An American Abroad: Notes on Gratitude

Alex Ennes
July 23, 2017

During our IES Abroad orientation in Rabat, there was a session in which the students in my program collaboratively listed things we were nervous about and things we were excited for. Everyone had different anxieties and interests, but one student was excited for something that I found particularly unique: he was excited to gain a greater appreciation of life in the United States.

I’ll be honest. When I initially heard this, I probably rolled my eyes. I was too eager to absorb a culture completely different from my own before I gave a second thought to American life. After all, I didn’t come all the way to Morocco just so I could miss the United States. Instead, I was one of the students who listed things like new food, learning about customs, and improving my language skills as things I was excited for – things that would only occur within the specific context of being abroad. American lifestyles were the last thing on my mind.

Although I dismissed this student’s comment at first, as my time in Morocco progressed, I quickly understood the sentiment behind this statement. I’m not one to get homesick – I go to school far away from my family and home. I usually only go home for my university’s allocated breaks. However, my time in Morocco was different. For perhaps the first time in my life, I found myself missing the comfort of my bed and the ability to trudge downstairs on a cool summer morning, waking up to my dogs and a fresh cup of coffee.

Slowly but surely, I discovered that studying and living in a non-Western country inspired a much greater appreciation of a Western lifestyle. The decision to stray away from Western countries for my study abroad experience was the best one I ever made, but it was certainly difficult to commit to such a different lifestyle for two months. Ultimately, I think I have learned much more than I would have otherwise, making this choice worth its weight in gold.

I learned all sorts of things while in Morocco, from the tangible to philosophical. I learned how to make mint tea and rafisa (a traditional Moroccan dish), how to properly greet a Moroccan, how to disconnect from a life of technology, how to live without Western comforts like air conditioning while you’re sleeping, and so much more. All of this learning was outside of the classroom and was absolutely priceless. I’m incredibly grateful for all of the knowledge I’ve gained from living in Rabat for two months, but I’m also grateful because it illuminated my appreciation of my own country.

Like there are countless things I love about Morocco, there are equally countless things I love about the United States, and they’re things I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t studied in Rabat. For example, I love the ability to read signs in my own language and completely understand every person I interact with. I’m grateful that (although it’s still a huge problem) our country manages its homeless population better than Morocco. I now appreciate that I have unconsciously absorbed social norms and customs while I grew up so that I don’t have to stop and think, “What’s the right behavior during this custom?” as I so often did in Morocco.

And there’s parts of Moroccan culture that I’ve taken back to America with me. In Rabat, I spent a lot of time with my host mom, who introduced me to her parents, the family next door, and parts of her extended family. In general, families in Morocco are much more tightly-knit than in the United States. I’ve always had a close family – for most of my childhood, we would have weekly Sunday suppers with my maternal extended family. I’m proud to come from a close family, and seeing this pattern repeated in my Rabat host family has strengthened my appreciation for my own family.

Of course, I learned a lot in Morocco that has nothing to do with American culture, but now that I’m back in my home country, I’ve realized that it inspired a gratitude that I had never anticipated. This summer, I was honored to have an experience in a foreign country that illuminated the appreciation of my own.

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Alex Ennes

<p>Alex Ennes is a sophomore majoring in English (Creative Writing concentration) with minors in Arabic and Criminal Justice. She comes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she enjoys spending her time reading and writing on the beach or taking her dogs for walks down to the dock! Alex currently lives in Philadelphia exploring her passions for reading, writing, learning languages, and playing music at Temple University, where she is also a Resident Assistant and Owl Ambassador (tour guide). Alex will be spending Summer 2017 in Morocco through IES Abroad&#39;s Rabat Summer: Francophone Studies and Arabic Language Program.</p>

Destination:
Term:
2017 Summer 1, 2017 Summer 2
Home university:
Temple University
Major:
Criminal Studies
English
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