I wanted to go abroad to not only build a solid foundation in my target language, but to also meet and connect with people from an Arabic-speaking region of the world. I wanted to gain a new perspective on my home country, my host country, myself, and to become more open-minded and self-sufficient in the process. Most importantly, however, I wanted to be an active participant, rather than a spectator, in a culture vastly different than my own.
Why did you choose CIEE?
I chose this program because its length allowed me to be immersed in another culture, while also preventing first-time travelers from becoming overwhelmed. It also allowed me to see a lot of the country in a relatively short amount of time, as well as help me improve my Arabic.
What was your favorite part about Morocco?
My favorite part about Morocco was, by far, the people. Their hospitality makes it very difficult for one to feel uncomfortable or out of place, and they are willing to help however they can. I forged friendships that are bound to last a lifetime, and this is due in large part to the kindness of the Moroccan people.
What made your experience abroad unique?
My experience was made unique by the fact that I was able to communicate and live with people in my host culture. I didn't feel like a tourist- I felt as though I was learning to live as a Moroccan. I was able to ask Moroccans about how they saw the world, about issues that were important. I wasn't just going to cities, snapping pictures, and leaving. I was traveling, eating, and talking with people who knew Morocco from the inside, and it radically changed my perception of the world.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff were with me every step of the way. If I had a question or a concern, someone was always available to help. There was someone to walk me home if I felt it necessary, and I was even able to receive free Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) tutoring when I needed it. I never felt as though I was imposing if I needed to contact anyone about anything. Without their help, my time abroad would've been much more stressful.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had successfully kept a journal. The rigor of the day usually left me nodding off by 7:00, but I wish I could've at least written something every day, rather than falling behind and catching up.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
On the "long" days (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays), we had two classes, Darija and Modern Standard Arabic, for a total of five hours. We would wake up, eat a breakfast of bread and olive oil, and head to school. Modern Standard Arabic was from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and was catered to our personal levels, so I was placed in the beginning Arabic class.
After that, we broke for lunch on our own, which was usually something in Agdal, close to the study center (though during Ramadan, one's options are significantly limited). We would return around 2 p.m. for Darija, where we were all in the same class, and learn until 4:30 p.m., sometimes 5:00 p.m. Most days, there was also an optional cultural activity, which could range from surfing to making Moroccan bread.
Once we returned home, we would eat dinner with our host families. During Ramadan, this meal usually consisted of harira, a traditional soup, and hard-boiled eggs. Once Ramadan was over, it was usually some type of tajine. Needless to say, it was always delicious.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed exploring the medina, which, thanks to my host family's location, was right outside my door. I bought beautiful, vibrant scarves and djellebas, and practiced my bartering skills when I bought a leather backpack. Rabat is pretty accessible and not too overwhelming, so if I had access to a taxi, I was usually seeing as much as I could of the city. When I wanted to relax, however, I bonded with my host family by conversing with them.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived with a host family in the heart of Rabat's medina (the old part of the city). I loved living with Moroccans, of course! By the time I left, they didn't feel like my host family, just my family. I was able to really experience Ramadan and Eid, and compare Moroccan daily life to American daily life. I was able to practice the Arabic I had learned that day over a warm meal, and help out with chores around the house. The fact that my family was located in the medina was convenient and added another layer to my immersion, so that, too, was a big plus.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
The days are long and the coursework will test you, so I would really evaluate how serious you are about learning Arabic before you commit. On the bright side, your Arabic will improve, I guarantee it. There is definitely time to relax and have fun, but it isn't called an intensive program for nothing.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
It has vastly improved my confidence and my problem-solving skills, and has made me a more open person overall. It robbed me of my proclivity to judge others and bestowed me with patience and empathy. I arrived in Morocco speaking no Arabic whatsoever, and returned speaking at a level most reach after a year of instruction. It also affirmed my aspiration to travel and work with people from other cultures for a living, and it gave me what are sure to be lifelong friends.
Would you recommend your program/provider to others? Why?
I will be the first to recommend both CIEE and this particular program to others. The price is well worth it, considering the fact that you travel to so many cities and receive so much instruction. The willingness of the staff to assist, and the time you're given to spend mingling with Moroccans is really invaluable, as well. I could not recommend this program more.
Hannah Lynch is from Savannah, Georgia. She is a freshman at the University of Georgia, pursuing a double major in Arabic and French. Hannah has only traveled to Morocco, but would like to use her knowledge of and passion for the Arabic language and the Arab world to help those from the Middle East and North Africa however she can, and to bridge the divide between East and West.