40 days exactly make up the remainder of my study abroad experience. Biblical. The time I have spent here has flown by. I am almost afraid to blink because I feel that I might reopen my eyes and be in front of the fire place at home in Denver. I know I will feel that when way when it actually happens.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the warm hearth and snow of back home. Homesickness ebbs and flows in very unexpected and subtle ways. With that said, the past few weeks in Rabat have been some of the best for me. My communication with the locals has greatly improved from when I first arrived. I feel more comfortable and enabled when navigating or exploring the city on my own. I guess I’ve changed.
Like I said in one of my past articles, all study abroad students reach points in their time abroad where they need to internally process their experience. When I need some processing time in Rabat, I often find myself seeking seclusion on the stah, or roof, of my host family’s apartment building. The view mainly consists of other residential units, clotheslines, and alleyways, but it’s serene and gives me space to think.
As I sit on the roof and watch people stroll by below, I am reminded how I am an outsider in this Moroccan culture. Earlier in the program, this blatant reality always gave me some discomfort. As the semester has passed, it has proven to be a characteristic of the study abroad experience I would not trade for anything.
I came to Rabat knowing that I would stand out (I don’t necessarily look very Moroccan). Many people on the street stare and sometimes make obvious comments to their friends. It can be uncomfortable at times. I have since learned that the vast majority of these awkward interactions are harmless and can lead to great conversation. One afternoon, I felt compelled to stop and talk to some curious neighbors and they ended up inviting us to play pool with them at a local billiards joint.
As a foreigner, store owners in the medina of most Moroccan cities will often try to over-charge you. Many will assume that you are a student studying in Morocco, and will try to buy your trust by expressing their interest in your decision to study here. Whether their interest is genuine or not cannot be determined in a 15 minute bartering session, but your language confidence will certainly grow! Not only that, but you’ll feel awesome after you’ve purchased some brand new “Beats by Dre” and a pair of “Marc Jacobs” sunglasses for less than $20.
After being abroad for approximately three months now, I definitely believe one of the best things you can do for yourself is embrace your inner-outsider. It shows that you are genuinely interested in the Moroccan culture and that you are also confident in who you are. I’m an American who has never really been out of the country until now and I have no plans on trying to hide it while I’m here. Yes, you will stick out. It may give you unwanted attention. But as long as you are sincerely invested in the study abroad experience and the Moroccans you meet, those people will respect you all the more because you stay true to who you are.
…One last musing from the stah: observe. Deeper parts of the culture reveal themselves in subtle ways. The nature of friendship and how people love one another are few of the countless cultural mazes that you can witness as a student abroad. Embrace the awkward and uncomfortable and stay positive. If you need it, escape to your stah and just watch.