The afternoon was surprisingly less sweltering an hour before my first class at the local university, but my hair was frizzing up around my face from the humidity. Mohammad, one of the teaching assistants at the IES Abroad Center, is escorting me via tram to the university that I had already visited a couple times. We are making small talk, but I’m distracted from trying to memorize each stop of the tram so that I can do it by myself next week. The students around us who are also on their way to class are looking me up and down. I lower my voice so that my English isn’t as noticeable.
The door to my classroom is closed tightly and murmurs of a lecture rumble on behind it. The class time had changed for the third time and I had a special arrangement with the professor to come in 30 minutes late each Friday so that I didn’t have to leave another class early. Today is my first day meeting everyone, and I am horrified to be walking in late and to be escorted.
Mohammad pushes the door opens when he realizes that I’m not going to from nerves. The professor stops talking and all of the students turn to stare. I gingerly take a seat next to a kind-looking girl and the professor asks me to regurgitate a brief biography of myself. I have been concentrating on Arabic for the last couple weeks and so the Spanish comes uneasily at first. I stutter a couple times and finally explain that I’m from the U.S. and I will be taking one Spanish class at the university while taking other classes at another institution.
The people around me buzz with questions but the professor stops them and resumes his lecture. I start to breathe again and my heart returns to a normal pace as I fold into the background and the students finally turn their attention away from the strange American girl.
Professor Agmir talks about the early beginnings of Al-Andalus, the once Muslim-dominated southern region of Spain. I know all of the names and dates already because I’ve taken a similar class at my home university, but I scribble them down again anyways. The professor keeps stopping to say things like “I’ll take a moment to explain the 5 Pillars of Islam to the American over there” and offers many helpful cultural anecdotes, but everyone’s eyes pierce me again every time he does this. (4 class periods later he is still doing this…but I don’t have the heart to tell him that I’m taking several extensive Islam and Moroccan cultural courses).
At the end of the class, several girls come to chat with me. They are all in the Spanish program and add me to a group message with all of the other kids in their year. Two girls even tram and walk back to the medina with me – Ikram and Hasna. They are both very different personalities, but we all have so many questions spilling out and they are filling me in on cultural tips about the dating culture or life before marriage. We realize that we are neighbors in the Old Medina (old city area of Rabat) and resolve to get coffee all together.
It’s been a few weeks since the start of my class at the university. The class has been changed again and I now go on Wednesdays if the professor shows up. I’ve made a couple friends and I am constantly working to keep up with the WhatsApp group that switches furiously between Spanish and Darija.
Every Wednesday is an adventure because the classroom keeps changing. The old nerves come back sometimes when I walk through the crowded campus alone, but when I successfully leave without any mishaps there is an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Many of the students are not fond of the professor because they think he’s strict, but he thinks that they don’t pay attention. I’m grateful for how flexible he’s been and I appreciate that he tries to catch me up on Moroccan things, even if it embarrasses me. After living here for a couple months, I’ve accepted the feeling of standing out in a crowd.
More Blogs From This Author
<p style="margin-bottom:12.0pt">I am a Michigan native studying Global & International Studies, Arabic, and Spanish. I am a slow traveler and I value getting lost, staying with locals, and learning new languages and traditions. This fall, I am eating my way through the amazing food of the Maghreb and asking a lot of questions about camels, how to barter, and how to say “more tea please?” in Darija<span style="text-autospace:none"><span style="font-size:16.0pt"><span style="font-family:"Times",serif"> </span></span></span></p>