When I hesitantly clicked “submit” on my study abroad application last semester as a sophomore who had never stepped foot on another continent, and much less on one on the other side of the ocean, I would have never imagined meeting the people I have met, seeing the sights I have seen, and living the experiences that I have experienced and will remember for years to come. As a first-generation, low-income student, I have never had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States besides Cuba, where my family is from. For me, study abroad presented the opportunity to travel to other countries, a privilege that was not afforded to me so far in my lifetime. Although I had my resignations–after all, I would miss my friends, who made the rigorous academics, harsh climate, and isolated location at my small liberal arts college worth it–I decided to take a leap of faith, not knowing what awaited me on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Although I love my college and the top-notch education it provides, as an Arabic Studies major, I wanted to immerse myself in the culture that I was studying. Despite being the best liberal arts college in the nation, Williams is a predominantly white college located in the Purple Valley, a euphemism for the Berkshire mountains that surround us and isolate us from the rest of the world. In fact, the college is known as the “Purple Bubble”—nestled in between mountains and isolated from the rest of the world, academics supersede the events that unfold in the real world, limiting our ability to be knowledgeable citizens aware of the world around us. The more time I spent on campus, the more disconnected I felt from the world. I wanted to take in each day as it came with a newfound sense of gratitude for being alive, rather than being stuck in a purgatory of endless readings and assignments, counting down the days until the next break would come. Caught in a constant cycle of hoping the time would pass faster to make it to the weekend, I lost sight of the joy of living in the present moment.
As said by the late Russian cinematographer Andrei Tarkovsky, “...knowledge leads us away from knowledge…the more we learn, the less we know.” We get so deep in a sea of endless abstraction—of black ink on white pages—that we lose sight of the broader view of life and the world that surrounds us. I chose to study abroad to experience learning outside of the classroom and immerse myself in Moroccan culture, which is as varied and diverse as the topography of the country itself. I’ve surfed off the coast of Rabat, danced around a fire to traditional Amazigh music in the Sahara Desert, explored the labyrinthine medina of the ancient imperial city of Fes, and traversed across the Atlas Mountains to Chefchaouen, the iconic blue city. To me, learning does not just happen inside of the classroom—rather, it is a process that occurs when we step outside of our comfort zone.
Learning the Arabic language in a predominantly Arabic-speaking country has opened up a whole new world that was once closed off to me. To me, the world is an elephant, and we are all blindly grasping for the truth yet limited by our own perspective informed by the limitations of our language, culture, and personal experience. The opportunity to be immersed in an Arabic-speaking country has enabled me to touch different parts of the elephant unbeknownst to me before, allowing me to come closer to seeing the world in its entirety from different perspectives.
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I'm from Miami and I attend Williams College, a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. In my free time, I love journaling, ranting about politics with my friends, and befriending stray cats.