Category Archives: Morocco

“Cramming for Midterms and Seeing the Holy See: Unexpected Ways to Learn an Important Skill” by Derek Denton

Salam readers,

The last two weeks has offered me extensively different experiences. If you recall, I signed off my last blog by mentioning that I needed to begin studying for midterms, which I was able to complete on Friday. Thankfully, right after exams were over my fall break began. I decided to enjoy the first weekend with a short visit to the world’s smallest country: Vatican City. These two radically different experiences- one of ardent studying and, the other of luxurious traveling- have both taught me an important skill: patience, especially while residing in a foreign land.

It is no exaggeration to say that learning Arabic is the most difficult challenge of my life thus far. I have minimal experience in studying foreign language, and unlike the French there is no significant overlap between English and Arabic. Furthermore, the non-language classes I am taking here on the history and politics on the Kingdom of Morocco were something I had little experience studying. So, when midterms encroached on me last week, it was a real challenge to ensure I was prepared. During this period, I had rehearsed short Arabic speeches and wrote several practice essays to study for the unprecedented academic challenge of the exams. And, needless to say, there were times when it felt too difficult. Every time I forgot a word critical to an Arabic sentence or left out an important historical figure’s name from a practice essay the challenge felt even more daunting.

Nonetheless, I responded to this by reminding myself that I should not expect the coursework to be easy. Studying abroad in Morocco was a new experience for me- a first for my college, in fact. I had to remember that I needed to be patient and persist at a steady pace. Going too quickly would get me done with the challenge faster, but would leave me with a half-hearted exam. Going too slowly would mean giving up, which was absolutely not an option. I had to remember that this was a new experience, in a new country, and that required the skill of patience.

The other experience from this last night, and the far more exciting one in my opinion, would be the short trip I had to Rome. I have wanted to visit Italy for quite some time (being a history buff and whatnot), and studying in a country relatively close to the boot-peninsula seemed to grant me the best opportunity to visit I would have for a long time. However, while my fall break spans a whopping week-and-a-half, the airline company that I found only flew to Rome on Saturdays and back to Rabat on Tuesdays- leaving me a very short window to see such a profoundly historical country. For this reason, I opted to spend my vacation in one of the two countries within Italy’s borders, the far smaller, but no less awe-inspiring, the Vatican City. I had charted my plan carefully, picking out a hotel literally next door to the Vatican’s walls and arranged for transportation to get there. If all would go according to plan, I would enjoy a majestic weekend in the home to the Holy See.

But, of course, things did not go as planned.
The weekend started off to an extremely rough start when my hotel, apparently, forgot that I was checking in. Due to the airline’s extremely narrow schedule, I would expected to arrive at my hotel at around midnight. I had previously informed the hotel this, and they agreed to keep a receptionist in late to accommodate me… And then I arrived to locked gates. I was without a place to sleep that night.

At first, I was (naturally) upset about this setback but, being angry would have not gotten me anywhere. Instead, I used this traumatic unfortunate event as a time to practice being patient. Similar to when I was preparing for my midterms, I observed the challenges before me: I needed a place to stay, and how that is affected by being in a country I had never been to before. I considered what I knew: The Vatican is a highly popular tourist destination, so finding a hotel on short-notice should be no problem. And so, I walked around the Vatican walls and made phone calls until I found a hotel. The crisis was averted and I was able to find a place to stay available for last-minute bookings..
From there, the vacation was fantastic. It also allowed me the opportunity to bring back an excellent assortment of photographs to share!
1. The Vatican Museum's Entrance is Notably Ominous at Midnight The Vatican Museum’s Entrance is Notably Ominous at Midnight.

2. My first view of the Saint Peter's Basilica, also known as the Pope's Church.My first view of the Saint Peter’s Basilica, also known as the Pope’s Church.

3. Rome is particularly famous for its assortment of fountains! There are about 1,500 of these marvellously-sculpted drinking water springs thRome is particularly famous for its assortment of fountains! There are about 1,500 of these marvelously-sculpted drinking water springs throughout the Eternal City.

4. If its interior is anything like its exterior, Saint Antonio's Castle is a landmark I will regret not exploring.If its interior is anything like its exterior, Saint Angelo’s Castle is a landmark I will regret not exploring.

5. Behold- the 'forboding' border between Italy and the Vatican.Behold- the ‘foreboding’ border between Italy and the Vatican.

6. On Saturday, I visited the National Roman Museum, dedicating to preserving relics of the Roman Empire. Here is a statue of a depiction of tOn Saturday, I visited the National Roman Museum, dedicating to preserving relics of the Roman Empire. Here is a statue of a depiction of the Greek terror, Medusa.

7. On a funny note- I don't drink alcohol, so the next-best option to tasting Italian wine was this fine Italian grape juice. Aged to perfectiOn a funny note- I don’t drink alcohol, so the next-best option to tasting Italian wine was this fine Italian grape juice. Aged to perfection.

8. And finally, we have here the Holy See of Saint Peter's Church. The figurative throne of the Pope above one of the many altars. For size sAnd finally, we have here the Holy See of Saint Peter’s Church. The figurative throne of the Pope above one of the many altars. For size scale- each of those letters above are eight feet tall.

When I considered what I would learn in Morocco and the Vatican, I had expected to bring back home a knowledge of a new language and an expanded understanding of foreign culture, but I would not have thought that these travels and trials would have help me build these oft-forgotten skills like patience. It’s just another reason why this trip is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity, I suppose!

See you in another fortnight, readers!
-Eli

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Derek Denton, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“Language progress: Modern Standard Arabic and Darija” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

I have finished with all of my midterms and I am flying to Spain to spend fall break with friends. While preparing for this trip, I’ve been thinking a lot about my language progress in Morocco over the past two months.

Before coming to Morocco, I had studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) for two years at my home institution Mount Holyoke College and MSA continues to be my target language while living in Morocco. However, people in Morocco also speak lots of other languages aside from MSA, like Moroccan Arabic Dialect (Darija), French, and often a Berber language. In Rabat, Darija is the language that I hear most often spoken on the street and I use my Darija when negotiating with taxi drivers or buying bread. While I came into my study abroad experience wanting to improve my MSA, my priorities have shifted a bit. Learning Darija has become really important to me because it means being able to communicate more fully with the people around me. It has been a challenge to learn two different kinds of Arabic at the same time but, I love being able to see the similarities between the two.

I still have plenty of opportunities to practice my MSA during the day. I generally practice my MSA in class with my language partner and with my host family. My midterms for my classes all happened in the week leading up to Fall Break. While exams are always stressful, preparing for them was a useful way to review and reinforce all of the Arabic that I’ve learned so far.

I speak in Modern Standard Arabic with my language partner, Sanae. She is wonderful! I really look forward to when we get to hang out. We meet up weekly and speak half of the time in English and half of the time in Arabic. We’ve gone to the zoo and taught each other the words for all the different animals. I loved exploring the medina together and walking to the ocean.  I have also been to her house for Friday couscous and she has come to mine too. Thinking back on the things we’ve done together I am reminded of the benefits of studying abroad. Living here and learning Arabic in Morocco is so different from learning it from a text book. I’m really grateful to be able to learn vocabulary while drinking tea with Sanae’s family rather than memorizing words out of a book. Here are photos of the ocean from an afternoon that I spent with Sanae.

photo of ocean (1)

My host family has helped me so much with my learning. During meal times, we talk together in MSA and I try to incorporate what Darija I learned in class that day. We watch many Turkish soap operas that are dubbed into Darija or into Levantine Arabic dialect and a lot of our conversations revolve around trying to understand all of the plot twists. I find the consistency of everyday conversations really comforting and the repetition is really helpful for me too! Every morning my host mom asks me and my roommate Mariah, Did you sleep well? Then in the afternoon the questions become, how are you? Are you fine? Is everything good? Since I hear those questions every day I am confident in my reply, more confident in my Arabic in general, and I understand Moroccan culture better. One of my favorite language moments happened when I was walking home from class. I saw two friends run into each other on the street and they said all of the variations of how are you? It was such a nice surprise to able to understand an interaction on the street. In that moment, I felt like more of an insider and felt like I was making some concrete progress with my Darija.

another ocean photo.jpg

Until next time!

Leave a comment

Filed under Elizabeth Beaton, Morocco

“Fresh Air and Fresh Perspectives” by Allison Brady

When we first arrived in Morocco, our orientation included a warning that all study abroad students will go through many different stages of emotion in their relationship to their new host country.  These involve honeymoon periods in which everything seems “shiny and new,” periods in which everything becomes overwhelming, and even periods of resentment due to the change and homesickness.  There’s no set rule of how these feelings progress, and some days I have experienced a little bit of each all in the same day. During the first few weeks, most of my time felt like the “honeymoon” stage.  I fell in love with Rabat and the people around me.  I still love Rabat and every part of my life here.  However, as the stress of midterms has crept up and combined with daily stressors of navigating a new culture, I have admittedly experienced a higher percentage of the latter emotions lately.

Sometimes in Morocco, I feel exactly like the girl pictured here:

DSC04626

Rabat may be smaller than cities like Casablanca or Marrakesh, but it shares the same loud character, busy, crowded streets, and fast pace. This is not necessarily a bad thing!  I often love feeling swept up in the bustle, noise, and movement of people going about their lives.  What might seem like “chaos” or “disorder” to someone accustomed to tamer Midwest city avenues can also feel exciting and full of vibrant life. However, it also makes going out and about an event that requires me to stay on my toes, whether it is to avoid being run over by wild traffic, or to mentally steel myself against street harassment.

To me, the biggest change in perception living here has been of feeling comfortable in the busyness and noise of a bustling city, to then having the need to be alert to urban realities grow tiring.  So, I took a break from them!  Even though it was the weekend before midterms, I decided I needed a daytrip out of the city.  I went to the beautiful and calm seafront village of Asilah. I spent the 3-4 hour train ride studying and watching the landscape change from Rabat, to desert, to rolling hills of the Mid-Atlas until we reached the coast again further north.  I then spent the day strolling through pristine and art-covered walls of Asilah’s gorgeous old medina, and sank my feet into the sand and ocean water to breath in the fresh wind.

DSC05093

IMG_20171015_114421_540

It was a good reminder that my frustrations were not truly with “Morocco”: this experience was part of Morocco too! I also thought about how it would be if I lived in a smaller, subdued town like Asilah. After just a few hours, I felt like I had seen most of it.  I was constantly bemused at how empty and devoid of life the streets seemed in comparison to the rambunctious crowds of Rabat’s old medina. I am glad that Morocco contains so much to explore and so many different kinds of places to experience, and I came back to Rabat ready to rejoin the throngs of locals also experiencing the many joys and risks of city life.  Now, I am about to leave again; this time, for Italy for Fall Break. I am excited to again get some outside perspective from Morocco, but I am equally eager to return to the people and places that are my crazy beautiful home

Leave a comment

Filed under Allison Brady, Morocco, Uncategorized

“Friends and Bread” by Dan Fitzgerald

I knew making friends abroad would be difficult, but I never imagined how difficult it would be. Think back to your first time in high school or moving to a new city. Were you scared? Did you think everyone was staring at you because they knew that you had no idea what you were doing? Did you ever over-think every conversation and interaction you had with someone and assumed that you said something wrong? Well guess what, being abroad is about the same. I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the amount of times I talked to a Moroccan and probably made a fool of myself.  Not the best way to make friends abroad.

I’ve heard of stories of those who go their entire semester abroad without making one friend from their host country. That’s not a bad thing if that isn’t one of your goals, but I’m a social butterfly who needs new relationships. I wanted to have some kind of a connection with Morocco and prove to myself that I can make friends outside of my comfort zone. That’s when Nacera showed up.

I was halfway through the semester when our program gave us the chance to take a field trip to a local bakery and learn how to make Moroccan crêpes and breads. For those of you who don’t know me, I seriously love bread. I am a human dumpster for carbs, so when I found out about the opportunity to go make AND eat bread, I signed up immediately. On the day of the field trip, I walked into our meeting room when this 19-year-old, five-foot-five, spunky Moroccan girl walked up to me and spoke to me in perfect English. “Are you here for the bakery trip?” she said. “Of course,” I responded. Her deep maroon hijab was perfectly matching to her oversized maroon sweater, and I already knew that this girl had style. This was Nacera.

 

food.jpg

We went to the bakery all the way out in Salé, the sister city of Rabat, and got put right to work preparing the dough, shaping the bread, and cooking it on the stove. Not to show off, but I was told that I’m a pretty great bread baker by the master baker herself, Nacera’s Mom. I spent hours with Nacera and her mom making dozens of savory crêpes only to consume all of them in the span of twenty minutes. What can I say, bread is life. I had so much fun with Nacera that we decided to swap our WhatsApp numbers and message about the next time we could hang out. Blog reader, was this the start of a friendship? It certainly was.

A few weeks later, Nacera messaged me and my friend Galey asking if we wanted to come visit her university and sit-in on her music class. This was my chance to meet and hang out with Moroccans my age and maybe not be a social disaster, so Galey and I said yes. For the next three hours, Galey and I sat in the music class listening to everyone sing some of the most beautiful Arab songs I’ve ever heard while not understanding a single word spoken in the class. At the end of class, we walked out of the classroom and Nacera introduced us to all her friends. Most greeted me in English and didn’t seem interested in us, but the minute I spoke some Darija to them, the entire group erupted in laughter and smiles, excited that I knew some Darija. I spent the rest of the time talking with Nacera and her friends about music, sports, jokes, life, and it felt like I was back at my own university hanging out with my friends.

friends

 

It’s hard living in a new place where you don’t know anyone while also learning the culture. But everything becomes easier when you find that one friend to help you along the way. Nacera has been that person for me, which is why I’ve dedicated this blog post to her. Thanks Nacera, you’re the real MVP.

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat

“Making Morocco Home” by Sofia Deak

As Morocco feels more and more like home and my last few weeks here move much too quickly to an end, one thing has been nagging at the back of my mind. I did not become as close with Moroccans my age as I would have liked, and even though my 12-year-old host sister insists “But I am your friend, Sofia! That is all you need!” I still sometimes felt like I was missing out on an important part of my abroad experience.

Others on the program have had more luck in this department, having bonded with language partners or made connections through sports teams. However, just as I was getting accustomed to the idea that maybe I would not have it all, the weather changed: figuratively and literally.

Recently, Rabat has been warming up. The sun is bright and hot all day, and I pine for AC as I climb the four flights of spiral steps to my bedroom each evening. Luckily for us all, Rabat is right on the coast, and while I’ve spent a lot of free time this semester staring in awe at the impressive waves slamming into rocks along the shore, I never really thought about actually going in the water. On a whim, though, some friends from AMIDEAST and I decided to give surfing a try one hot weekend we all stayed in town instead of traveling.

SD

I grew up with the beach and am comfortable in the ocean, but I was still somewhat scared to try out surfing in Morocco. I had never been before, and the waves in Rabat are definitely intimidating! What if I was not able to understand the instructor? What if I got dragged out to see but my cries for help in Standard Arabic would not only be misunderstood, but would be laughed at? What if there were sharks?

Nevertheless, I put my (potentially absurd) fears aside and decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I was instantly hooked! I do not think I will ever be less amazed at the sight of the glistening, bright blue sea beneath me and the Rabat Oudaya, a 12th century Kasbah right on the water, zooming toward me as I surf in to the shore. Additionally, one of the beautiful things about Morocco is how cheap it is— a surf class here in Rabat is around $10 USD.

Surf.jpg

Surfing has been the final piece for me in the puzzle of making Morocco “home.” The instructors recognize me, tease me, and tell me Morocco will miss me when I leave. The other students, from 7-year-old Moroccan girls (who are actually quite good at “shredding the knar”) to middle-aged-men trying out a new hobby (not unlike me), have become familiar faces and— dare I say it— friends to me here.

I try to surf once or twice a week despite my busy schedule of classes, English teaching, and exercising (I am running another 10K this weekend in El Jadida!). I do this because I love it, yes, but also because it just deepens the sense of camaraderie I have begun to experience here in Morocco, and makes me all the more aware of how much I have come to love this place and think of it as my own. I think when I look back on these unfairly quick, mesmerizing months, I will remember it in two ways. At the same time, Morocco has been fast, scary, and full of adrenaline, like trying to balance on a surfboard hurtling toward the sand; it has also been calming, deeply memorable; a moment stuck in time, like floating in the bright sea, laughing with a new friend, waiting for the next wave.

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Learning and Teaching Language” by Sofia Deak

Before I came to Morocco, I knew that “improving my Arabic” was one of my major objectives, but I didn’t imagine what that would actually look like. Through the extreme patience of my host mom and our daily discussions in Arabic after dinner, I have become confident enough to have conversations in Arabic without relying on English. Using a combination of Standard Arabic and Moroccan Darija (as well as a fair amount of pantomiming) I am improving beyond my previous expectations.

Photo 1 - Deak, Sofia.JPG

While I am really proud of the progress I am making, that does not negate the fact that I am realizing how incredibly diverse the Arabic language is, and how truly difficult it is to master. I get discouraged when I spend two hours poring over my vocabulary homework, only to forget the majority of the words the next day. Also, I always knew there were different dialects that were significantly different— however, I did not realize how much the language might differ WITHIN a dialect. In Morocco, diversity is one of the only constants. For example, a Moroccan from Tangier in the north might have a difficult time understanding a Moroccan from Ouarzazate, in the south. Tajine, the famous Moroccan staple food, is pronounced “tajouane” in the north, and this is just one of countless examples of dialectic differences that exist within the Moroccan dialect, completely ignoring how foreign Darija is from Standard Arabic and all other Arabic dialects!

It is easy to get frustrated in trying to learn Arabic, and sometimes I feel discouraged that I will never be able to be as comfortable with the language as I would like. (This happens especially when an earnest Moroccan is trying to explain something to me in Darija, whether at a restaurant or in a taxi or on a train— and all I can offer them is a confused look and a sorry smile.) However, there are shining moments that remind me to keep trying, and that the experience of learning the language is just as amazing as being able to use it. Last night, I learned the word for “tickle” in Arabic and Darija, thanks to my host mom starting some impromptu tickle fights — during dinner!! Lots of spilled water, fits of laughter, and sprinting away from the table later, I don’t think I will ever forget the word, or this moment.

Photo 2 - Deak, Sofia.JPG

Another thing that encourages me is the weekly English teaching that I have been engaged in since my arrival in Rabat. My students are beginners, so really new to English. They have so much to learn, but they are so eager and dedicated. Most are adult learners, which itself is a challenge, but being able to say simple sentences excites them so much. This project really reinvigorates me with the understanding that learning a language takes time, and that is sometimes boring and full of flashcards, but also can be really memorable and full of laughs (and not only when learning the word for “ticklish”). Ultimately, I know that I am making huge improvements thanks to being in Morocco, and I cannot wait to learn more!

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Sofia Deak

“Fun in the Sun” by Dan Fitzgerald

Studying abroad is a lot like going into a new relationship. You start out in that honeymoon phase where everything is new and adventurous, you are excited by every little thing, and you can’t possibly imagine what life was like before it. But then that honeymoon phase ends and you realize that the world is still spinning and suddenly things aren’t as interesting anymore. You finally realize your significant other has little quirks that annoy you and the spark that once arose in you by every little thing is going out. Typically, in a relationship one of two things could happen: you either break it off as there is nothing left to inspire you, or you find that raw spark in all the little things that truly makes you happy. If you haven’t caught on already, I’m talking about my relationship with Morocco.

I am more than half way done with my semester abroad in Morocco and I am certainly out of the honeymoon phase. I soon realized that outside of studying for class, eating, and sleeping, I have a lot of free time on my hand. I don’t know about you, but free time is my worst enemy, as I become bored and restless very easily. Most people abroad, especially those in Europe, would solve this by traveling more, but even extensive travel was starting to wear me down (as well as wear my bank account down). So where do I go when I need to cure my angst? The beach.

 

Photo 1 - Fitzgerald, Dan.jpg

I know what you are thinking. “Dan, that is so stereotypical. Of course, everyone loves the beach. This isn’t something unique to Morocco.” You’re right, but cool your jets, because the beach here in Rabat is much more than your average beach back in the States. I frequent the “Plages de Salé” so much that I will most likely go there today once I finish this blog post. It’s a large beach that lies next to the Oued Bou Regreg river and the Atlantic Ocean. The place is magical especially in the evening as the sun sets on the water and bathes the Rabat Kasbah in an orange glow. It’s also the perfect place to let loose with both my American friends and meet some new people, especially when it comes to volleyball.

One Friday in February, a bunch of AMIDEAST students and myself decided to meet at this beach after couscous lunch to play some soccer and volleyball on the beach. We all meet up, draw our volleyball court in the sand, and start the match. In all honesty, we all chose to play volleyball because we knew we would make fools of ourselves in front of Moroccans if we played soccer. But soon all the Moroccans playing soccer matches around us started watching us play volleyball and soon joined in a classic Morocco v. United States volleyball match. This match could have lasted until the sun set, but strangely enough a large cloud of fog blanketed the entire beach. That’s when we had to call the match a draw even though the Moroccans clearly beat us, but that will be our little secret.

 

Photo 2 - Fitzgerald, Dan.jpg

Besides the views and activities on this beach, my favorite things about Plages de Salé is that it is only place where I have found Moroccans outside of their comfort zones. I’m talking about real Moroccan couples enjoying time together, Moroccans playing with their dogs in the ocean, parents building sand castles with their children, the list could go on. What I have found is that Moroccans operate their lives very differently between the spheres of public and private, making it hard to see Moroccans as who they really are. But here on this beach, I see their vulnerability more than ever. I see them enjoying life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized