Name: Connor Plensdorf
Type of Project: Study Abroad
During the past summer as my STEP project, I ventured overseas to the less-travelled North African destination of Morocco. My project entailed my studying both Arabic language and Moroccan culture at the Arabic Language Institute of Fes. This program through the University of Minnesota placed me in a local Moroccan host family with another American student aspiring to learn Arabic as well.
Having visited Morocco previously via The Ohio State University, I entered the country with a different perspective than those who experienced Morocco for the first time – though this is not to say my worldview went unchanged fro the duration. I did not believe I would undergo significant change in assumptions or sel-understanding – I had after all visited this country and city before and remained fairly knowledgeable of its culture. Or so I thought. Of that which I learned abroad, I not only developed a greater proficiency of the Arabic language; perhaps more importantly, I witnessed my comfort abroad for a moderate duration. This statement does not intend to portray studying abroad as easy on the psyche – it is not. I remained well-capable to manage with these difficulties, and if I was not, then I knew where to look and with whom to speak.
Any experience abroad changes worldviews and assumptions, and my experience remains no exception. Though I entered Morocco this summer with prior experience, I certainly developed a greater sense of the Moroccan culture from living it for an entire summer. This experience, in general, made me a more worldly individual, however cliché it may appear. I transformed from a language learner who felt afraid to speak to natives in fear of making a mistake, to a speaker who used the language on a daily basis, though by no means perfect. Furthermore, the experience morphed me into an individual more apt to accept a challenge.
My stay in Morocco for the summer allowed me to develop through the several events and interactions with the people living and studying in Morocco. Undoubtedly, my host family in Fes transformed me in regards to my confidence in speaking with native Arabic speakers, as my only form of communication with the family remained Arabic, forcing my speaking to a point of breaking my shyness barrier. Additionally, the constant use of the Arabic language in class, on the streets, and even with my American classmates allowed me to develop this increased confidence in speaking. While vastly difficult initially, the interactions with my professors, host family, and merchants created an environment for me to transform and thrive into a confident speaker of practical Arabic.
Interacting with even American and English student of whom I was not familiar allowed me to develop as a more confident person. As the only student from The Ohio State University attending this program from the University of Minnesota, I did not know how I would approach not knowing anybody. For whom would I look on the layover in Paris? Would I like them and would they like me? How will I spend two months with nobody I knew prior to visiting? These questions spun through my mind as I sat alone at the airport. Two months later, I said my goodbyes to each of these friends, knowing my chances of seeing them again remained slim. These particular interactions transformed me into an individual who appreciates friendships much more, not taking them for granted and using what time we do have to its fullest extent, as one never knows when you will see that friend again.
Lastly, and likely one of the more obvious instances leading to my transformation throughout this experience appears the self-excursions throughout the Moroccan countryside. While gaining cooperative ability and patience from coordinating these excursions, I witnessed first-hand the perceived goods and bads of the Moroccan culture. The holy month of Ramadan in Morocco truly opened my eyes to that aspect of Morocco. The hours of shops and classes were altered. The food was more elaborate. People were more religious. The atmosphere changed entirely – so much so that a brief description would not do the cultural transformation any justice. With this cultural transformation, I gained a greater knowledge of the Moroccan traditions surrounding Ramadan, as well as how these traditions differ from those outside of Ramadan. In doing so, I became more willing to immerse in the rapidly changing aspects of the Moroccan culture.
This summer abroad transformed me into the culturally apt and aspired student I need to be for my present studies as well as my future career. Confidence is key in the majority of life scenarios; having developed a greater sense of confidence in my speaking Arabic not only assists me explicitly with Arabic, but also trains me to be generally confident in my daily life – whether it be an interview or asking for aid on a project. Having this experience abroad and developing the knowledge of a culture abroad will aid me in my future career working in the United States Intelligence Community, as I possess the hard-to-obtain knowledge from cultural immersion in a nation. Not only this, but the greater willingness to learn both the language and culture and to interact with people permits me to commit more to developing my knowledge outside of the classroom to developing these skills. This more-ambitious new me rising from the summer adventures in Morocco will certainly advance further in a future position in the United States government from such an experience, as well as perfect the use of practical Arabic for personal and career aspirations. Though beyond ambitious prior to my second Moroccan excursion, I became even more ambitious for the future than I was prior – even to the point of significant life changes for my future career and life. Who knew two months could change my undergraduate and future life to the extent of this experience?