The Final Countdown

Knowing that I’m about to leave a place I’ve loved makes all the little idiosyncrasies that used to go unnoticed become suddenly the most important details in the world. My final week in Rabat passed in a haze of lasts: last train ride, last tea and “la vache qui rit” cheese with my host family, last couscous and henna. Now that I’m finally back on the sofa of my family’s house in Massachusetts, it’s finally hitting me exactly how long I have been away (for someone used to trimesters seventeen weeks in one place feels like a decade) and how much, in the cliché words of every study abroad brochure ever, this experience has changed me. For one thing, I can now converse comfortably and relatively confidently in Arabic. I have also become much more friendly in my greetings, something I hope to continue even now that I am back in America. I’ve discovered that in this regard at least a little effort goes a long way and asking people how they are doing is almost always a net positive exchange.

Post 10 Photo 1 - Mika Chmielewski

Already missing my wonderful host family and roommate.

There are, of course, all the small details of Morocco that I am already beginning to miss: kissing friends in greeting, the call to prayer, taxi rides, even the messy sidewalks and lack of personal space. But in a more general sense, Morocco has taught me to not fear the unknown. While I have traveled before, lived alone, organized my bank account, I have never before dealt with such a large onset of new quantities at once. When you grow up in a place, the customs come naturally and the big things get learned slowly, sequentially. But when you jump to a new continent, a new language, it’s like growing up seventeen years in seventeen weeks. I went from learning complex integrals to learning how to buy conditioner.

Post 10 Photo 2 - Mika Chmielewski

Enjoying snails and corn in Casablanca.

Beyond the mundane details of daily life, this term has taught me to embrace the unknown in an even broader sense. I went to Rabat without knowing what I was getting myself into, and yet everything turned out just fine. Human beings are resilient; we can get through all sorts of situations. I have learned throughout my travels to trust myself and to rely on my own judgment. I have also learned a lot about the kindness of strangers. From the man who offered me his food on the train to the one who helped the lady next to me when her coat got caught on the door to the complete stranger who held my friend’s hair back when she was throwing up, people have been overwhelmingly considerate and generous.

Post 10 Photo 3 - Mika Chmielewski

Yellow slippers in Zawiya Ahnsal.

I am glad to be home. I am glad to see my family, my cat, and yes, Mom, even that terrifying advent elf. But I wouldn’t trade these past few months for anything, not even a lifetime supply of pastries from Abtal, my favorite bakery in Rabat. I am going to try my best now that I am home to not be one of those annoying people who only talk about their study abroad experience and who relate every conversation back to “when I was in Morocco…” But I also know how hard this is going to be because I have so many amazing stories of Morocco. Morocco has definitely changed me. It has become a place I cherish, and a place that I want to share with anyone who is interested in listening.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Mika Chmielewski, Morocco, Rabat

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