When I initially told people I was going to study abroad in Morocco for 4 months, many of them were unaware of what Morocco actually was. Some thought it was a city in Europe or the Middle East until I mentioned that the famous American film Casablanca took place in Casablanca, Morocco.
Colonized by the French and Spanish and once a French protectorate, The Kingdom of Morocco is a North African country characterized by Berber, Arab and European influences. It is a mixture of ancient and modern languages and traditions in Arabic, French, Darija, Spanish and other colloquial dialects.
My first week in Rabat, the capital, consisted of being yelled and spit on by Moroccan taxi drivers, eating couscous with my welcoming Moroccan host family, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, walking inside the third largest mosque in Africa, learning colloquial Moroccan slang words and more.
En route to Morocco from Los Angeles, I desperately tried to not have preconceived notions about the food, culture, language or people of Morocco. I arrived with an open mind and heart and let Morocco do it’s magic.
However, during my first week here, I am still experiencing a mix of the honeymoon stage and a culture shock simultaneously. It’s a lot to digest.
When you see others travel, often there is a romanticized image of the country and its people. These images do exist in every country, but there is another side to it when you are actually living in the country for an extended period. I didn’t expect street harassment by men toward females to be a prevalent problem until I actually experienced it myself; I didn’t realize how gender inequality is dominant in many aspects of society; and I also didn’t realize how hospitable Moroccan families were, or that long drawn greetings and respect are pivotal in establishing positive relationships.
When exploring a new country, even the most mundane activities, such as walking to the grocery store to buy water becomes an exciting adventure. I see new people around the store every day and I speak to the cashier in Darija, the main colloquial tongue.
As an international relations major with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa, my main goal is to improve my Arabic speaking, writing, and reading skills. I also wish to learn more about the sociopolitical climate of Rabat and neighboring cities, multiculturalism and human rights challenges shaping the Arab world—specifically in terms of authoritarian rule, democratic transition, economic liberalization and Islamic movements.
My first week of classes are underway and I have already learned so much about the history of the Maghreb (or North African region) and am excited to learn more.
I could not have picked a better place to start my senior year of college.
Erum Jaffrey is a senior majoring in international relations. Her column runs every other Friday.