STEP Reflection: Morocco

This past May I traveled to Morocco and participated in my first study abroad program through Ohio State. The class associated with this program focused on so many different aspects of Morocco such as culture, religion, language, art, gender roles, history, and more. I was able to fully immerse myself in the culture by interacting with my host family as well as taking part in a wide variety of excursions and activities as a class.

A couple summers ago I had the privilege of traveling to Tanzania with a volunteer organization. I was in Tanzania for about 4 weeks and our main objective was to help a village in Zanzibar to build a school. During our off days, we indulged in some stereotypical African excursions, such as going on a safari. Tanzania almost perfectly fit what I thought of when I thought of Africa. From the people, to the food, to the landscape, it was all basically what I had previously envisioned Africa to be like. Traveling to Morocco was a very different story. I had very little background knowledge about Morocco before this trip. I knew where it was geographically because I had seen it once before while I was in Spain. However, I knew nothing about the landscape, culture, or anything really. Almost immediately after arriving, despite the fact that we had been traveling for nearly 36 hours and it was around 3 in the morning, I could tell that this experience was going to be drastically different than my last trip to Africa. There were no wild animals roaming around; there was real infrastructure and transportation; initially it seemed very westernized.

What I am trying to get at is that this trip taught me to be open minded about traveling and to not create expectations based on completely different experiences. I have been very fortunate to have so many wonderful opportunities to travel and see the world within the last few years. This was the 15th country I had traveled to since I began traveling 5 years ago. Traveling has allowed me to better understand others and other ways of life, and this trip was no exception. With every new country I visit I can feel myself transforming into a more accepting person of other’s ways of life and different cultures, especially those that are drastically different than my own.

One of the things that made this trip so wonderful was my amazing host family. This study abroad program involved homestays, so I was paired with a family consisting of a mom, a dad, two brothers, and a sister. They immediately welcomed me with open arms and such inexplicable kindness. Living with a Moroccan family allowed me to fully immerse myself in the culture in every aspect possible. At first we had a really hard time communicating because I do not speak Arabic and my host mom, who primarily communicated with, did not speak English. We had to get creative with our hand gestures and other forms of non-verbal communication in order to exchange ideas. But we quickly learned to manage. I think this was a really good lesson in the sense that even when there is a huge language barrier; it is still possible to communicate through other methods.

Another really awesome part of this trip was that we were able to travel all around Morocco and experience different cities and cultures. Our host families and the IES center were all of our classes were held were located in Rabat. However, throughout our time in Morocco our class went on three different excursions and we were able to visit 6 other cities. It was really interesting how different the culture, food, and language was from city to city. For example, Tangiers is located pretty far north and is very close to Spain (you can actually see Spain on a clear day) and everything here was very westernized. People in Tangiers wore shorts, skinny jeans, and tighter shirts. In contrast, when we traveled to the desert, everyone here dressed extremely conservatively, despite the extremely hot temperatures. Just how I incorrectly assumed that Morocco would be similar to Tanzania, I thought cities throughout Morocco would be similar, but this was not the case at all. Once again, this emphasized the point that when traveling and trying to learn about other cultures, it is not a good idea to create expectations based on previous experiences, but rather it is better to go into these experiences as if they are a blank slate.

Finally, I think all the interactions I had with the IES staff members really helped to transform my perspective about learning about other cultures. All of the staff at IES were so helpful and excited about sharing every aspect of Morocco with us. I really appreciated their honesty because they did not sugar coat things to make them seem more appealing to us. Instead, they were always very straight forwards and honest. I felt like they really helped me to experience a truly authentic experience while I was in Morocco. If it weren’t for them, I do not think I would have had such meaningful and fruitful adventure. I learned so much from them and I am forever grateful for that.

I think it is so significant and valuable to learn about other people’s way of life and cultures because we are all different, but when it comes down to it, I think we also have a lot more in common than we initially think. I think the first step to learning and experiencing a new culture is just being willing to be open minded and willing to try new things. I have learned so much throughout my travels, but none of this would have been possible if I was completely shut off to anything new or different from what I know in the United States. For me personally, I have always dreamed of having a job that will allow me to travel and continue to create and grow relationships with people all over the world. This study abroad program helped me to stretch my horizons even more by living in a new country and experiencing a culture completely different from my own.

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