Top 5 Takeaways from Orientation!

Headshot of Kiki Giles.
Kiki Giles
September 16, 2022
Top 5 Takeaways from Orientation!

Hello everyone! Now that I’m officially in Rabat and two weeks into my program, I wanted to share my experiences and key takeaways from the on-site orientation program in Meknes. This series of events ended up being so crucial to helping me settle into life in Morocco and taught me five essential lessons to carry into the future.

Takeaway Number 5: Be in Touch with How You’re Feeling and Your Boundaries

I know this sounds like such a no-brainer but it is so much harder to live by than it seems. When I arrived, I wanted to hit the ground running, as if I wouldn’t experience jet lag or culture shock. However, just like every other student, I was not immune. Instead, I found a way to work with how I was feeling instead of against it.

The first step was to recognize those emotions, which was hard sometimes. This wasn’t a failure, though. It was perfectly normal, and taking the time to work through this allowed for the next step: accepting how I felt and adjusting my boundaries.

While it’s good to get outside of your comfort zone, doing so immediately after arriving in a foreign country isn’t always the best idea; and it certainly wasn’t for me. Instead, I focused on what I could do to experience Meknes while still accounting for how I felt. Sometimes this included staying at my host family’s place and doing work or spending time with them as opposed to going out into the city center. One thing is for sure, the only thing worse than missing out is burnout.

Takeaway Number 4: Participate as Much as Possible

Now, with that first takeaway in mind, I found participating in the orientation itself was incredibly important. Of course, this stems from the fact that the entire point of the program was to acclimate us to life in Morocco. Thankfully, this ended up being rather easy due to the fact that all of the orientation components were fun! The intensive course on Morocco’s colloquial Arabic (Darija), several cultural activities, and excursion to Fez and Volubilis provided me with an absolutely amazing, interactive, and enjoyable deep dive into Morocco. After it was all over, with my upgraded language and intercultural competency in hand, I felt that I was ready to get the semester started and actually be able to live in Rabat without feeling like a complete foreigner.

Takeaway Number 3: While the Darija Class is an Intensive Course, There’s No Need to Stress

When I heard this was an intensive course, I had a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, I am lucky enough to have participated in three intensive language programs in the past (one for French and two for Arabic). So, I had some idea of how to get the most out of an intensive language course. However, I still felt anxious as I never studied Darija in my prior Arabic programs, and it’s one of the most difficult varieties of Arabic to learn. 

Then I went to the first day of classes, and I was delighted to find that the class was completely different than I had expected. Sure, there was a bunch I didn’t know due to the lack of experience. However, my professor was kind and understanding when we made mistakes, had us play games to practice our speaking and vocabulary, and overall made the experience extremely positive. I moved through the course at an advanced pace without feeling overwhelmed, which is the absolute ideal situation when starting a language with an intensive course. In the end, my anxieties were unfounded, and I had a fantastic time. 

Takeaway Number 2: Start Using Your Program Languages as Early and Often as Possible

I have to admit, this was one of the most important takeaways, as well as one of the hardest. Even if you’ve been studying the language(s) of the country you’re studying in, the sheer amount of confidence it takes to use them with native speakers is huge! For example, I was absolutely terrified to speak French or Arabic with my host family, despite having studied these languages for ten and two years, respectively. I loathed the idea of making a mistake and possibly sounding like an idiot, so much so that I spoke English a lot in the first few days. 

Then, after a few days, I realized I had placed a massive roadblock in my experience during orientation. Not using French or Arabic was not going to help me improve, so I decided to at least try to work in my other two languages gradually. Soon enough, I was conversing with my host parents and their kids in a mix of French, Arabic, and English, with all of us translating certain words for each other so we could all understand. It was so fun and refreshing to be able to communicate, and I really regret not jumping into that strategy when I first arrived. 

Takeaway Number 1: Make Connections with the Other Students

This is, without a doubt, the most important thing I learned from participating in orientation. After leaving the United States, I felt lonely without my friends and family, the people who know me best in the whole world. However, I knew that I couldn’t let that loneliness stop me from actively being part of this program. So, I decided to connect with my fellow students. We helped each other with learning Darija, joked with each other while we made m’semen and tagine, had long conversations while admiring the henna we received, cheered them on during our student vs. faculty soccer game, and walked with them through Volubilis and Fez. By the end of it, I realized something incredibly important about studying abroad.

Above all, your fellow students are your innermost support network while you’re studying abroad. All of you are students who are studying in a different country, experiencing culture shock, and having to adapt to a new life away from friends and family for the next several months. There is common ground there, one that every student should take advantage of.

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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.

2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
Home University:
College of Wooster, The
French Language
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