I meet new and different people. 

Study abroad is a privilege. There are many people inside and outside the U.S. that don't have the means to travel longterm or are unable to get a visa and work out the legal details. This is one more reason to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with study abroad. 

Maybe I'm crazy, but I think the best kind of travel changes you. Sometimes you feel stretched thin, uncomfortable, surrounded by foreignness, but then there is more room for you to take in knowledge and become more understanding. 

 stables at the palace in Meknes, the former capital

stables at the palace in Meknes, the former capital