My STEP Signature Project is a 4 week study abroad trip between the countries of France and Morocco where we will be exploring the rich and diverse cultures as well as the history between the two. We went around 3 cities in France as well as 3 cities in Morocco visiting and touring important monuments, churches, mosques and museums. We learned about the history of these countries as well as the current events influenced by the past. We went on many guided tours throughout the trip and discussed how the different cultures between France and Morocco mesh and intertwine with one another.
I think it reinforced my understanding of myself how there’s so much of the world that I haven’t seen, that there is so much to learn, to see and to experience. The wonders of the different cultures and norms that each country has truly showed me how diverse the world is. At the same time, it also showed me how because sometimes we don’t understand a different culture or religion that it can lead to intolerance and exclusion, which can be intentional or completely unintentional as well. I also think that sometimes we need to take a step back and really appreciate our surroundings a little more, often we are always pressed for time and need to hurry to do this and that, but taking a step back to reflect and appreciate your surroundings that should be done more often. It also made me realize how a lot of things that we take for granted in the US aren’t available anywhere else. For example, there were no public restrooms or water fountains in France so you had pay to use a restroom and buy water.
The whole trip and experience led to a broader view of the world and a deeper appreciation or realization of a need to appreciate the things around me. By learning about the history of France and Islam gave me a broader idea and knowledge of how France in some ways exclude Muslims because Islam has always been associated with negative events in French history. Being away in France made me appreciate the things we have back home. Walking through the streets of the Medina in Morocco showed me how different and amazing other cultures are.
Before venturing out on guided tours in France, we had class where we discussed the readings from the previous night. In these classes we talked about the places that we were going to visit and gained a bit of a background information of these places, or sometimes it would be about some issues and topics related to France’s current events like the Yellow Vests and the current affairs on immigration. Throughout the classes, we learned a lot about the French history and how Islam fit in because a lot of the immigrants are Muslim from northern Africa. Because in fairly recent years, France has dealt with many Islamic extremist attacks, Islam has been heavily associated with terror and negativity. Which is why the alt-right gained support with issues dealing with immigration. Because of the lack of knowledge about Islam and the limited knowledge of Islam appearing only in a negative light, there are exclusions and moments of intolerance in France. Being in a homestay in France allowed me to experience a different way of life. For me, it reintroduced breakfast into my diet and made me realize how amazing some jam on a piece of fresh bread can be. In my normal daily routine at school, I didn’t eat breakfast but rather had an earlier lunch at around 11:30 AM. Being in the homestay with my host family trying out different foods at a different, slower pace made me realize how enjoyable the little things in life can be. From just strolling outside in the morning when the streets are quiet and not a lot of people are out and about, to having a traditional French dish for dinner while we talked about how the French and American people are similar and different.
In Morocco, I was in awe of how many different languages they were able to speak. The language and cultural diversity that was present in Morocco, and their hospitality. When we made and cooked our own tajine in Morocco from scratch. That was an amazing experience as well and made me realize how I had yet to become fully independent because I have never cooked a meal from scratch. Walking throughout the streets in the Medina and just taking in the vast amount of different things put on display made me realize the breadth of creativity and cultural difference that different countries have.
Going on this trip made me realize a lot of things about myself as well as increased my understanding of the bigger world that I’m in because I only know a fraction of the cultures and practices of the people that live in this world. It made me realize how taking a step back and enjoying and appreciating the little things in life be so peaceful. It made me realize how things we take for granted like public restrooms and drinkable water fountains are foreign concepts to people outside the US. It also made me realize that I want to understand and explore more of the world because by understanding each other can we overcome our differences.
This change is valuable for my life because I think that one should always strive for self-growth and self-development, whether it be for personal, academic of professional reasons. And this trip allowed me to grow in all three ways. Personally, because I gained a deeper understanding of myself and how I still need to become fully independent. Academically because this course taught me a lot about learning outside of a traditional classroom where we can learn so much just by talking with those around us. And professionally because this will allow me to build better bridges and relationships with those that come from different backgrounds than myself.