The countdown in my phone is telling me that there are only 13 more days until I board a flight from Detroit to Madrid, where I will muster up some confidence and slowly make my way to Rabat. So many pieces fell into place for me to end up at this moment. The hunt for studying in an Arabic-speaking country was one that took YEARS. I have ended up with a college-budget-friendly program that places me with an Arabic-speaking host family (a rare pleasure in the world of study abroad) in beautiful, colorful, overwhelming Morocco. I am feeling relieved that the search is over, grateful to all of the people who helped me figure things out, ecstatic to get lost in a Medina, and aggressively nervous if I think about it all for too long.
I have spent the last couple weeks procrastinating my normal U.S. life to dig deep into the depths of articles on the internet and YouTube vlogs, desperately grasping for any kind of helpful detail to answer any of the below questions. There is a surprisingly limited amount of detailed blogs on the Internet about Morocco. I have picked up a few tips from my extensive travel website creeping, but I have not yet been satisfied.
Here are five things that are plaguing my brain that I look forward to answering in a couple months!
- How will communication with the host family go?
I have taken 3 years of the Arabic language, but Moroccans have a colloquial dialect that I will need to get around. The Arabic department at my university is very small and it has been difficult to get into the classes I need. I feel like I know absolutely nothing as I beg my Arabic-speaking friends to tutor me in exchange for a cup of coffee. I am nervous that my host family will not understand my Arabic. I do remember that the early stages of my quest to fluency in Spanish included a lot of charades, so I am hoping that will be a useful alternative!
- How do I barter/act like a local at the souk?
No matter what I wear or how much I try to copy locals in Rabat, I will always stick out in the place where locals comfortably reign: the market. I will be so susceptible to scams due to being a silly foreigner, and I am afraid that I will be too shy and docile to barter. Morocco, how will you teach me to be firm? Where are the best places to avoid being quickly labeled as an unsuspecting tourist?
- What in the world should I wear?
I hate to freak out about this because 5 years from now I will not remember what I packed or wore on this trip in comparison to the beautiful ocean/desert/amazing people/food BUT as an experienced female traveler, it is simply a big deal. I have read countless articles and stalked countless local Moroccan-girl Instagram profiles, but I am still so lost and trying to pack as light as possible. I have resolved to pack what is most comfortable for me, and I am keeping it pretty conservative with options that will both withstand the heat and cover my shoulders and knees. The last thing I want to do is make local friends and family feel uncomfortable.
- Why do I keep hearing that catcalling is so horrible in Morocco?
Of all the negative things that people love to say about Africa and the Middle East, my friends and family are way concerned about the catcalling. However, from what I have read, the men who do this are not actually trying to kidnap you and take you away or something. It’s not a real threat to my safety and wellbeing. In Peru there were so many cars honking at women, in Mexico there were a lot of unsolicited attempts for my phone number, and in Spain there were uncomfortable stares from married men, but I still am in love with all of these cultures and people. I would normally just give the catcallers a chastising stare (yep, full grandma/angry mother) but not engage, and I plan to continue on the exact same life path. I am interested to see if the media-sensationalized rumors are true, and how to best handle it.
- How do I explain to my friends in the U.S. what I am doing?
When you decide to choose a non-traditional study abroad location, the questions do not stop rolling in. I have been bombarded with all of the possible questions. Arabic speakers wonder why I would ever choose to learn Darija over other dialects. Friends wonder why I would willingly try a new kind of toilet. My former host mom in Spain keeps sending me articles about people getting bitten by snakes in Morocco. I’ve literally even gotten a Facebook message from someone way back from a high school government class (3.5 years of no contact) asking me to comment the level of oppressiveness of the religion. I am upset that we are so unfamiliar with this culture, but thrilled to have the opportunity to delve in.
I hope that by the end of this, I have some insightful answers to share to spread some familiarity in the Western world with the non-secular world. I am doing my absolute best to leave behind any subconscious cultural notions of “correct” and “incorrect” and I hope to face every situation with an open mind and an open heart. I can’t wait to take in what the people of Rabat have to offer me and I am anticipating each learning experience. Here we go!