Overcoming the Language Barrier

Skylar Sundquist
March 5, 2020
A view of the Atlantic Ocean from Rabat

I’ve been in Morocco for a little over a month now and I am finally feeling adjusted to my new home. Here's the deal -- I came to Morocco knowing absolutely no French and no Arabic, two of the languages that are widely spoken in Morocco. This language barrier was incredibly challenging in the beginning but I've learned how to communicate through it.

At first, it was easy to forget how hard it would be to live somewhere and not know the language. I was in Morocco, surrounded by new people, new landscapes, new languages, and a new culture. It was thrilling and I was excited about everything. It helped that my program started a few hours after I landed in Morocco. So for the first few days, I was busy doing orientation things. We toured Rabat and saw many of the famous sites (see my favorite view in the pic above).

The challenges of studying abroad slapped me in the face on the third day. I went to the hanoot (think of a small convince store) to buy a bottle of water with other IES Abroad students. I had no idea how much the water cost, I wasn’t familiar with the money in Morocco, and I could not communicate any of this to the person working at the hanoot. Thankfully, the hanoot employee was patient. He showed me the price of the water and he slowly counted my change so I would understand the currency.

I Ieft the hanoot unscathed with a bottle of water. Buuuuuuuut, I was incredibly overwhelmed. Buying a bottle of water at home would be the most insignificant part of my day. Now it was a struggle. I realized I was in for a challenging semester. 

After a few days in Rabat, IES Abroad took us to a different city, Meknes, to continue orientation. In Meknes, I lived with a host family and I took a Survival Darija Class (Darija is also known as Moroccan Arabic). The class was three hours a day. At the beginning of the week, I struggled to understand anything that was happening in class. I desperately wished I would have gotten further in Duolingo’s Arabic program. As the week went on, I slowly got better and better at comprehending what was happening in class. By the end of the week, I learned several basic phrases that helped me talk to people when I was out in the world.

View of Meknes from a window

The view from my homestay in Meknes

At the end of the week, we took a final exam. The exam felt like a huge accomplishment. I went from knowing absolutely no Arabic to taking (and understanding!) an exam. The next day, IES Abroad took us on a field trip to Volubilis, the ruins of an ancient city, and Fez, a large city in Morocco. The trip felt like a celebration for completing the Darija Class. 

Sunrise over an ancient city

Volubilis at sunrise

After orientation, we came back to Rabat. I moved in with my new host family, started taking classes at the IES Abroad Center, and exploring Rabat. A month later, I feel confident navigating Rabat. I can order at restaurants and cafes. I can easily buy a bottle of water at the hanoot. It’s not like I became fluent in Arabic overnight. I just got a lot more comfortable being uncomfortable. And I’ve learned to use a lot more nonverbal communication. Lots of pointing, gesturing, and a few Arabic phrases have gotten me really far in Morocco. This isn't something I could have prepared for, I just had to jump in and figure it out. 

It's been challenging but it's also really rewarding to see how much I've grown in the last month. I'm excited to continue learning Arabic this semester. 




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Skylar Sundquist

<p>Hi! I'm Skylar. I'm a senior at Hope College, majoring in Chemistry on the premed track. The semester I study abroad is my last semester and I will graduate (and apply to medical school) when I come back to the States! I am thrilled I get to study abroad before I graduate. I am so excited to share the adventures I have while I study abroad in Rabat, Morocco with you all. After 3.5 years of all science all the time, I am looking forward to taking a break and explore Morocco with&nbsp;IES Abroad. I am most looking forward to learning Arabic and living with a host family.<br><br>Fun Fact: A few summers ago I drove from Michigan to California to hike in Yosemite and see a total eclipse!</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
Hope College
Big Rapids, MI
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