Studying Abroad in the Middle East/North Africa: Conflicting Reactions

Headshot of Kiki Giles.
Kiki Giles
October 25, 2022
Studying Abroad in the Middle East/North Africa: Conflicting Reactions

Whenever anyone chooses to study abroad, they’re going to get different reactions from all the various people in their lives. That’s normal! Some people are supportive, others less so, it’s a spectrum. 

However, this difference felt exponentially more apparent when I decided to study abroad in Morocco. The fact that I was going to study abroad in an African country, especially one affiliated with the Middle East/North Africa, inspired a wild variety of conflicting reactions.

On the one hand, I had a lot of people in my life who were beyond excited about my plans to study in Morocco. They understood that Morocco would be an amazing opportunity for me to study Arabic, continue mastering my French, and expand my studies in Anthropology and the Middle East and North Africa. Then, they showed that understanding and excitement by supporting my journey.  

For example, I received advice from my professors about what my experience would look like, suggestions for getting the most out of my studies, and the resources I would have while abroad. At the same time, my immediate family was thrilled and showed their support by learning about Morocco and being engaged with my study abroad experience.

All of that support made me feel so confident and proud about my decision to study abroad in Morocco. While I already knew it was the right choice for me, there was something wonderful about knowing the people in your life are supportive and actively encouraging you. 

Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t exclusively positive. For every five supporters of my decision, I experienced a naysayer or a skeptic. 

On one hand, some people asked me if I was sure I wanted to go to Africa since there was so much disease. Others asked me how I felt about going to a Muslim country, and if I would be forced to wear a headscarf. Concerns were also raised about my education, and the people who brought this up said it would be better for me to go to Europe, where the universities were more prestigious. And, last but not least, several people asked if I was scared of terrorism in a Muslim country.

At first, it was easy to brush aside my annoyance at these questions. I understood that these people were basing these questions on the stereotypes about Morocco, Islam, Africa as a continent, and the Middle East/North Africa. In response, I tried to create teaching moments by explaining why these stereotypes were unfounded based on my own knowledge about these topics. 

Unfortunately, I found that many people were unwilling to listen to the truth. I was told I was wrong and that their beliefs and perceptions were accurate, or I was generally treated with a skeptical attitude. Then, as more people asked stereotypical questions, my annoyance turned to frustration. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t willing to learn, and it made me angry to be brushed aside in favor of misinformation. 

Eventually, I started to feel like there were some people in my life I couldn’t talk to about studying abroad because it was so exhausting to fight against their perceptions. Then, with time, I felt isolated from these people because I couldn’t share this incredibly important part of my life. 

However, despite these negative experiences, I never let them discourage me from studying abroad in Morocco. In my eyes, this program was a gateway to a new part of my life in which I was going to explore the world and pursue so many wonderful opportunities. That perspective helped me feel confident in my choice, and after having been in Morocco for a month and a half, I can confirm it was the right one.

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Headshot of Kiki Giles.

Kiki Giles

A rising junior hailing from the College of Wooster, I'm pursuing a double major in Anthropology and French/Francophone Studies with an accompanying double minor in MENA Studies and Statistical/Data Sciences. These intersecting fields brought me to my upcoming study abroad experience in Morocco, where I am incredibly excited to explore the many cultures and languages that have shaped this beautiful country. Other interests of mine include international baking, travel, and music.

Destination:
Term:
2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
Home university:
College of Wooster, The
Major:
French Language
Anthropology
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