Why did you decide to study abroad?
I decided to study abroad because I love travelling and it worked perfectly with my major. I grew up in a very small town in Maine and I seldom travelled outside of New England. I also grew up in a predominately homogenous community so I had never experienced much diversity. I wanted to be able to experience another culture, religion and environment. Most importantly, I wanted to live in a place that was radically different than Maine. People have different reasons for studying abroad, deeply experiencing another culture was my reason. I am white, a woman, and Catholic and I thought the perfect culture shock would be to go to patriarchal, Arab, Muslim country! And it was!
If you could tell someone one reason why they should go, what would you say?
Go because you can! The opportunities at Saint Anselm are endless if you take advantage of them. Once you graduate your opportunities to travel like this diminish. You will never regret if you do go, but I can guarantee that you will if you don't. The study abroad office has so many resources and affiliates that it works with that they make the process of study abroad so easy. So take the opportunity now when it's easier and the opportunity is there. Not only that, but you will make friends that you will keep for the rest of your life. I still keep in touch with my seven roommates on a daily basis. And because you share such a unique experience with them you bond so much quicker and easier with people you might not necessarily have open yourself up to at home.
What did you accomplish while you were abroad?
It took travelling to Africa to make me realize and admit to myself that I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. And that that was ok! I was always the girl who knew since middle school what she wanted her college major to be. But if you asked me what I wanted to do with it that was another story. I had so much free time that I did a lot of self-reflecting. I finally decided to declare an Economics minor. I had given up Mock Trial after my freshman year, which I enjoyed and had done for 8 years, and I decided to rejoin my senior year, which I have. I also learned to be more accepting of others opinions and to have a deeper understanding of not only my Catholic faith but Judaism and Islam. And I took a good long hard look at my life and realized I wasn't happy with it so I refocused and took the necessary steps to fix it.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to face while studying abroad?
The biggest obstacle I faced was the language barrier. Arabic is not only a different language but I had to learn a completely different alphabet and how to write the different symbols. I had never studied Arabic before so I was taking an Arabic 101 class. It was difficult to do basic things like go to the grocery store, hail a taxi, ask for food at the market etc. But I learned an important lesson, and that's that communication is more than words. I learned how to ask basic questions, and I made sure to memorize my numbers and fundamental vocabulary words so that I was able to function on a daily basis. My friends, both American and Moroccan, helped to fill in the rest. The best thing about it was that a lot of the natives noticed how hard I was trying to speak Arabic so they went out of their way to try and help me. You will learn that your obstacles often become really good teaching experiences.
What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?
Camel riding in the desert with my friends! It was a bucket list item of mine since I was a child. Our program directors rented tents in the desert from the indigenous Berbers for 3 days. At night we ate, talked and danced to Moroccan music. We rode in dune-buggie like cars, wearing hijabs, and before it got dark we took a camel ride through the Sahara. Not only did we get to watch the beautiful sunset we rode on the camels under the starry sky when it was pitch black. It was a perfectly picturesque moment that you couldn't photograph you just had to live it! But overall my most memorable experiences were with my roommates. I lived with 5 girls in an apartment called "Azhar III." There were three other American girls, who lived in the apartment above us, who came over so much that they basically lived with us as well. It didn't take long for everyone to get close and by the end of the semester we were like our own "Azharian family." We ate together, went to school together, studied together, travelled together and lived together. Thus, almost every memory I have of Morocco involved my Azhar roommates. My experience riding a camel was perfect because I shared it with my amazing friends.
Was your experience abroad more, less, or equal to a semester at Saint Anselm? Why?
Saint Anselm is a one of a kind place. Studying abroad will be nothing like studying at Saint A's. I can't say that studying abroad and studying at Saint A's are more or less than other because they are so different. In my opinion, they supplement each other perfectly. Studying at home is a very spiritual thing for me. Not only am I able to learn new subject matter but my spirituality grows as my studies move along because of the Benedictine nature of the college. Saint A's emphasizes, "faith seeking understanding." What better way than to implement what I have learned at Saint A's by seeking to understand another religion and culture.
What was your first week like abroad?
My first week, while very fun, was really hard. It takes people a while to get to know me because I don't open up very easily so it was difficult for me to bond with people right off the bat. On top of that, I got really sick from the change in diet, which is very common. My roommates thought that I was depressed because I laid in bed when we weren't out on our daily excursions. Fortunately for me, I got better, and my roommates invited me out a lot which really helped me to slowly open up to them and have more fun. That transition was difficult but after a week or so I snapped out of it.