Alexandra Kolker - 2015 Program Participant

The Sahara Desert in Rabat, Morocco

On the edge of the Sahara desert trekking into the desert on camels

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I wanted an experience I couldn't get from an American university: the opportunity to experience a foreign culture by experiencing it daily and living it for four months.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Morocco?

I chose IES Abroad Rabat because the courses available lined up with my majors and minors perfectly. I was able to take literature classes for my English major, international relations courses for my international studies major, and Arabic courses for my Arabic minor. I was even able to take weekend trips to northern Morocco to practice speaking Spanish for my Spanish minor. IES Abroad Rabat also offers to help participants find internships and volunteer opportunities, which I really appreciated.

What was your favorite part about Rabat?

My favorite part of the location of Rabat, Morocco was its proximity to Europe, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Its closeness to each region made weekend trips easy, and its location in the middle of these three regions had a really beautiful effect on the Moroccan culture, which was a unique blend of African, Middle Eastern, and European cultures.

What made your program unique from other programs offer in Morocco?

Compared to the other programs that were located in Morocco who only offered internships for year-long students (if they offered them at all), IES Abroad offered internship opportunities to single-semester students. The opportunity to have an international internship without studying abroad for a full year was the deciding factor in my decision to study abroad with IES Abroad.

Study abroad students eating dinner with their host family in Morocco

Dinner in my host family's home

How did local staff support you throughout your time in Rabat?

The local IES Abroad staff were always available to help with whatever my fellow students or I needed, a problem with a host family member (which very rarely happened), adjustment to living in North Africa, explaining cultural differences, or suggesting the best place to go to buy djalabas (traditional clothing) and get a chicken shawarma.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have spent more weekends with my host family; I travelled almost every weekend to various other cities in Morocco instead. They were all gorgeous and unique, and I enjoyed every experience, but they were things I could have done after the program ended or even the next time I visited Morocco. Cities will always be there, but the opportunity to experience and enjoy day-to-day life with a family I had become part of is not something I can always return to later. My host sister is planning to move to Dubai in a few years, and my host parents are becoming old.

What was a typical day like for you as an international student in Rabat?

On weekdays, I woke up to a traditional Moroccan breakfast (lots of bread and cheese) and walked to school through the suq (Arabian market). My school day always started off with an hour and a half of Arabic language class, with history, religion, and literature to follow, depending on the day. My host-mom packed me lunch everyday, and I usually ate with my friends from the program in a tent on the roof of the IES Abroad Center, overlooking the Egyptian Embassy and downtown Rabat.

After my afternoon classes, I usually went to the beach or to a cafe with other IES Abroad students to do some homework or talk, came home for dinner around 9:00 p.m., and then went for a walk through the medina (old city) with my host sister.

What were your favorite things to do outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite activities were the weekend trips. Almost every weekend, a few friends from my program and I would find a cheap Airbnb and take a train or bus to another city in Morocco. We travelled to Tangier, Essaouira, Dakhla (in Western Sahara), Merzouga (in the Sahara desert), and even Granada, Spain for a weekend. We would spend the weekends exploring the medinas (old cities/neighborhoods) and suqs (markets), and would return with pictures and sometimes small gifts for our host families. We explored the country one weekend at a time.

The Blue City, Chefchaouen, in Morocco

Weekend trip to Chefchaouen (the Blue City) in Morocco

Can you tell us more about your accommodation? What did you like best about it?

During my months abroad, I lived in a homestay with my 18-year-old host sister and her parents. I lived in the only bedroom in the house, but spent most of my time in the living room or kitchen, talking with my sister and cousins, learning how to make miloui (traditional Moroccan bread), or watching Turkish soap operas.

What I loved most about my homestay was that I got to be a part of familial Moroccan life on a daily basis, and was always treated as part of the family. I still talk to my host family regularly, and I still feel like a family member. These connections are arguably only possible in a homestay, they would be impossible if I had chosen a dorm or apartment.

How has studying abroad in Morocco impacted your life at home?

Studying abroad in North Africa has made me profoundly appreciative of the freedoms I experience in America. The freedom to walk outside in shorts and a t-shirt if I want to, the freedom to express sexuality without fear of being literally beaten by the public, the ability to call the police if in an abusive relationship, the privilege of knowing where my taxes go, or being able to elect the leader of my country. I took all these freedoms for granted while living in the United States, and am incredibly grateful for them after my return.