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.
I was once told “if something scares you, you should probably try it.” I took the lesson to heart, deciding to face my fear of planes by flying to China, to manage my fear of heights by base jumping, and to address my fear of the unknown by studying abroad. In choosing to come to Morocco, a country vastly different from my own, I was forced to face all of my own fears, as well as those of my family and friends. Our fears ran the gamut from getting lost to being “taken.” I feigned a courageous demeanor, as much for my own sake, as anyone else’s. I rehearsed the answers to the most popular questions and prepared my excited face for when I needed it, but I feared many of the things that I brushed off in public – I was afraid of missing a flight, not knowing the language, being harassed, being ignored, not succeeding and the list goes on and on.
Aside from the worries that go with travel, I had the added concern of knowing that no one from my college had ever studied in Morocco or through the organization I chose. Most of the students who chose this study abroad experience had the recommendation and knowledge of older students to lean on. I had none of those things. So, I imagined an ideal situation, where I picked up Arabic easily, blended in and proved my journalistic ability without difficulty in order to ease my worries.
Then, I landed at Rabat-Sale airport alone, confused, tired and unprepared for the next two hours of customs, cab rides and language barriers. My calm demeanor disappeared – a classmate referred to me as “a wreck” – and I found all of my fears, waiting to be unpacked with my clothing.
Once I had arrived, I was placed into an already cramped room, the two beds in which were occupied. My exhaustion took over immediately and the floor seemed welcoming enough for the night. When I thought of what I would encounter the next day, all of the stress was worth it. I slept restlessly, but for the first time in two days, all the while dreaming about what I would see when I woke up. Images of exotic women in bright clothing and spice markets filled my dreams. The next morning, I was surprised to find city life in Morocco was similar to that in the US. There was beauty and magic to be found, but also destitution and grime.
My shock didn’t wear off immediately. In fact, I have found that every day since I arrived, something new has surprised me. I’ve learned, from teachers and experiences: “the more you know, the less you know” here. And I have found that the magic that I expected is sometimes hidden under the grime and one must simply be willing to search for it. I’ve experienced kindness and understanding from total strangers, who have each helped to make my trip worthwhile so far. As our professors continue to remind us: we are not here to change the culture, but rather to become part of it. Thanks to the medina, I feel I may become a part of Rabat. So, I guess it was good advice – to do something that I feared. I can’t wait to see where it will lead me next.
Make sure to stay tuned for my next post and follow #SamanthaAbroad on Twitter!
Love our blog? Like us on Facebook to see more!