“The Emotional Roller Coaster” by Shante Fencl

Is it possible to love a new country after living there for less than a week?

A. Yes
B. No
C. Maybe
D. All of the Above

The correct answer is: D. At least in my short time of being in Morocco, my thoughts have ranged from “I am never going back to the United States,” to “When is the next flight back home?” Luckily, most of my thoughts have been closely related to the former. I had a bit of a bumpy start to my adventure. My flight was delayed twenty-one hours, and I arrived to my orientation late. I began to wonder if this rough start would lead to a rough semester, but I quickly saw my luck changing. I went from having the worst possible day one could imagine to staring out at the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean and thanking the stars for my fortune in life all in a matter of hours.

Ocean S. Fencl

This is me at La Plage de Rabat.

While I found myself on an emotional roller coaster during my first few days in Morocco, I am grateful for the skills I was forced to learn almost immediately. Some of these skills were simple:

  1. Do not stand in a single file line at the store if you want to get served.
  2. Do not assume a car will stop for you, or as I like to think about it, assume every car wants to hit you.
  3. If someone offers you tea in their house and you say no, you will still get tea.

I have noticed that Moroccans are very hospitable. They aim to please their guests in all ways. Offering their customary drink upon entry to their home is second nature, but they are also very insistent. We had just finished up a big lunch with more food than I could finish, and I was offered tea at the home of one of my friends. After saying “no thank you,” I found a glass in front of me. It was then I remembered the warning we got at orientation: You must insist multiple times if you do not want something in Morocco. No does not always mean no and yes does not always mean yes here. It is going to take some getting used to, but the tea was delicious and I am very happy I was misunderstood.

Chellah S. Fencl

This it the Chellah in Rabat, the Roman ruins located in the city.

Other skills were not as easy to grasp:

  1. Do not smile at random strangers on the street.

Growing up in the Midwest, I was constantly instructed to smile and say hello to passersby when in public. I never assumed that this would be taken in a completely different way in another country. Saying hello to a man on the street is seen as an invitation to a conversation or even a date. After understanding this new cultural norm, I found myself walking the streets with a scowl on my face in the attempt to avoid any unwanted attention. I still find myself smiling from time to time out of habit, but I am quickly getting the hang of it.

Language is the most useful skill of them all. I have no clue what is going on around me 99% of the time, but that 1% is an improvement. I do not intend to leave this country after four months having achieved fluency in Arabic. I don’t even expect to say I am close to fluency. I do want to walk away knowing that I learned something. If that is having a conversation with my taxi driver for five minutes in Arabic, or reading a children’s book with ease, I will be happy. This program is about so much more than language acquisition. I know that my constant miming to get my point across will come to an end, but I also know my struggle with the language will never stop. I just want to adapt linguistically and culturally by immersing myself. Next week I am starting my classes for this semester. I am thankful for this week of orientation, but I am ready to jump in and get started!

Chellah 2 S. Fencl

This is the entryway to the Chellah.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Shante Fencl

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