So, is this Orientalism?

Jada Bullen
November 15, 2015

I suspect that people are going to think that I don't even live in Morocco anymore with the amount of traveling that I've done in the past few weeks. But, I'm back now! Back and feeling extremely reflective on the past ten days that I spent traveling Spain and Portugal during the fall break. After the first four days with the IES Abroad program visiting Granada and Cordoba, the (what sometimes feels like a mammoth size) group of 28 dispersed into smaller cliques to do our independent travel. For my group, that meant Madrid, Porto, Barcelona, buses, planes, bikes . . . and hostels.  Since I am new to the "young and poor, with the desire to travel" club, this is my first real experience with hostel culture. It's really a fascinating medium between a hotel and college dorm life. You sleep in bunk bed among other bunk beds, occupied by people who could be and usually are from all over the world each with their own unique story. Except . . . maybe not so unique all the time. We encountered many with a common underlying narrative:

Backpacking. This was a new and alien phenomenon for me. I mean, I understand it. You have a backpack and you travel. Sometimes with a plan, most times without . . . just with the dreamy sense that you will "discover" along the way.

We met a variety of the backpacker strain:

The militant liberal vegan

The wide eyed excitable egregious chick

The cool, calm, Australian (actually we came across this the most)

The ambiguous backpacker couple

The very unambiguous backpacker couple

The free and wild grunge girls

The intuitive and wizened single backpacker

Loner boys who read

Loner boys who don't read

The dreamy Americans with a lot of free time.

And then there was us, who weren't really backpackers but pretended to be as such for those 6 days.

This all goes to show that anyone and everyone is or can be a European backpacker, as long as you have suspended set of responsibilities, flexibility, all your physical capabilities, and obviously, money.

And as we smiled, and chatted, and danced the dance of getting-to-know-you niceties I couldn't help but think, “It really is a privilege to backpack.” Maybe, it was because I knew my time in Europe was limited. Maybe, I was all too aware that I would be returning to mediocre Wi-Fi, to overcrowded streets, to overt gender inequality . . . I couldn't help but think how easy the backpacking life must be—especially in Europe, where the language may be different, but the environment is legibly compatible to your Western paradigm.

So when extremely excitable chick, turns to us to say " Whoa! Wait. That's so cool!! You're studying in Morocco??" Or, "I'm going to Marrakesh for a few days...I'm so excited to go to Africa!" I see the exotic mystic land of Morocco in her eyes and how I, by association, have become an exotic manifestation as well.

I immediately resent it.

Not because I don't think it's true. Morocco IS cool. It's really freaking cool. But, after two and half months, the mystification dissipates and Morocco has become my life. Everyday life in a study abroad program has given me a vastly different perspective than a few weeks hitchhiking would.  

When you go party in Marrakesh for a few days, perhaps even a week, or ski in Ifrane, or walk through the medina in Rabat once, what are you really seeing? Africa? The mystic East? You fill your bag with leather treasures and painted pottery and take a picture in the desert, captioned "lost in the dunes" that all there is to Morocco?

I know it sounds like I am debasing backpacking, and that is not my intention.

There is merit in backpacking. The world is big, and our lives are short; we can’t experience every place deeply. Morocco IS cool, but it's also a bustling, burgeoning country with growing pains, and it deserves to be more than the exotified, commercialized perception of itself.

So, it was cool to be a pseudo backpacker in the Iberian Peninsula and it was cool to meet several others who are so well traveled and have been backpacking through the world for longer periods of time, but I'm happy to return to my program in Rabat.

My time here is hard sometimes. I am being molded and changed more than I expected, but this is the way I prefer to travel.

“....Yes, I study in Morocco and it's anything and everything deeper than cool.”


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Jada Bullen

<p>I am Junior studying in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. As a feminist by thought and a hipster at heart, I seek every opportunity to break the barriers, disprove the labels, and blur the lines.</p>

2015 Fall
Home University:
Georgetown University
Cultural Studies
International Studies
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