Study Abroad

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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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