My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad trip called Global May Morocco. Over the course of the 4 weeks in Rabat, Morocco, a group and students and I learnt about modern history, politics, and culture of Morocco during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I also had the amazing opportunity to have a hands-on experience by conversing with major political, civil, intellectual figures and by visiting the Royal Library, the Royal Academy for Amazhighi Studies, the Parliament, NGO’s and the major imperial cities of Morocco such as Marrakesh, Casablanca and Meknes. Additionally I checked of surviving a sandstorm in the middle of the Sahara Desert off my bucket list.
My time spent studying and exploring Morocco was definitely a transformational experience and trip to remember. Morocco was such a beautiful country, with amazing architecture, lovely people, and a rich culture. It reminded me of other countries I have been to such as Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. One of the challenges I faced however was putting my knowledge of the Arabic language to the test. I had studied Arabic when I was younger, but never really found an opportunity to use it so I was excited for the test. It was definitely a struggle hearing myself to try to make small talk or barter with locals in my choppy Arabic and watch the locals giggle realizing I wasn’t from there. However, my host sister and some mentors from our program helped me improve my flow and pronunciation over time. They helped teach me words in Darija as well, which was the Arabic dialect in Morocco. Eventually, I improved my skills well enough to hold a conversation, and was able to barter and ask for directions on my own. I will always appreciate the opportunity I received to improve my Arabic, learn about other people through a different language. It was cool to see that even though I was different from the Moroccans, we were united through a common language.
I learnt a lot about myself while completing my STEP Signature Project. I have always tried to keep an open mind when visiting new places. I believe my previous international experiences have taught me this as I learnt about new cultures. This entire experience reinforced on how crucial is it always come in with an open mind when facing new experiences. It may different, but that doesn’t mean it is bad or good. Although Morocco had its own unique culture, I was able to spot similarities between Moroccan culture and cultures I have been immersed in, including my own. So even though Moroccan culture was different, I still found similarities to it in my own culture, which I found so inspiring and beautiful. It showed me that people can be united in some way and coexist no matter how different they may be. This trip also further emphasized by passion for traveling and expanding my horizon on the world and many cultures that exist today. Being in Morocco and Africa, inspired me to travel to every continent in the world someday and see as much of the world as possible, while immersing myself in new cultures and finding the similarities they all share.
I believe my relationships I formed with my host sister and trip advisors really helped me in my transformation to improve my language speaking skills. For example, my first night in Morocco my host sister, Ghita took me out to the markets to show me around and introduce me to some friends. I was ashamed as I had trouble with my Arabic while talking to her friends. But she encouraged me to keep on practicing with her and her friends. On Fridays in Morocco, everyone ate a special dish called Couscous and every member in the house would come together and eat delicious Couscous. Couscous is a dish of semolina, traditionally served with meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. So every Friday, we always had family members and friends come over which gave me an opportunity to practice even more. I absolutely loved how understanding and hospitality of all the people I met in Morocco. It was amazing to see this sense of community and unity in the country, and helped me feel at home.
Throughout my trip, the differences between Morocco, the United States and my own culture were obvious, yet so were some similarities. For example, in my culture in Pakistan, Friday was a very special for Muslims so we tend to reduce our work on Fridays and spend more time with family. This was similar in Morocco, I noticed on Friday’s all shops closed early and everyone would eat Couscous. However this practice isn’t apparent in the United States, as Friday is treated like any other day of the week. Additionally in my culture, there is a huge emphasis on family as there is in Morocco. Children are usually recommended to stay home and take care of their parents, and move out once married. My host brother Omar was 31 years old and still lived at home, and he told me he loves it because he comes home to home-cooked meals and loves being around family. In the U.S. some kids tend to move out when they turn 18 or when they go to college, so it was interesting comparing the two viewpoints. However I did notice several fast food chains in Morocco, which reminded me of all the McDonald’s and Wendy’s we have on High Street. I also ended up going to an Avicii concert in Morocco, which I never would have expected. The appreciation for American actors and singers was also there, so I could notice the American influence on Morocco as well.
I am confident that this transformational experience will greatly benefit me in my life. Being an aspiring doctor wanting to work with the minority and underprivileged population in the United States, I believe this experience has helped me open up my horizons on the world a lot. It is important to understand and respect different cultures around the world, and I believe by doing this I can understand more and better my relationship with my future patients throughout my career. Looking at it from a larger scale, I think it is extremely vital to understand people of cultures different from ours because if we look deeper, we could definitely find some similarities, like I did in Morocco. This experience has taught me to never be afraid to take on a new challenge, but to embrace it and have fun it with, too. I am extremely glad I went on this study abroad trip and I already know it is definitely will be one of best college experiences.