Mapmaking

I am all arrived in Morocco and officially two full days into my study abroad program! The last four days have been very overwhelming but also very incredible.

I left for the airport Saturday morning, and to be honest, I was terrified. I went over my packing list ceaselessly to make sure I didn’t forget anything (mission failed because I accidentally left my sunglasses back home.) Eventually, I stopped telling myself the words of encouragement like “It’ll be so rewarding!” or “What an amazing and once in a lifetime opportunity!” Instead I just told myself, “You have a ticket and you’re getting on a plane.” And I did, and I only cried twice.

Traveling internationally for the first time was not nearly as terrifying as I expected. I didn’t get deported, despite some Delta employees’ concern regarding my lack of visa, and I never got lost in the Paris airport. However, I’m convinced that sleeping on a plane is nearly impossible and people who can sleep on planes are mythical beings. We arrived in Rabat, Morocco on Sunday in the afternoon. Flying over, the view was amazing. Palm trees surrounded the airport and the weather was perfect. That’s where I met the rest of my classmates who all seem extremely intelligent, conscious, and open-minded individuals.

Monday began the first full day of orientation. My teacher seems wonderful. He began by talking about our fears and expectations, and by establishing a certain climate for learning. We talked about respect, engagement, open-mindedness, and inclusion. He stressed the importance of caring for one another, especially during a time such as study abroad when we are nervous and insecure. He said, “Your success is my success.” It got me thinking about safe spaces and inclusive environments, about caring for people; it made me reflect a lot on camp. At camp, we create safe environments for campers. We establish ground rules for cabins, ones everyone can agree upon, and promote a culture of inclusion and acceptance. And I realized that sitting among professors from Morocco and other college students, that that idea of creating inclusive cultures is not just for children or camp. The idea of creating communities of compassion and respect should exist for schools, offices, study abroad groups, and even across countries and cultures.

“We are citizens of the world,” my professor went on. We discussed privilege and travel, ideas I’ve never had to grapple with before in the U.S. But it’s true, my ability to get on a plane and go to another part of the world is an incredible privilege. Most people around the world cannot and will not stray far from the place they are from. And yet I have the ability to go to someone else’s home and marvel as if it is a spectacle, and not someone’s everyday reality. We talked about if this privilege ought to invoke guilt, inaction, or immobility. Or, if our privilege can be used for a positive impact. Which maybe it can, or maybe that still is disempowering, the idea of having to save others.

Speaking of privilege: language. I think communication might be my biggest struggle this semester. In Paris, I could not speak with fellow passengers on the plane. (However one man spoke a little English and highly recommended that I read a book on anti-aging medicine and hormonal remedies. I can only assume this means I looked stunning after 18 hours of travel.) But I was so unaccustomed to being misunderstood. I spoke to everyone in English, assuming they would be able to understand me. (Talk about American air-ogance, am I right?) And then I met my host mother today, who only speaks Moroccan Arabic. We could only really smile and nod at one another as I occasionally butchered her language with questions like “Do you go the market?” and “How old are you?” Then we were sent to the market to barter with shopkeepers. I couldn’t understand vendors as they listed their prices, so all I could really do was repeat “20 dirham” hoping they’d accept my incredibly inflexible price, since it was all I knew how to say. Then a man began to follow our group, targeting one girl in particular. His persistence to continue following made me feel vulnerable, but my inability to ask for help from passing locals made me feel especially vulnerable. I thought about people in the U.S. who become frustrated or irritated by immigrants who do not speak English. Being a foreigner with no means of communication is difficult and frightening, and trumps any inconvenience it may cause a native speaker.

I’ve started to really enjoy my conversations with the other girls in the program. Everyone here is so thoughtful, intelligent, and caring. We have all tried to help one another through the difficulties of exchanging money, getting our phones to operate, and navigate the Medina without getting lost. I’m excited about the learning ahead, and the exploring I’m hoping to do. So far my two favorite quotes from my professor are the following. “We are travelers in this world, some of us just have better maps.” I am hoping to start making my map. Also, when referring to the fluidity of our schedule, “It’s very jazzy.”

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