Chloe Zagrodzky - 2015 Program Participant

Camel riding in the Sahara of Morocco

Trip to the Sahara

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I wanted to practice my French, pick up some Arabic and challenge my worldview by experiencing a culture that is significantly different from my own.

Why did you choose IES Abroad?

I choose IES Abroad because my school's Office of Off-Campus Study highly recommended them to me. That in combination with the fact that they offered a French language program in Francophone Africa made it an obvious choice.

What was your favorite part about Morocco?

The best part of being in Morocco is its unique historical and geopolitical position. Being at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Europe means the Morocco offers the opportunity to explore global issues from various complex viewpoints. As a political science major, I specifically enjoyed learning about immigration amongst these countries on a macro scale. 

Rabat as a city was a great location because it's the capital of Morocco, meaning that there were opportunities to visit Parliament and other important governmental and non-governmental organizations. Additionally, Rabat is not one of the major tourist cities in Morocco, so it was easy to integrate into city life.

What surprised you most about Rabat?

What surprised me the most about Rabat was its European vibe. I think Americans have a perception of North Africa, and Rabat completely shattered that for me. It was much cooler than Texas (my home state) and there was a mixture of traditional markets and more modern shopping areas.

What aspects of your program made it unique?

This program is unique because it gives you the opportunity to learn and practice not one, but two different foreign languages. My French improved a lot and I picked up some basic Arabic as well. This program is also unique because it gives participants extensive opportunities to explore Morocco, West Africa, and southwestern Europe. If you're hoping to study abroad and travel to places off the beaten path, this program is perfect.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Communicating with the locals wasn't difficult. People in Morocco are very friendly. It definitely helped that I had taken French, though, since my Arabic was very basic.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

All the students were very close with the local staff. They went out of their way to teach us about Moroccan culture by hosting cultural workshops, inviting us to cultural events, and even welcoming us into their homes for cultural celebrations. In terms of the day-to-day, the staff was great about connecting us with resources around town, including doctors and places of worship.

Meknes city gate, Morocco

Meknes city gate

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

I wish that I had spent more time exploring Rabat. Since this is a summer program, most of the day was spent in class. While I certainly got to do some interesting things, like attend a film festival, I wish had spent more time investigating all that Rabat has to offer.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I would normally wake up around 7:30 a.m., eat breakfast with my host parents and then head to school. We had class from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m., with a two hour break for lunch. During lunch, I would usually work on my reading or run errands. Then, we had class from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. After class, the IES Abroad Center occasionally hosted cultural activities, ranging from cooking classes to soccer games to volunteering. Then, I would go home and either head to the gym or practice my Arabic with my host brother. After dinner, I would meet up with some friends at a cafe and do homework until I went to bed around 11:30 p.m. or midnight.

What was your favorite thing to do on your free time?

I really enjoyed exploring the local markets. Morocco is famous for its "souks," and some truly amazing things can be found there. I learned to barter and enjoyed getting the local deals on items (like leather or argan oil) that are normally sold to tourists at a higher price.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I stayed with a host family. I really liked living with a host family because it gave me an idea about the daily life of a Moroccan. I experienced Ramadan and Eid, which I would not have appreciated as fully had I been living with other Americans.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Morocco?

One thing I wish I had known is what is and is not acceptable to wear. I fortunately erred on the side of more conservative, but I didn't know that I could wear things like short-sleeved shirts. I also wish I had known that people way over-exaggerate the problem of catcalling in America. Besides a couple of harmless greetings, I found that American catcalling is far worse than it was in Morocco.

Leather tannery in Fes, Morocco

Fes leather tannery

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Rabat?

I would recommend packing your own over-the-counter medication since the dosage and brands are quite different in Morocco. Pepto Bismol is a must; Moroccans eat a lot of oil, sugar, and bread, so most people on my program had difficulty adjusting to the diet. Also, bring sunscreen! There is a lot of sunshine and sunscreen is very expensive and hard to find in Morocco. Women: pack bottoms that are long. Nothing should be shorter than knee length. T-shirts are fine if they're not tight. Also, bring scarves so you can hide any cleavage while out in public during Ramadan. If you're going to travel to rural areas, bring more conservative clothing.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part of studying abroad for me was accepting that the little things I was used to, like air conditioning and exercising daily, were not present or possible abroad.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

The biggest benefit of study abroad is the confidence you gain from it. Doing simple daily tasks in a foreign country, especially in one where you're speaking your second or third language, requires a level of maturity and self-sufficiency. I think that studying abroad made me more confident in my ability to work out problems and figure things out for myself. Regardless of major or career path, I think everyone can benefit from study abroad for that reason.

Now that you're home, how have your experiences abroad impacted your life?

Now that I'm home, I find that I have a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between the United States and North Africa. I'm more inclined to think critically about media reports surrounding issues in Africa than I was before. Furthermore, I have more confidence in my abilities to solve problems and work with people who come from different backgrounds than I do.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

If I were to study abroad again, I would love to go to either Turkey or South Africa. Morocco definitely fueled my interest in exploring more non-western countries.