The friendly term yalla was one of three phrases I learned in Arabic when I visited Morocco a year and a half ago. For the first couple of days, I idly wondered why our guide kept saying “y’all” this and “y’all” that - until I stopped to ask him what he meant. How sheepish I felt to learn that he was encouraging us in the right direction and was not, in fact, poking fun at our American slang.
Salaam-alaikum (peace be upon you, my second of three phrases), my name is Brianna Gist and I’m a junior studying Linguistics, Government and French at Georgetown University. When I’m not exercising or watching Jane the Virgin, I’m most likely curled up somewhere with a bowl of popcorn reading the latest fiction or romance novel. Professionally, I’m interested in the intersection between international affairs and language, and I would love to pursue a career in diplomacy and peace studies, humanitarian aid and development, or language revitalization (or all three!).
In 2017, I had such a wonderful experience visiting Casablanca and Marrakech with my family and promised myself that somehow, I would return to the country. When considering my options for study abroad, my top priority was to experience a culture that would radically change my outlook on life. I could not think of a better way to breach my comfort zone. Morocco presented itself as the most appealing of opportunities because it met my goals to revisit Morocco and experience a change of pace outside of traditional Western culture.
After spending half a day running around the house, I’m relieved to say that I’m 95% packed for my study abroad in Rabat. Travel pillow? Check. Medicines? Check. An empty bag to bring back replete with goodies? Double-check. Up until this point, it hasn’t felt real that I’ll be taking classes across the Atlantic for a whole semester, and explaining it to friends and family is like informing them of vague plans in the distant future - you never know if they’re going to happen, and you’re almost always surprised when they do.
As I look back and forth between my computer and two thoroughly plump suitcases, I’m reminded that my study abroad experience is no longer a theoretical concept. God willing, it will safely commence in less than three days when I board my flights at Chicago O’Hare Airport. My biggest concern is being away from my parents for such an extended period of time, I’m going to miss them much more than I’m comfortable admitting to myself. It will be hard knowing that they’re so far away, but we’ll have WhatsApp and Skype just as we would when I’m at school. Coupled with the homesickness, it will also be hard not to have access to a plethora of worldly cuisines as is customary in D.C. and Chicago. I’m a huge foodie and enjoy everything from dim sum to home-cooked Mexican food - but who’s to say that Rabat won’t have a diverse array of its own?
I have the utmost confidence in IES Abroad and in their facilitating of our transition into student life in Rabat. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the program, its host families, and the experiences of students who have returned. The thought of exiting the airport to greet a member of the IES Abroad staff brings a smile to my face, and even though I’m nervous about leaving my family, I’m excited to meet my host families and become apart of the IES Abroad community.
Apart from my worries, everyone asks me about what I’m looking forward to in the next four months. Strangers often expect me to mention meeting new people or exploring the country, and many of my family members guess that I am most excited about the food. Despite the fact that these are all true statements, I’m most looking forward to learning Arabic.
As a linguistics major, it’s kind of a cliché that languages are the aspects that excite me most. I grew up speaking Spanish with my mom (she’s Puerto Rican), and even though I have a lot to work on with my writing, I can speak Spanish pretty well and have little trouble understanding it. I learned French in high school and continued my studies at Georgetown, and I will readily admit that I’m much more comfortable speaking French than Spanish. Even though both languages are important to me, I have always wanted to venture outside of the Romance-language-bubble and try something new. Arabic has been at the top of my list because it is one of many gateways to history, faith, and linguistic complexity. It has such a rich system of vowels and consonants!
I’m feeling the weight of learning the language - quite literally, my suitcases cannot hold anymore textbooks - and the excitement of the adventure to come. After running a few more errands and removing more unnecessary items from my luggage, I’ll feel even more prepared for the semester.
Shokran, thank you for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy keeping up with my adventures as much as I have enjoyed beginning this blog. I look forward to the next update, but until then - yalla!
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<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>