Student Voices - A Song Inspired By a Year Studying Abroad in Morocco

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IES Abroad
August 14, 2018
philip baites tangier to casablanca cover art

Singer-song writer Philip Baites set out to improve his French and Arabic by studying abroad in Morocco. In the end, his year studying abroad not only increased his language abilities, but also gave him the inspiration for his first single “Tangier to Casablanca.”

philip baitesOriginally from Nashville, Tennessee, Philip is a French and International Business major with a minor in Arabic at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. During his first year of college, Philip began to expand his worldview by studying French and meeting international students on campus. Little did he know, these encounters and new friendships would set him on a trajectory to be an international student himself three years later when he received a Boren Scholarship to study abroad with IES Abroad Rabat for the 2017-18 academic year.  

We followed up with Philip to learn more about his experience studying abroad in Rabat.

IES Abroad: What influenced you to study abroad in Morocco for a full academic year?

spring 2018 ies abroad rabat studentsPhilip Baites (PB): For the longest time, I wanted to study abroad in France since I am a French and International Business major. I am sure that my experience would have been great there as well. However, Morocco offered both the French and Arabic learning opportunity, as well as such a different and distinct place of living.

Being an Islamic country, there were so many things that I was able to experience for the first time. I truly felt that I flourished the most being in such a new and unique place. If I had to do it over, I would choose Morocco again. It was truly life changing.

As for the academic year, I wanted to spend the most amount of time in Morocco as possible to improve both my French and Arabic. Several professors and people in my life encouraged me to spend two semesters instead of one. I am grateful for that advice because spending nine months as opposed to four months grew me exponentially as a student and person.

IES Abroad: What was it like studying two languages, French and Arabic, at the same time?

PB: Tiring and exhausting, but truly worth it. I grew linguistically in both languages but probably not as much as if I had focused on just one, but that is okay. Studying and taking classes in both languages for nine months stretched me to the absolute limit, but I now have so much self-confidence after such an experience. Even if I never use French or Arabic in my future career, I know that I can set my mind to whatever challenge awaits me. This is the confidence that comes from studying abroad and studying two very difficult languages at the same time.   

IES Abroad: Share with us your experience as a Boren scholar.

PB: Part of the reason why I chose Morocco and why I chose the academic year was because I was also pursuing a Boren Scholarship... it made me a more competitive applicant and showed that I was motivated to be around the language, and to really immerse myself in the culture and with the people... Boren was an amazing opportunity, and I will always be grateful for being selected. Originally, I was an alternate, but somehow and someway, a door opened for me to be moved up to candidate status. I took that opportunity, and I am beyond appreciative. Having that to my résumé will hopefully come in handy as I seek post-graduation employment.

IES Abroad: What was your experience with your host family like?

PB: Living with a host family truly gave me the most authentic Moroccan experience. I lived as a local, and I got to befriend and know countless Moroccans. Often times, my host family were the ones who introduced me to other Moroccans, and I believe living with a host family gave me tremendous amounts of credibility in the community to meet other Moroccans.

Living with a host family was the absolute best decision, and IES Abroad worked out all of the logistics to the very last detail. My host family is no longer just my “host family” – they are my family who happens to be thousands of miles away. It is now my goal to remain in touch with them on a weekly basis, to keep up to date with things going on in their lives, and to try to keep my languages up to speed as well. I am confident that if I am ever in Morocco again, there is a room waiting for me in the Rabat medina. 

IES Abroad: What was the inspiration for the song “Tangier to Casablanca” that you released while in Morocco?

PB: “The more life you live, the more life you pour into your music.” A good friend shared this quote with me before I left for Morocco. I think it fits perfectly with my song and the experiences that helped to shape the writing and production of it.

Beyond that, I wish I could say there was some crazy story to how I came to writing the song, but there is not. Actually, I was sitting and playing guitar one night in my room, and the chord progressions just happened. Then came the idea for the lyrics “the train from Tangier to Casablanca never runs on time.” After that, all the other words and ideas came rather quickly.

The funny thing is I have actually never taken the train from Tangier to Casablanca. I have taken many other trains, and it is true that they do run slowly. However, this is not always the case … so beware! Continuing on …

I guess the message I would like for people to take away from the song is that sometimes in life there are epic journeys that we embark upon. There is a temptation to wish that someone else could be there to experience all of the same sights, sounds, and new things. However, sometimes there are certain journeys that we are destined to walk alone. So much growth and joy come from this amazing yet difficult and lonely reality.

I am excited for people to see the video for the song [which was entered for the 2018 Study Abroad Film Festival] because it takes on this beautiful tension from a totally different perspective – the perspective of my host mother Doha after the death of her father in Canada. He was buried in Canada, and to this day, neither my host mother nor her family has been able to see his body or burial site. I was with her and my host brother Ahmed when that tragic event occurred, and I really believe it solidified the bond we now share.

“Tangier to Casablanca” is a token to my nine month Moroccan journey, but deep below the surface it now symbolizes the journey I was on with my host family and in particular my host mother.

The chorus “I am here, and you’re there” now takes on a totally new meaning for me as there is now separation between myself and so many people I grew to love and cherish who remain in Morocco. I hope this song gives a glimpse into my journey and makes listeners feel like they are in Morocco, but much more than that, I hope it stirs and prods their hearts in all the right ways.

This song is available to download, stream, or buy on various music platforms including Spotify and Apple Music.

IES Abroad: Anything else you would like to add about your study abroad experience?

PB: If anyone reading this is hesitant about study abroad or about IES Abroad, I would say that it is natural to be hesitant, and we all go through those certain seasons of doubt. However, one year from now you will not regret the decision to study abroad. You will in fact be yearning for that place you studied in to depths you did not know existed.

Study abroad is something everyone should do to expand their worldview and concept of self. IES Abroad is a top-notch organization and they are so supportive of students and help in anyway they can. I personally grew so close with all of the IES Abroad Rabat staff, and I owe a large part of the transition into Moroccan life and my wonderful journey to them. Thank you IES Abroad for an amazing and epic journey that I will remember for the rest of my life!

Want to hear more about studying abroad in Morocco from other students? Check out the IES Abroad Blogs or contact an Ambassador who has recently returned from an IES Abroad program.

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