Reflecting on Rabat: Re-Acclimating to Life in America

Brianna Gist
December 20, 2019

On one of the outdoor walls of the IES Center, a beautiful quote is written in Moroccan Arabic that discusses the virtues of travel and acquainting ourselves with the unknown. As a student, one of the greatest privileges I’ve enjoyed is the ability to immerse myself in new experiences. I’m eternally grateful to my teachers and professors for the wealth of knowledge I’ve learned in academic settings; yet, I’ve found that traveling and living abroad has encouraged me to think critically and respectfully engage with others in previously unexplored ways, and has enabled me to adapt and empathize more than I ever thought possible.

Before I left, I was nervous about studying abroad and living with a host family inside the medina. In fact, I was so apprehensive that I decided to conduct as little research as possible about Rabat for fear of disliking what I found, which could have prompted me to select another location entirely. A large part of me wanted to be surprised and thrilled by my surroundings, and given that I had traveled to Morocco once before with my dad and stepmom, I thought I was adequately prepared for the adventure abroad. Spoiler Alert: doing no research was a terrible idea! Much like neglecting to study for a final after reviewing the material once or twice, I was nowhere close being prepared to make the jump from “tourist” to “resident.” 

If I had done my research, I would have found that living in Morocco - much like living anywhere else - would provide me with a more comprehensive dive into the culture as I learned my way around the medina, haggled for goods, slept without heating, and adjusted to sharing a bathroom with everyone in my host home. I was not expecting to partake in the thirty-minute walk to and from classes everyday, and certainly was not expecting as many concerns about my security around walking alone in the medina and leaving my home at night. It was a pleasant surprise to have enjoyed more wiggle room in my budget with transportation, activities like surfing, and treating myself to the more-than-occasional pastry from the closest café, given that the cost of living was more affordable than in America. 

I’ve been home for about a week now, and I haven’t been as affected by reverse culture shock as I’d expected. Sure, the U.S. has huge cars and is serious about customer service, but with the exception of recovering from a fever and transitioning back into American food, I haven’t faced too many problems with re-assimilation. The largest challenge I’ve encountered is explaining the positives and the negatives of my time in Morocco to my fellow Americans, trying to help them understand my time living in such a unique society and debunking preconceptions associated with Islam, North Africa, or the Arabic language. Apart from “Where is Morocco?” the most common question I’ve received is if I was required to wear a hijab or scarf, which I can understand after having seen media coverage about women in Iran or Saudi Arabia (however the answer is no, I was not required to wear a head scarf). 

I’ve also observed that among Americans, popular consciousness about the world is divided into those affairs that concern “America” and those that concern “the rest of the world.” Perhaps this is influenced in part by American media, which tends to focus on events within the states, or because the U.S. is geographically and linguistically isolated from consistent inter-cultural exchange. I’ve noticed that when I talk to a number of Americans who haven’t had the opportunity to travel or live abroad, their perspective about foreign cultures is limited (understandably so, because you can’t know what you don’t know), compared to my host family or program coordinators in Rabat who seemed to know more about current affairs in Europe and the Arab world. My time in Morocco has reiterated my understanding that there are wonderful, important differences between cultures of the world, and as global citizens we are tasked with doing the best we can to build mutual understanding by sharing our experiences with others.

Living abroad has reminded me to be thankful for my health and the financial ability to explore the world, and has engendered in me a newfound gratitude for the comforts of living in the United States. Even though it’s been wonderful to spend the holidays with my friends and family, I miss my host family, the fresh produce (particularly the freshly-squeezed orange juice), and the IES team in Rabat. I’m looking forward to continuing my study of Arabic and North Africa, and Inch’allah I will return soon for the next whirlwind immersion experience!

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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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