After I had decided to go abroad for semester, the most popular question was “Why Morocco?” Having been to Morocco twice before, I still did not have a way to adequately explain the magnetic draw of the country. After spending an additional two months here, I have settled on the Hannah Montana lyrics, “You get the best of both worlds!” Morocco is the perfect mix of familiar Western culture and new and challenging experiences.
One major facet of studying abroad for a semester is the ability to travel to places outside of your host city. Though I live in the small community of Meknes, I’m just a three dollar train ticket from the bustling city of Fes, a couple hours from the industrial city of Casablanca, and a solid-nap’s length away from the capital, Rabat. The diversity within the country is amazing. You can see heavily European influenced cities, like Tangier with its Spanish architecture, and smaller more traditional towns, like Chefchaouen the blue city. But not only is it easy to travel around the country, there are a few major airports that run cheap and short flights to Europe. This past weekend, I was able to hop up to Italy to spend a couple days eating and touring Rome. The proximity to Europe means I can briefly experience those cultures as well as immersing myself into the Moroccan one.
Even though Europe is just a ferry or plane ride away, Morocco maintains a unique and fascinating culture. As a student of both Middle Eastern Politics and Arabic language, this is one of the best places for me to be right now. I am using my language skills, both standard and dialect, daily through 12 hours of Arabic classes each week and interacting with my community. Moroccans are much more community focused that the US or even Europe; when greeting someone, they always ask if “everything is good?” and “how is your family doing?” The influence of Islam runs deep in their culture, extending the love of peace and fellow humans to daily interactions. Saying hello and catching up quickly with the door attendants and shop owners has become a daily routine here. The hospitality and compassion extends past just short interactions; my Moroccan professors go out of their way to help and welcome us. One of my professors drove some of my peers to the train station after class one Friday to ensure they made it to the beach on time. My art professor made our class an enormous pot of couscous one Saturday and invited us to come and bond as a class. We sat around a large table and ate the Moroccan style – straight out of the pot with our hands. It was delicious and messy!
I am so grateful that I chose this beautiful and welcoming country in which to spend my semester. I have the creature comforts I need (like the occasional trip to KFC or McDonald’s) but I most importantly have the opportunity to immerse myself into a culture that pushed me to be a kinder and more generous person while practicing my Arabic and making lifelong friends.