By: Samantha Weiss
Salaam alaikoum. Hello from Morocco. My name is Samantha Weiss. I am a junior Communications major at Elizabethtown College, but I am spending this semester in Rabat, Morocco through SIT (School for International Training). While here, we are studying at a partner facility, the Center for Cross Cultural Learning. I am studying journalism in North Africa and the Middle East, with hopes of becoming a foreign correspondent after graduation.
Rabat in Retrospect
During interviews, one of the most dreaded and most common questions is “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” Even though I anticipate this question, I inevitably freeze when it is asked. While I have no trouble confronting weaknesses in my personal life, I dislike listing them to a possible employer. I acknowledge the relevance of the question and appreciate the ability to note them, but I always have trouble doing so. I often end up mentioning features or “weaknesses” that sound positive, in order to appear a good candidate.
I used to believe I did this out of fear. I recently discovered, with the help of the friends I have met in Morocco, that I default to this for another reason: I lack the time and desire to be reflective. Moving through life as quickly as I do, I spend so much time checking items off my to-do list that I rarely look back at those accomplishments and assess them. How did it feel to do this? What was the motivation for attempting that? Is there a better way to finish it next time? These are all questions that I ignore in my rush to move on to the next task.
In the same way, I infrequently consider my strengths and weaknesses. Or more correctly, I notice my strengths and try to use them to shield the weaknesses I know I have and want to ignore. Sound like anyone else? But being in a different cultural context, speaking a foreign language (that I am not quite as skilled in as I once thought) and trying to write an important features article, while balancing the struggles of living in Morocco, have given me no choice.
First, it was reminding myself to be more grateful every day. Somewhere between narrowly avoiding a run-in with a speeding taxi and not understanding my host family, I got discouraged and forgot to be thankful for the opportunity to be here. I had forgotten to be thankful for the interview I was on the way to when I wasn’t watching traffic well enough and the woman who welcomed me into her home and took care of me. I let the bad moments and feelings overshadow the good.
Then, it was being able to contemplate the days in my journal, rather than simply list what I did. Somehow, went to school, ate veggies for lunch, told my host mom I was going to a café in broken Arabic, did homework was not exciting. What I should have been writing down was how excited I felt when my host mom first understood my Arabic and what the presenters in class made me realize about life in the U.S. that I had never considered.
Then, it was learning from my mistakes. I know to always cross the street with Moroccans. I know that four pieces of Malawi in a day is liable to make someone feel sick. I know that trusting technology is a dangerous game of Russian roulette for a journalist. I learned that to rush and make grave mistakes – like being a journalist without a pen – is worse than to pace oneself and possibly be late, but prepared.
After all of those things, I started reflecting: on myself, Rabat, my roommates. On what Morocco has taught me about myself. On what I can take home and how I can improve things. On the complexity of all issues. On my personal values, my fears, my habits. It has taken the better part of three months for me to do so, but I have started using this skill to my benefit. I have begun to fully welcome the discussion of weaknesses, even mine. For example, I know now that I am not always reflective, that I take on too much, that I fear too little sometimes, and too much many others. I know that I am impatient and often stressed. I know that I don’t manage stress in the healthiest of ways and I often choose to forgo my personal health for the sake of something I view as more important.
For a while, I was at a loss for what to do with this new knowledge, this being the first time I truly reflected on my personal situation in a meaningful way. For a while, I sat on it. My first thought was make a list to be used in interviews, but that seemed like a shallow use of this ability. While I still might make the list, I have since ruminated of more productive ways to use the information I gleaned from occasionally being reflective. What if I used it to better myself in the areas I targeted as weaknesses? Or what if I used it to find meaning in bad times? Or what if I tried to separate myself from something?
I began to realize the possibilities are endless and the means are simple. A quiet space. A few minutes. Maybe a notebook and pen (if you are a visual learner, like me). Reflection doesn’t take long or require any special skills, just a desire to understand oneself and the situation he or she finds him/herself in.
So, in retrospect, Morocco has meant more to me than study abroad, more than journalism experience, more than friendships, more than a new language. It has meant a study of myself, experience outside my comfort zone and meeting people I wouldn’t want to live without. I won’t say it changed my life, or even my mind; I still believe in the same things I did three months ago, but it did change my perspective. I have always been able to look out and assess a situation, but now I feel confident that I can look in and do the same.
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