Why did you decide to study abroad?
I decided to study abroad to complement my major (international relations) with real-world international experience. I chose Morocco because of its uniqueness, the chance to learn Arabic, and the opportunity to learn more about Islam.
If you could tell someone one reason why they should go, what would you say?
Your study abroad semester will be the subject of many "mosts": the most fun, the most memorable, the most inspiring, the most enjoyable, and the most enriching. It is hard to throw yourself into a new environment where you feel like an outsider, but the places you go and the things you experience will remain with you forever.
What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?
My most memorable experiences abroad were the times when I would go shopping with my host mother in the souk, the traditional marketplace. My "Oomi Hanan" (mommy named Hanan) would glide effortlessly through the crowded marketplace in her floor-length jelleba (traditional dress) while pulling me along on her arm. She was a real stickler and flirt with the shopkeepers, demanding only the best, most fair price. When she haggled for me she would tell me to go hide myself somewhere so the shopkeepers wouldn't know that the foreigner was buying the item and hike up the price. During our time together in the market we talked about everything from food to travel to religion. She told me one day that I was "la plus sage de tous ses enfants," the wisest of all her children.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to face while studying abroad?
My biggest challenge living abroad was dealing with street harassment. Feminism and women's rights aren't as pervasive in North Africa as they are in the United States and Europe. Although the street harassment hardly ever turns violent or threatening, it did make me uncomfortable. Street harassment is also a case of cultural relativism: is the action unacceptable? Or is it just a facet of culture that I, as a westerner, have no right to judge?
What was your first week like abroad?
My first week abroad was a whirlwind of new people, places, and experiences. ISA provides a weeklong orientation in several different cities around Morocco. I met up with the group in Casablanca, where we went to the giant mall of Morocco, spent time on the beach, and saw the mosque of Hassan II. Next was Marrakech, which is a bustling city in the south. Marrakech looks just like a scene out of the Arabian Nights; there are snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, henna artists, and monkeys on the giant square, the Jemaa el-Fna. Deep in the souk (the marketplace) you can find things as diverse as chameleons and watermelon juice. On the road from Marrakech to Meknes (my home city), the bus stopped at a beautiful canyon with a waterfall, called the Cascades d'Ouzoud. My ISA group spent the next three hours eating lunch over the falls, running around in the mud, and climbing up around the falls to the top of the canyon. My first week abroad was one of the best weeks of the program; I made 35 new friends while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of Morocco.
Would you recommend this program to others? Why or why not?
Yes, I definitely recommend ISA Morocco. The resident directors are like family and the apartments and host families make for the best possible experience. While the academics aren't as challenging as at Saint Anselm, your knowledge of the culture and traditions of Morocco and of Islam will expand significantly. I recommend picking a study abroad location that is unique and different. While studying abroad in London or Paris isn't a bad choice, you are more likely to go on a family vacation there than to Morocco. Now is the time to try something different!
Express two or three things that help us to understand how you felt living in the city of Meknes.
Meknes is a traditional city situated in Northern Morocco between Fez and Rabat. The city is divided in two by a riverbank that cuts through the center of town. On one side of town is the old city, which contains the souk (traditional marketplace) and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, the man who restored Meknes to greatness in 1672 by choosing it as the capital of his empire. On the other side of town is Hamriya, the new city. Hamriya is composed of modern buildings, high-rise apartments, and French-style pastry shops. The divide between the two is characteristic of Moroccan cities and society in general, where traditional and modern coexist side by side.
A really fun part of living in Meknes was its "public transportation." Public transportation consists of Grand and Petit Taxis, two different sizes of sedans that run on the road as taxis. Grand taxis run on a route, much like a bus. You can signal to get out anywhere and the driver will pick up anyone along the road who signals that they need a ride. The sedans fit four people in the back seat and two in the front, not including the driver... so sometimes it's a squeeze. Petit taxis are more like regular taxis, where you rent the car for the whole ride just for you.
What advice would you give to students to help them in choosing a program?
If you are studying abroad with the intention to improve or gain language skills, be sure to choose a program that facilitates language immersion, either through classes in the target language or by living with a host family. I lived with a host family in Morocco and I learned a great deal of the local dialect. My friends who lived in an apartment with other American students did not have the same language immersion experience.
In addition, all of the study abroad providers have very active social media sites. Go on Twitter or Facebook to check out blogs, photos, and testimonials. This will help you get a feel for the study abroad provider and what they have to offer.