When studying and traveling abroad it’s easy to fall into the trap of just checking things off a list. You can keep track of the number of countries traveled to, new restaurants tried and museums visited, but at the end of the day it’s hard to say you truly know a place without getting to know the people.
Each semester, IES Abroad Granada takes a five-day trip to Morocco as a group. We spent our time exploring and indulging in the rich culture and delicious foods of Tangier, Rabat, Asilah, Ouezzane, the Rif Mountains, and Chefchaouen. Above all, though, we spent five days making connections and getting to know people.
One of my favorite things about the trip was that it was truly focused on getting to know Morocco in present day. A lot of times when you travel as a tourist you find yourself exploring facts of the past and history that once made the city significant. While this is still really interesting context and we did learn about Moroccan history, the focus of the trip was instead on the people that we had the privilege of meeting and gaining a broader view of what life is like outside of the tourist destinations.
Over the course of five days we spoke with students and young professionals in Tangier, various NGO leaders, university students in Rabat, a family living in the Rif Mountains and had the chance to stay in a homestay in Rabat. Through this vast range of people with varying ages, gender, backgrounds and beliefs we were able to get a more complete picture of the cities we visited by having smaller-scale conversations.
These exchanges gave us all, both Americans and Moroccans, the opportunity to learn from each other and look past the preconceived notions we might have had. I was amazed to hear about the language education system from teachers in Tangier, charmed by the idea that an older couple in the Rif Mountains also fight over the TV remote and captivated by discussions of dating culture and common Moroccan Arabic expressions with students in Rabat. All of this we could not have read in a guidebook or heard on a tour. I was energized by all that I had learned from simple conversations in Morocco and reminded that I could do the same at home in Granada.
It’s been about two weeks since we’ve returned from our trip and since then I’ve been trying to put my “people first” policy into action in my host city. I’m making the effort to meet more students, grab a coffee with new internship colleagues, spend more time with my host family, and be less intimidated to use my Spanish to get to know people.
My best advice for students studying abroad is to do this right from the start. Talk to the person next to you on the bus, say more than just hello to your waiter, join a student group at the local university, take a group of American students and go to a language exchange event. You can feel like you’ve seen a lot of your host city after a few months, but there’s always more to explore when you start looking to make more connections with the people that make your new home such a vibrant and exciting place.
Whether you’re crossing the Strait of Gibraltar for a trip or spending the weekend relaxing in your host city, put people first on your list of to-do’s and you’ll discover a whole new side of study abroad.
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<p>Hi, I'm Nina! A proud Jersey girl and sophomore at Penn State, I have a passion for all things food, music, culture and crafting. Join me as I test my Spanish skills while living out my Andalusian adventure this semester!</p>