Living in my Discomfort Zone

Brianna Gist
September 9, 2019

It’s only been a week since we left the U.S. and it already feels as if a month has gone by! The days have been full of activity and even though I’m still tired, I feel like my body is finally adjusting. Before I begin, I must mention that my roommate, Lindsay, and I just got pulled into an impromptu dance session with a group of women (whom we don’t know) downstairs. It was so much fun!

The first 24 hours were filled with lots of questions, sights, and introductions. We landed at the airport and were shuttled to the Hotel Belair, where we chose our roommates and enjoyed a cup of mint tea. After resting for a few hours, we boarded the bus for an evening of dancing and eating at a traditional Moroccan restaurant. In the morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and drove to the IES Abroad Center for our first of three comprehensive orientation sessions.

Over the next couple of days, we visited the IES Abroad Center and enjoyed the sights of Rabat. We took a tour of the Old Medina, the Royal Palace, and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V with Mftl, our most exuberant guide. The orientation sessions were not too long and provided extremely helpful information around cell phone usage, transportation, norms between men and women, and expectations with our host families (Pro-tip: If you plan on purchasing a Moroccan SIM card for your phone, make sure your phone is unlocked or jailbroken before coming). I was particularly nervous when Imane Rimi, our Program Coordinator, reiterated that we shouldn’t expect the same bathroom accommodations we’re used to at home - many host families shower with buckets instead of a shower head.

Before I knew it, we were whisked away to Meknès, where the weather is warmer and we began our darija (Moroccan Colloquial Arabic) classes for the next ten days. After arriving at the English Highway Center, Lindsay and I were driven home by our host mom, Mama Zineb. She and her husband, Kamal, live a 5-10 minute walk away from the center and have been an incredibly kind and accommodating host family. Mama Zineb can throw down in the kitchen: not only does she cook delicious couscous and tajines, she surprises us with homemade pizza, casseroles, french fries, fried fish, and spaghetti for dinner. She even assists us with our Arabic homework (especially pronunciation) and our laundry, for which we were very grateful after a busy week under the sun.

In addition to our darija class, we have greatly enjoyed supplementary group activities such as African dance, pottery, calligraphy, and cooking classes. We had a blast playing soccer and taking a tour of Meknès by horse-drawn carriage; however, the most eventful aspect of our time in Meknès was our day trip to Volubilis and Fez. Volubilis was an ancient Roman city inhabited from the first century BC to the third century AD, and we walked through the ruins to appreciate the remains of former bakeries, bathhouses, statues, and water drainage systems. 

Fez was an adventure in its own right. Our guide was incredibly well-informed and led us through the produce, dye, bronze, textile, and leather quarters of the medina, skillfully navigating us through the small passageways and negotiating with vendors. The textile factory was fascinating, and even though the tannery stunk to high heaven, I got a great deal on a red goatskin purse. Please stay tuned for a post on medinas, there’s a lot to unpack surrounding dynamics and conduct.

Despite the enriching experiences described above, I must also mention the past two weeks have pushed me into my discomfort zone. No matter what I wear, it has been incredibly uncomfortable to walk through the streets and ignore the catcalls, stares, and comments made by men in public. Women are cautioned not to make eye contact with men on the street, and are even prompted to dress in a more conservative manner for everyday activities. I am still adjusting to life with little air conditioning, a smaller range of diversity in cuisine, and different bathrooms than those at home. As a result of these (and other) changes, I’m working through an allergic reaction, troubles with my stomach, and difficulty sleeping, which has left me emotional, irritable, and at times, overwhelmed. 

In the U.S., these situations do not normally befall me. I recognize my privilege in saying so and living here has already given me a glimpse into a new way of life. Bit by bit, I feel like I’m managing the lifestyle differences more fluidly. Patience is the hardest part - it’s my first time living abroad and adjustments take longer than two weeks! I was surprised at how much a cold shower, an Oreo ice cream bar, and a little bit of exercise helped, in addition to talking things over with other students in the program. 

Today, we leave for Rabat and will begin classes on Tuesday. Shokran (thanks), Bsslama (goodbye), Meknès! I hope to come back one day and look forward to the adventures that await in Rabat.


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Brianna Gist

<p>I am a rising junior studying Linguistics, Government, French, and Spanish at Georgetown University. If all goes right my my life, I would love to devote my career to diplomacy and peace studies or to preserving endangered languages. I am a proud Chicago native and a huge foodie who loves to swim and do bikram yoga. At school, I am a writing consultant specializing in humanities papers, blogs, op-eds, and presentations, and I also sing as a soprano in the Gospel Choir. It is a privilege to be studying abroad in Morocco, and I greatly look forward to my time in Rabat!</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
Georgetown University
Chicago, IL
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