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“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.

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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.

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Until next time!

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“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:

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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.

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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

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“Marrakech and Learning More about Myself” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

This past weekend I traveled to Marrakech with two friends from AMIDEAST. We organized the trip ourselves with suggestions from the program, and on Friday afternoon after class I found myself on the train heading off to Marrakech for a busy weekend. The plan for the weekend included touristy activities in Marrakech like visiting the Jemma el-Fnaa a square located by the markets of the medina and the Bahia palace and gardens. Below is a photo with my two friends from one of the courtyards in the Bahia palace.

courtyard bahia palace with ayesha and mariah

We also planned a day trip to the waterfalls of Ozoud on Saturday. I loved being more independent during this weekend and applying other skills like time management, communication, and self-awareness, that I have developed during my time so far in Morocco.

While on the train from Rabat to Marrakech, which lasts about five hours, I finished some of my readings for the upcoming week of classes. The trip gave me plenty of time to look out the window, read about comparative political theory, and chat with other people in the train compartment. I managed my time so that I could enjoy traveling to really beautiful places, while also balancing my academics. I am motivated to manage my time well because I am living in such a beautiful country.

Once in Marrakech I had the opportunity to practice some of the communication skills that I have developed while in Morocco. I put my Darija knowledge to good use while bargaining with taxi drivers to lower the cost of a fare and while bargaining for pottery in the souq– market. This weekend I also texted with my language partner about my travels and practiced more of my Arabic with her.

Throughout the weekend I tried to continue to be self-aware and to know myself more. This skill is one I am always trying to improve. I reach out for help when I need to. On Saturday morning this meant calling our program coordinator to help explain the situation to a taxi driver who would then take us to the waterfalls. Ozoud helped me to reaffirm how much I love nature and how happy it makes me. The long taxi ride back to Marrakech on Saturday evening provided me with time for journaling and self-reflection. By taking time to process all of the beautiful moments and also the harder moments, I discovering more about myself and what I love. This was the beautiful view of the waterfall.

ozoud

Sunday morning before catching the train back to Rabat, I went to the Bahia palace and the Ben Youssef Madrasa. I spent time on the train reflecting the skills I practiced during the weekend, writing down research questions about public transportation, and scrolling through my camera roll. Here are some of the photo highlights of the Bahia Palace and a photo me at the Ben Youssef Madrasa.

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bahia palace stained glass

 

 Bahia palace

Until next time!

 

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“Successfully Adapting to Moroccan Life” by Allison Brady

In my time abroad, I have found that the small and seemingly insignificant disappointments add up to make the biggest impact.  Little differences like availability of groceries or products, while expected, can turn into nagging frustrations if I let them.  For instance, I have spent the better part of my grocery-shopping time scouring aisles for pre-prepared lunch or snack items with more protein.  As an almost daily runner and a lazy cook, I am used to my favorite filling groceries back home: Greek yogurt, deli meats, tofu, and any number of soy-packed products marketed to the protein-obsessed American like me.  Here, these items are either virtually nonexistent or sold only at high prices and in tiny quantities.  Another disappointment has been the search for favorite cosmetic and personal care products.   I wasted an embarrassing number of shampoo and conditioner bottles before finally finding an available brand that satisfied my vanity, and numerous visits to nearby supermarches and even pharmacies have still left me empty-handed for a couple items.

Obviously, each of these are silly little “disappointments.”  Still, the overall feeling of never knowing where to find a previously taken-for-granted part of life can become exhausting after a while.  Slowly, however, I am learning to adapt.  I have learned the brand of yogurt with the most protein to snack on, and though it is sold in smaller sizes that I am used to, I admittedly prefer the flavor to even my favorite brands from home.  I’ve learned that my favorite hanoot sells fresh hard-boiled eggs and little laughing cow cheeses individually, which make a great and filling lunch when combined with the always abundant Moroccan Khubz.  I also have new favorite Moroccan snacks, like addicting local chip brands, or fresh fruit and juice available at practically every street corner.  This weekend, I got a little confidence boost from assisting a couple English-speaking tourists to determine the price of some fruit at one of these stands.

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A street corner fruit juice stand in Casablanca

I’ve learned new beauty routines, like going to the hammam for full-body exfoliation in these famous Moroccan public bath houses.  In the old medina, I have learned to bargain for little unique items like $5 “Ray Bans” sunglasses or $1 “Kylie” lipsticks.  They may not be authentic to the brand names on their labels, but they are authentically Moroccan!

These successes in adapting to life here may seem as trivial as the disappointments, but an increasing confidence in the small daily routines that make up life really makes me feel relaxed and at home here.  This weekend, I decided to lean into this feeling by staying in Rabat and relaxing in my favorite places with a friend.  We wandered through the old medina, walked along the ocean, and enjoyed the end of the day at the Kasbah Oudayas.  At this last stop, I pulled out some of my “insider” knowledge to go watch the sunset at the Kasbah terrace overlook.  As I had learned my very first night, technically the overlook closes at seven, but in Moroccan fashion after a chat with the friendly guard he offered us ten minutes to take some pictures.

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Pictures at the Kasbah with my friend, Jessica

As I continue my time here, my goal is to keep in mind that disappointment occurs when I feel frustrated that Morocco is not America, but that my greatest success is to let it become home anyway.

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“Building Perceptions and a Home in Morocco” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

Over the past month I have been confronting the expectations I formed about Morocco pre-departure. Before coming to Morocco I made a conscious effort to try not to fantasize about what my experience would be like. I didn’t want to make conclusions relying solely on other people’s truths and experiences. I wanted to form my own perceptions and conclusions based off of my own lived experience and observations. In the past month, I have begun this process of building my own understanding of what Morocco is like. Yet, at the same time I find myself having to reconcile this new understanding with past subconscious expectations. Despite trying to avoid forming concrete expectations, wonderful stories told to me by family members, friends, and classmates about their experiences in Morocco in turn influenced my own vision of Morocco.

For example, pre-departure I imagined that Morocco would have delicious tagine, palm trees, and a hot climate. These expectations are certainly simplistic and my life here is so much more varied and multi-dimensional. I live in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and spend most of my time in the city. As a result, a lot of my new observations revolve around city life. I have been surprised by how many little blue taxis race down city streets and how crowded the tram can become. I knew there would be palm trees, but didn’t realize there would be so much cactus along the sidewalk. I was aware of the legacy of French colonialism in Morocco. Yet, it is only after living here that I understand how French is still so intertwined with Moroccan life both in bureaucracy and in social life. Private schools teach some subjects in French and store owners often speak to me in French. A lot of my learning about Morocco follows the similar pattern of, I knew this aspect, but didn’t realize the full implications of the issue. The reality is that Morocco is much more nuanced and is not fully captured by generalizations.

This past week, village mountain life became a part of my understanding of Morocco. I participated in an AMIDEAST organized excursion to Zawiya Ahansal in the central high Atlas Mountains. Zawiya Ahansal is a rural mountainous area made up of four villages situated along a river. It is also one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are rocky paths tracing the mountain sides looking down upon lush farm land supported by an irrigation system fed by spring water. 600 year old restored granaries look out on the setting sun and at night the Milky Way paints the sky with light. Now when I envision Morocco, I will remember this special place. I also now know about challenges in Zawiya Ahansal. NGOs like Atlas Cultural Foundation and Association Amezray Smnid tackle community issues like clean water access, public education access, bus stops, and public health knowledge etc. These challenges, along with the beauty of the area are now part of my understanding of Morocco as a whole. The most surprising element of my time in Morocco is how at home I felt in the mountains.

village viewroof view of sun and mountainsOn the last night in Zawiya Ahansal, I sat down on the roof of the house where we were staying and just looked in complete awe at the world around me. In that moment I tried to etch the view, the sun’s colors, and the feeling of peace into my memory. I am hopeful that I will find a similar sense of belonging in Rabat.

Until next time!

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“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