Tag Archives: culture

“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.

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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.

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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.

 

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

“A Weekend in Rabat” by Sofia Deak

Like most students studying abroad for a semester, I usually take advantage of my weekends to travel around my host country. Thus far, my trips to Chefchaouen, Essaouira, Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, and Casablanca have been the highlights of my experience in Morocco. Each city taught me something new about this beautiful and culturally rich country, and each was entirely unique.

However, worn down from my relentless travels and nervous about upcoming midterm exams, I decided to spend this past weekend here in Rabat. Some unfairly accuse Rabat of being boring, but I personally love my day to day routine there and the less “touristy” feel of the city. Nevertheless, I was not expecting this weekend to be one of the very best I’ve had in Morocco.

On Saturday morning, my host mom Zohra invited me to join her at our neighborhood hammam, or public bath house. I love the hammam- the heat of the rooms, the comfort and camaraderie between the women, young and old, large and small… it is a wonderful, relaxing, and authentic experience every time. Going with my host mom was even more special because I was able to share a part of her life with her instead of just being an outsider in the hammam. She introduced me to her friends and scrubbed my back, a common occurrence in Moroccan hammams between friends and strangers alike. One of my favorite things about the hammam is the sense of community and relaxation. Morocco is still a relatively conservative society and modesty is rewarded among women, but there’s none of the shyness or awkwardness that I am used to in the comparatively more “liberal” US surrounding nudity. Women are confident and supportive of one another in this all female space, something I found inviting, refreshing, and modern in an otherwise traditional setting.

After finishing up at the hammam, my host mom and I walked home and practiced some Darija, and I couldn’t help but feel that my willingness to try this foreign public bath with Zohra strengthened our relationship and marked a very special point in my abroad experience.

Sunday was the opposite of the relaxation of the hammam- somehow, fifteen other AMIDEAST students and I found ourselves at the starting line of an 11K race at 8am!

Entry 6 - Photo 2.JPGWhile none of us had trained, we actually had a really fun time running together, cheering each other on and helping each other finish, with some healthy competition thrown in of course. As I huffed through miles four, five, and six, I couldn’t help thinking that, like my study abroad experience, the middle of the race was likely to be mostly forgotten- struggled through, but at a consistent and familiar pace. I was really forced by this realization to acknowledge how quickly my time in Morocco is going by, and how I need to be appreciating all the little moments, like running a race with my friends and visiting the hammam with my host mother. As I was running the race, it seemed to drag on forever, but before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line.

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This weekend reminded me to slow down, to relax, to foster the relationships that make studying abroad so special. And even though I was not out traveling to some incredible new place, I realized what a treasure I have right at my fingertips – at home in Rabat.

 

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Filed under Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Food for Thought” by Dan Fitzgerald

Guess what? It’s the food post. Prepare your appetites because this blog post is about to be delicious. I have been thinking about Moroccan food more than usual as I vacation across Europe for Spring Break. France is known for their breads, cheeses, and wines; Germany is known for their beers and meats; but what’s the food Morocco is known for? Could it be tajins, full of vegetables and meat in small clay pots? Or could it simply be the large, bountiful fruit with every meal? These are all great contenders, however there is one food that means more to me than just taste satisfaction: couscous.

Let me start by saying: all couscous I’ve tried in the United States pales in comparison to the couscous I have in Morocco. Friends who previously studied in Morocco told me to prepare myself and my stomach for the weekly “Couscous Friday” lunches, but I never really understood the hype until I experienced it for myself.

It was a Friday like any other: my roommate Conner and I did our usual morning routine of showering, breakfast, and going to class. Our host mom Hajja reminded us to be home for lunch as she would be making couscous, but I didn’t think too much into it. Lunchtime rolled around- as we entered our home, a mysterious aroma of spices, meats, and vegetables hit our noses. We sat at the table and Hajja appeared with a giant clay plate the size of the table itself filled to the brim with couscous, various vegetables, and chicken. Hajja told us that it takes her over two hours to prepare this meal. She only makes it when they have host students, as this meal could seriously feed an army. Conner and I gave it the old college try to finish all the couscous, but it was just too much and too filling. Like all our Couscous Friday lunches, we ended by gathering some blankets, laying down to digest everything, and watching some Turkish soap operas that Hajja translated to French for me.

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While I adore couscous because it’s delicious and super filling, it’s now taken on a deeper meaning: not only does it represent my relationship with my host parents and roommate, but also Moroccan culture as a whole. An important part about the couscous dish is that it’s served and eaten all on one, shared clay plate between everyone. There aren’t any separate plates for yourself or silverware to use (unless Conner and I are making a mess and Hajja gives us silverware). It’s a community dish that brings everyone together to share this meal and, metaphorically, allows you to have a shared experience with others. That’s not something many Americans, including myself, experience back in the United States.

Now a lot of travelers to Morocco aren’t as fortunate enough as I am to stay with a host family, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t experience a Couscous Friday like this. One of the best types of restaurants Morocco offers are the living room restaurants. These places are as hole-in-the-wall as they come and can mainly be found in any city’s medina. They are small, one room places where the kitchen and the sitting area are joined together, and it is typically owned and operated by one or two women (typically a mother-daughter duo). These women will make you feel like you are a part of the family and cook you one of the most best meals you can find in Morocco. Again, it’s this shared sense of community and family around food that really brings you closer to Moroccan people. If food is for the soul, then Moroccan food is for the company.

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How is Morocco different from the US? by Sofia Deak

As my first month in Morocco comes to an end, I am starting to be accustomed to life here. I feel more comfortable with the food, am able to have an entire conversation in Darija with my host mom (albeit with many mistakes, I am sure!), and easily know my way around Rabat. As I talk to my friends and family from home, I am constantly posed with the question of “How is Morocco different from the US?”

Initially, I brushed this question off as way too broad to even begin to tackle. “In many ways they are the same!” I usually reply. Mothers walk their kids to school, taxi drivers honk in the streets, couples stroll together by the beach. I am very accustomed to looking for ways in which I am the same as other people; it is in my nature and part of my personal philosophy to focus on shared values and traits rather than the things that divide people.

However, as I have thought more about this question, the more I have come to realize that it needs to be answered. Many friends and family members expressed their shock and worry when I told them I was planning to study abroad in Morocco — a response that baffled me, as all I felt was excitement and some nerves. A cousin asked me if I would be forced to wear a veil while in Rabat, and my doctor asked me why I was not studying in a “safer” and “more Western” country. These questions, I have realized, come from the lack of an answer to that greater, vaguer, question of how Morocco and the United States differ. Even highly educated Americans might be confused about life in a Muslim-majority country and what that life might look like for a twenty-year-old American college student with a Christian upbringing.

So, with only a few weeks experience to draw on, here are a few special moments that strike me as distinctly Moroccan:

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Each Friday, my host family gathers with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for a couscous feast, chatting for hours before the meal without the distractions of cell phones or television. This is pretty foreign to me, because my family is spread out all over the US and only gathers like this for major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was amazed and touched by the closeness of Moroccan families. My family loves to dance, and oftentimes my host sister Fatima Ezzahra plays music on the TV so she, her cousins, parents, aunts and uncles can all dance and sing together in the living room . . .

One late Sunday night, I arrived at the train station with friends, returning to Rabat from a weekend trip to Essaouira. It was dark out and pouring rain; a woman sitting in our train compartment insisted on driving us home, making sure we got inside safely, and invited us to share a meal with her family. She even gave us her daughter’s phone number so we could meet some Moroccans our own age (Rim is a university student in Rabat, like us) . . .

Upon seeing my friends and I walking around in the rain, a woman rushed out of her shop selling wood crafts and dragged us indoors. She pulled a large plastic tarp from a back room, cut it into five equal pieces, and made a hole in the middle of each — homemade ponchos for us all! She gave us tea, saying we reminded us of her daughter, and sent us on our way . . .

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These are just three examples of the Moroccan values of hospitality, friendship, and family that the people here seem to really exemplify in their day to day life. I feel very lucky to be studying in such a welcoming, friendly country, and want everyone reading my blog to know that these outward acts of kindness are just one of many things that makes Morocco so special!

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

On the Marrakesh Express by Dan Fitzgerald

I love trains. Actually, I’m obsessed with trains. As a kid, I always played with and watched Thomas the Tank Engine, I read piles of books about different kinds of trains, and when I was three years old I dressed as a train for Halloween. It’s one of the earliest forms of industrialized transportation dating back to the early 19th century, and even now I can still feel a certain magic about riding in one.  If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a nerd for trains. Putting my obsession aside, you would love trains too if you rode one in Moroccan. Many tourists typically don’t use the train system in Morocco and instead use planes, but I am about to tell you a train is the best “off the beaten path” experience.

My goal since I arrived in Morocco has been to meet with real Moroccans and experience Morocco alongside them. Tourists can easily afford to ride première classe in a train, but not many locals ride in that compartment. If I wanted to truly live like a Moroccan and talk to locals, I had to go where the locals would be. Let me tell you, deuxième classe is where the fun is. The best way to describe deuxième classe is like a game of tetras, where you see how many passengers and baggage can fit into a train car since trains are always over-booked and seats are a on first come, first serve basis. Not convinced yet to brave this journey? You will be after I tell you about my trip from Marrakesh to Rabat.

 

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It was a windy afternoon at le Gare de Marrakesh when my friends and I were literally running to catch our train back to Rabat as it is just departing. The train is a rustic style from its design in the 1920s-1930s with vibrant tan and orange patterns along its side. We were the last ones on the train that was clearly overbooked and we knew that we would never get a seat. Carrying our bags in the hot and crowded spaces, we walk through the first car with no luck finding seats. Second car, still no seats. By the fourth car, I gave up. I put my bags down at the end of the car by the train doors and sat on the floor. Best decision I’ve made in Morocco.

A Moroccan man sitting across from me propped the door with his foot while the train was moving and this gust of fresh wind hit my face. “C’est d’accord si la porte est ouverte?” he asks (“Is it okay if the door is open”). I responded with a cheerful yes as I watched the country pass before my very eyes. I saw patches of cactuses and the steep Atlas Mountains, roaming goat and sheep herders who waved to me, children playing soccer on dirt fields, secluded mosque towers in the middle of expansive fields of crops. I sat by this open door with the wind blowing on my face and the smell of the Moroccan man’s cigarette on me.

 

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Soon other passengers joined us as they too realized there were no more seats on this train. For the rest of the train ride I talked to an elderly couple from Casablanca about their life in Morocco and how excited they were that “a foreigner wanted to learn Darija”, and I played peak-a-boo with a small Moroccan girl from Mohammedia who shared her cookies with me. After a weekend in Marrakesh filled with tourists and classic tourist sites like the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, it was amazing to see and learn so much about Morocco just on this train. If you want adventure and to truly see Morocco, take the Marrakesh Express.

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

“Can I get you something?” by Elyse Desrochers

“Can I get you something?”

I wake to the sun filtering in through the window pane above the spot of my friend’s couch where I had fallen asleep the night before. The bright sunlight and the snores of my other friends piled around me are alarming. Where am I?

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AMIDEAST threw students a farewell dinner where we dressed up in Moroccan clothes.

Only having returned to America two days prior, I was particularly prone to confusion of my whereabouts upon waking in addition to jumbling up the trois languages that were running through my head. Where was the bright pink walls of my bedroom in Morocco? The sound of my host mom in the kitchen preparing tea? Arabic soap operas playing on the television? I may no longer have been in Morocco, but my mind certainly was.

I roll over and check the time- 5 in the morning and I show no indication of being able to fall back asleep. So one hour passes. Then two. Then four. Finally, one of my friends emerges from beneath her covers. Eager to be somewhere we can speak without disturbing those still sleeping and famished after waiting four hours for my friends to wake up, I convince my friend to make a coffee run with me. We head towards the closest coffee and donut shop, thankfully just a short drive away.

I walk in and go up to the counter, confident in my ability to successfully order a coffee and donuts. I make eye contact with the lady as she says “Can I get you something?”. It was harsh. Direct. To the point. And for a girl that just got back from Morocco, completely astonishing.

I freeze. My mind goes blank. This was not part of the dialogue I had created in my head. How rude, she didn’t even say hello, I thought. “Ummmmm, hi,” I mutter. The next words tumble out slowly and disconnected as my mind rushes to readjust. “Can I get…. a regular coffee? Medium… oh and hot.” Success. The woman may be looking at me as if I have never before ordered coffee before in my life, but at least she understands the order.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“Can I get some munchkins?”

“How many?” she asks.

Confused, I pause. I don’t remember ordering being this difficult. Can’t you only get one order of munchkins- an assorted box? “How many can I get”.

“Anything. You can get up to 1000 if you want.”

Annoyed because it was quite clear I didn’t want 1000, I answer “Well, thanks, but I don’t want that many.”

“Well you can get a cup of 5.”

I’m exasperated at this point, and so is the lady. I just want a box of munchkins to share with my still sleeping friends. I finally ask, “What about for a group?”

She answers, “How does 25 in a box sound?”

Finally, a box is mentioned. I quickly agree and pay, eager to get of there and flustered at the situation. What just happened in there? Why was ordering so difficult? Why was she so rude?

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My family came to visit Morocco and met my host mom and host sibling. The whole time, I had to navigate the two cultural situations successfully while translating. It may have been harder than my coffee order.

Up until that point, my time since coming back to America had been simple and all together easy. Things were different, but not dramatically so. It was that experience, my inability to order a coffee and donuts in a shop I had visited regularly throughout my lifetime, that brought me back into the reality of reverse culture shock.

My mind no longer operates as it once did. I am an American, but an American that has adopted cultural practices, behavior, and viewpoints from two other cultures. Three different cultural modes “American Elyse”, “American Elyse in France”, and “American Elyse in Morocco” battle it out and understand interactions through their own lens in my head as I try to respond appropriately. American Elyse is craving a coffee and donut because of nostalgia from my childhood, American Elyse in France is alarmed that I’m considering ordering coffee TO GO, and American Elyse in Morocco is astonished that the server did not greet me and ask me how I was doing. To have this all going through my head while ordering is confusing and hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I know that it will allow me to see the world in ways that would not be possible had I decided to stay in the US for my junior year of college. And I know that it will allow me to see myself more clearly as I navigate new situations in the coming months. Let’s just hope that in the meantime, ordering coffee will become easier.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Regional Studies in French