My Step Project involved a May Session study abroad experience in Morocco’s capital city in Rabat. The experience consisted of classes during the week days as well as homestays. During the weekends I went on several excursions throughout the country to various parts of the country including The Sahara desert, Marrakech and Casablanca.
For the first time I got to experience life in a developing country. I saw lepers, starving livestock, pacts of feral street cats, people begging for food on roadsides and plenty of health and safety standards that would never pass for legal in the United States. All of these things have served as a vivid portrait of the standards of living most people face in the world. These things were hard to digest at times, but at no point did I want to miss any details. Seeing these things have made me a more understanding and less materialistic person.
Each day I had little adventures that led to personal change. For example, during my homestays I learned to shower using only a large bucket filled with hot water and a ladle, in principle it wasn’t so different from a regular shower but in practice it felt much more primitive and took some getting used to. I also learned to navigate the cities in a country where traffic laws were really just suggestions. It was dangerous to cross streets but understanding that pedestrians get opportunities rather than right-of –ways was eye opening in more ways than one. I also had to learn how to identify what street foods were safe to eat and which weren’t. Near the beginning of the experience I got food poisoning which will refrain from getting detailed, but it reminded me that health standards are the responsibility of the consumer to follow.
While there are few recorded instances of terrorism in Morocco, the amount of security had me believe otherwise. Regular policemen were not armed, however, near every major landmark there were heavily armed guards patrolling. They seemed to be passive but their presence alone gave the opposite intended effect. It felt somewhat like a terrorist attack was something that was suspected to happen at some point or another. This was a real possibility there as it is stateside I suppose but unlike in Morocco, the only time one really sees heavily armed police patrolling around is after winning a National Championship.
The last and most important thing that led to my transformation while abroad was the unrelenting presence of orientalism. Everywhere I went, people were trying to sell me the feeling of being in an exotic land. I was horrified when I saw a malnourished camel trained to chug entire bottles of Coca-Cola for tourist’s entertainment. Upon going to hotels cultural appropriation was never far away. Many hotels featured bands dressed in colorful clothing playing traditional music to the drunken western guests. For a country with more than a thousand more years of history than the US the amount of attempts to entertain foreigners with phrases like “authentic” and “traditional” became somewhat pitiful at times.
Another valuable part was that for the first time, I was a religious, racial and cultural minority. I experienced mild discrimination such as price inflations while shopping at small businesses. I didn’t mind it that much, I understood that none of it was personal or for the purpose of making my life more difficult, just someone else’s easier. I came out of this with a better understanding of the privileges I have being in the majority of my own country. The overall personal impact this experience has had on me is that I’ve become a more global citizen meaning that my world view no longer includes that of what I have experienced in a first world country and what the media portrays of the rest of the world.
Going forward I hope to never stop humbling myself through travel. By many standards, Morocco was not so different from the rest of the Western world and there’s always more to see. I think experiences that would generally be considered unpleasant like visiting a war-torn country or not having access to modern medicinal facilities are the most valuable and character-forming times one can have. In the future I’d like to see more places that can provide more of these life-affirming and down-to-earth experiences. My STEP experience was a great segue into this goal as I got to see what I wanted while still maintaining some familiarity and level of safety.