“Introduction to Elizabeth” by Elizabeth Beaton

My name is Elizabeth Beaton and I am a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. I study International Relations and Arabic and I am so excited to spend my junior year in Morocco. At Mount Holyoke, I have studied Modern Standard Arabic for two years and the Arabic program has become a second home for me. During my year away I will miss my classmates, Arabic professors, and Mount Holyoke’s beautiful campus.

Photo 2

My hometown is only an hour and half away from Mount Holyoke so living across the ocean in Morocco will be quite a transition. I grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, about an hour outside of Boston. I have always enjoyed exploring both the New England countryside and nearby cities. I really began to love busy city life when visiting relatives in New York City where I became fascinated with subway stations, public parks, and crowded sidewalks. I cannot wait to explore Rabat and to become comfortable navigating a new city.

However, excitement is not the only emotion that I have been experiencing with regard to my year abroad. As this summer has flown by, I have grown more excited and nervous by the week. Despite feelings of apprehension I know that moving out of my comfort zone will help me grow and achieve my goals. In high school I left my New England comfort zone and studied abroad in Spain for a year. I lived with two host families and attended public school completely in Spanish. Being immersed in Spanish culture and language helped to accelerate my language proficiency and allowed me to build lasting connections and friendship. In addition to attending class during the school week in Spain, I was able to travel to different regions across the country on weekends and vacations. On a trip to Granada, Spain I visited the Alhambra palace with other exchange students. I’ve bookmarked this particular memory as a defining moment that changed the trajectory of my language interests. While visiting the palace I was exposed to Moorish architecture for the first time, a continuing legacy of the Moors’ time in the Iberian Peninsula. The beauty of all aspects of the fortress, from tilework to archways to reflection pools, sparked my interest in Arabic and in the connections that link European and Arab cultures.

While studying abroad in Morocco one of my main goals is building upon my Arabic skills. I love languages and have studied many languages in the classroom setting. So far I have had the opportunity to study Spanish, French, German, and Italian, in addition to Arabic. I am particularly excited to be immersed in Moroccan culture and to start learning Darija- the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I am a complete beginner in Darija and I am pretty nervous about what my first few weeks in Rabat will bring. Yet, at the same time I can’t wait to meet my host family, other students, and the AMIDEAST program staff.

Photo 1

As my departure date gets closer and closer I have been completing last minute errands and saying my farewells. I have said goodbyes to work colleagues, spent lots of quality time with friends and family, and have gone on many walks with my dog. I cannot wait for my time in Rabat to begin and to share this adventure with you all.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Elizabeth Beaton, Uncategorized

“Introduction to Eli” by Derek Denton

Hello there, Marhaban, and Bonjour!

My name is Derek, although I go by “Eli,” and as such I will be signing all these blog entries by this name. It probably goes without saying, but I am excited to be writing about my travels for everyone reading this. I am hoping that through these regularly written entries, I can make those reading this feel like they’re experiencing the same adventure that I’ll be seeing. So for the next four months, I’m looking forward to sharing my excitement with everyone out there.

That being said, I should introduce myself. This upcoming autumn I will be a Junior-year student at the tiny, little, middle of the cornfields of Illinois, liberal arts school Monmouth College. I am currently studying International Affairs, and my ideal career is to work with the United States Federal government in the Middle East (although to what degree, I have yet to decide). To go about achieving that ambitious goal, I have prescribed myself a handful of accomplishments that I will need to achieve. Perhaps the most challenging of my self-given criteria is to learn a language that I believe to be critical to the missions of the United States: Arabic.

Accompanying that goal of mine is an enthusiastic interest in affairs of the Middle East and Northern Africa. The culture fascinates me and I find the current events captivating. To date, I estimate that I have written over a dozen essays on the political affairs in one of the world’s most dynamic regions. If want to take my studies further, the best way would be to introduce myself to the experience of living and studying in the region. After a short stint of researching study abroad opportunities, I found my best option for crafting a unique and awesome study experience would be with AMIDEAST Education Abroad Area and Arabic Studies in Morocco program.

After months of preparation, essay writing, researching customs, interviewing professors who knew about living in the region, and asking friends from the Middle East about what to expect- I found myself with an acceptance letter to study in Rabat. To say I was enthusiastic when I learned I would finally have the opportunity to live in the Arab world while studying the language that would help me achieve my career goals, would be a severe understatement. It will be an influential experience I will never forget. In all honesty however, my upcoming trip is also a cause for apprehension. Learning Arabic is a goal I have committed myself to, but it might very well be the most challenging feat I will be experiencing in my life thus far. It will take considerable determination and focus if I am to leave Morocco this December as a competent speaker of the language. It is a challenge I am excited to accept.

I am expecting that a lot of the stories that I blog about will primarily be about two things: traveling and local cuisine. I suppose my intention for the first of these is pretty obvious: I like to travel, see new places, and meet new people. It’s something I wish everyone could do, and hopefully, my blog will allow others to feel like they are traveling with me.

On the second point, trying new food is probably my favorite thing to do while traveling to a new locality. You see, foreign cultures interest me. I like to think I’m a multicultural person. But I don’t think it is possible for the average traveler to truly and completely immerse oneself entirely in another’s culture. So in my case, what I do to find the best way to put myself into the culture of someone else is to try their local delicacies. Local diets can take centuries to develop, and so I am essentially taking bites into the history of a people.

Lastly, since this is a travel blog, I think it would be wise for me to post some “examples” of what I may be looking for while in Northern Africa, using some photos from a trip I had this summer:

IMG_5857

On my most recent trip, my mother and I visited Buffalo, NY, and saw the Niagara Falls. In spite of what the general consensus may be, I am of firm belief that the American side is the most beautiful.

 

IMG_5848

Also on that trip to Niagara Falls, I fulfilled my criteria of trying the local cuisine in a way I did not quite expect. Being only twenty years old, my first-ever casino buffet was a unique experience.

I look forward to writing for everyone out there. I hope my stories are enjoyable and informative, as I detail the ups and downs of the semester. This should be an unforgettable trip, and I’m glad I’m here to share my experiences with all of you as a correspondent.

-Eli

Leave a comment

Filed under Derek Denton, Uncategorized

“Squat Into Comfort” by Dan Fitzgerald

When I was a little kid I went camping with some friends for a few nights. I remembered vividly how my body was covered in mosquito bites, dirt, and having to use nature as my bathroom. You could say that nature and I don’t exactly get along. For those of you who know me or are getting to know me, my personality and demeanor don’t exactly scream “Bear Grills” or “rough-and-tough.” I am content with my Starbucks white chocolate mocha in the morning, going to an art museum, and going to a friend’s apartment to watch Netflix. Yet, something changed in my urban-socialite life this past week. I went to Zaouia Ahansel.

During a tenuous four-hour drive with everyone from my Amideast program through the winding, rocky roads of Morocco, I saw nothing but rocks, mountains, and herds of goats for miles-upon-miles in all directions. Just as I was about to assume that village couldn’t possibly exist out in this barren land, I saw it. Hidden in the deep Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco lied dozens of brown, rectangular houses on slanted slopes adjacent to a clear blue mountain stream, turning the valley a vibrant green. This Amazigh village of 500 people gave me the challenge of my life.

Photo 1

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Mountain Magic” by Sofia Deak

By far the most incredible excursion I have made in my time in Morocco has been our group trip to Zaouiat Ahansal, a mountain village located in the Middle Atlas Mountain Range approximately eight hours by bus from Rabat. To reach the village, our bus struggled along a windy and steep mountain road that afforded the most incredible views of the valleys, crags, and wildlife in the rural mountain countryside. I was excited to see the village; I had never been to such a remote place before and I was curious about what it might be like.

What met us all in Zaouiat Ahansal was not exactly what I was expecting, but still I was blown away by what I experienced there. First, to set the scene: The village is located in a valley between two mountain peaks, and natural spring water flows through the valley from a source high up among the snowy summit. Sand colored homes crop up along the base of the mountain, with four castle-like structures that house the four holy families of the village. Donkeys, sheep, and goats slowly head back and forth to pasture or carrying the fruits of a hard day of labor back home. Dust sometimes rises up around you; the villagers are praying for some much needed rain. Every single person you pass in the street, from the tiny schoolgirls smaller than their backpacks to the wizened old gentleman guiding his donkey, stops to say hello. They shake your hand, and then touch their hand to their heart— saying you are in my heart, you are dear to me. This place, obviously, is nothing short of enchanting.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

But Zaouiat is more than just a pretty picture. While we were there, we stayed in the home of the village’s Sheikh, who is a descendant of the village’s founder, an Islamic Saint from the 12th century. It was here in the Sheikh’s house that I felt as though I glimpsed the spirit of this little village. It was in the home of the most powerful man in the region that a beautiful, innocent, and seemingly unassuming friendship came to define what this place was all about.

A quick side note: The entire population of the village is Amazigh, or Berber . . . except for an American family who founded a local organization called the Atlas Cultural Foundation. The founder, her husband and their eight year old daughter have lived in the village for years, focusing on architectural preservation and recently expanding to include educational supplements and better public health projects. The organization’s founder is a fascinating, incredible woman; all of the AMIDEAST students picked her brain the entire duration of the trip trying to soak up some of her wisdom.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under 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