Sitting in my living room, looking out at the snow banks and piles of ice that Mother Nature dumped on my hometown of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and thinking about the not-yet-unpacked suitcase from my last semester abroad that is collecting dust upstairs, I cannot believe in a little over a week I’ll be flying across the Atlantic to spend 4 months in Rabat. It’s a surreal feeling- especially because a little over two weeks ago I returned from a semester in Paris, and just now feel as though I conquered reverse culture shock. I only just got used to seeing people in sweatpants in the grocery store, only just readapted my palate to accommodate the taste of American bread, and I only just stopped accidentally saying words in French that I meant to say in English (I get it, I sound like a snob. You will too after you study abroad, it’s inevitable). How am I going to go through culture shock all over again?
I suppose that before I get into all of that, I should introduce myself. Elyse Desrochers here, a Bostonian turned Washingtonian (DC), turned (fausse) Parisienne. I grew up in a suburb outside of Boston, where I experienced a quintessential American small town life up until the age of 18. It’s this quintessential American small town life that first made me catch the travel bug. After 18 years of the same routine in the same place, I felt I needed to switch it up. I moved to DC, where I’m a student at Catholic University (THE Catholic University of America, if you want to get technical), majoring in Political Science and French, and focusing on Middle Eastern Studies. I love DC and all that comes with it- the most agonizingly slow metro in the world, the weekend brunches, the cherry blossoms in the spring, and of course, the politics. But after two years I was ready to say goodbye to DC and bonjour to my next adventure, Paris. And now, after saying au revoir to Paris, I’m saying salaam to Rabat.
Aside from traveling, I have many interests and even more wanna be interests. I love learning languages and I love the idea of being able to have conversations equally-well in many different languages. This makes me very jealous of anyone who know 3 languages just because of where they grew up, like Europeans or a lot of Moroccans, and it makes me angry that French, which was my grandparents first language, was not carried on to my generation. My hope is to learn as many languages as is possible. I’ve even started every language on my duolingo app, so I’m basically already there, right? I’m also a yoga fanatic, which my disgruntled roommates will tell you all about. (There may have been some incidents where I woke them up because I fell out of a headstand onto a chair). I also love outdoorsy things- like kayaking, hiking, paddle boarding, or skiing. Camping falls into the wannabe interest category- I really want to like camping but the only sleeping in tents I’ve ever done was in my backyard as a kid.
My biggest interest is meeting people from different cultures and becoming more aware of other cultures. I’m sure that you could have guessed it, since I’m dedicating a year of my life to it. A lot of people ask me why I want to go abroad to two different places, and especially why I want to study abroad in Morocco. When I was first looking into study abroad, I really just couldn’t narrow down my options. One of my biggest goals was to improve my French- so France seemed like the obvious answer. But I had also been studying Arabic and really wanted to devote some time to learning one its dialects. In addition, I wanted to have an experience in a country that is culturally very different from the United States and Western culture. That’s not to say that study abroad in other Western nations has little value. Studying abroad in Paris was one of the most important learning experiences of my life to date and was an extremely valuable experience. However, I personally find it very important to explore other ways of living and learn about how perspectives differ and are similar around the world in various cultures. I do think that studying in Rabat will give me a very different perspective of life and allow me to explore cultural differences in ways that would not be possible in a place like Paris.
Sometimes, when I think about the next four months in Rabat, I feel very calm and not at all apprehensive about what my experiences will be like there. I think that already having studied abroad has helped prepare me for this. Paris was like dipping my toe into the pool, it warmed me up for what comes next. Rabat is like jumping off the deep end. Other times, I’m a bundle of nerves. I realize that I know how to study abroad. But I know how to study abroad in Paris. Not in Rabat. And there are so many things in Rabat that I don’t know. I’m not going to be a master bartering in the souk the first day, I’m going to get lost more times than I can count, and I’m going to make a lot of cultural mistakes that will be really embarrassing. The only thing I can do is embrace the fact that I don’t know anything, I will make mistakes, and I will be embarrassed at times, but that I’ll come out of this with one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life.
See you in a week, Rabat!