By Ruthie Aldrich /// Staff Writer
“ So, why did you choose Morocco?”
This is a question I have received often, from my extended relatives at Thanksgiving dinner and Moroccan students at my school. People seem perplexed at my selection, but to me, Morocco was a clear choice. I wanted to go somewhere challenging and enriching, a place I might not easily be able to visit on my own.
While preparing to come to Morocco, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was anxious for all the unknowns ahead, stocking up on everything I might possibly need — from sunscreen to Pepto-Bismol. Little did I know, an amazing place awaited me. When we arrived, my first encounter was with the bustling city of Marrakech, a vibrant juxtaposition of old against new. Walking amongst the burnt orange buildings and towering palm trees, I saw a donkey cart making its way past an H&M while fashionably dressed Moroccan women whizzed by on motorbikes. The sensory overload of sounds — cars endlessly honking and people speaking in rapid-fire Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) — was at first almost too much to bear.
Marrakech was my introduction to Morocco, and it was love at first sight. I quickly found a home in this wonderful place filled with delicious food, friendly people, beautiful architecture, and a rich culture and history.
Living with Moroccan host families has made my study abroad experience even more remarkable. This aspect of the program, which I originally found the most nerve-wracking, has ended up being the most enriching, as it facilitates much deeper immersion into the culture.
Without my host families, I probably would have missed out on numerous valuable experiences, such as visiting a hammam (a public bath house), exploring hidden nooks and crannies of the medina (the old city), learning how to make Moroccan mint tea, and many more.
With all these rewards, there are also many challenges. The biggest one I face on a daily basis is communication. In Morocco, I am linguistically incompetent in a way I have never experienced. In a country where most people speak two or three languages (sometimes four or more), I am trying to get by on English and a broken mixture of Darija and French. I realize that I have taken for granted the ability to communicate with strangers or friends in simple daily interactions without a second thought.
Nevertheless, this is a challenge that I embrace and confront head on every day. I leap out of my comfort zone by practicing the Darija I have learned in my classes on a regular basis, whether it takes the form of bargaining with a shopkeeper or telling my host mom what I am doing after school.
These types of initially intimidating yet fulfilling endeavors are exactly why I wanted to study in Morocco. I learn something new every day, about both Morocco and myself. This experience has allowed me to leave my comfort zone and grow as a person in every way possible. So far, it is the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done.