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.
Study abroad provides out-of-classroom experience that students need
Advance your journalism and intercultural communication skills. Learn from a diversity of in-country resources and partners. Craft an original, feature-length story for a global audience. Gain new competencies in Arabic or French.
These are the main learning objectives listed on SIT’s website for the Moroccan journalism program. The objectives listed showcase the academic rigor of the program and gives students an idea of the program outcomes. Looking at these goals and the feedback of past students, I chose the School for International Training for my semester abroad. Instead of the eight affiliated study abroad organizations, I chose the school that Elizabethtown College did not have a professional relationship with. For me, that meant more paperwork, more hoops, more money, more stress.
In the eyes of other students, I was doing all of these things for essentially the same experience. I explained my reasoning: this program was practically written with my career goals in mind, so I believed it was worth it. Six months of applications and paperwork paid off when I arrived in Morocco.
We would be working under an American foreign correspondent, who has reported from Morocco, and a Moroccan program director. Advance your journalism and intercultural communication skills. Check. On day two, the journalism students were granted a meeting with a Moroccan journalist who files for the New York Times and the director of Human Rights Watch in North Africa and the Middle East. Learn from a diversity of in-country resources and partners. Check. All of our work during the first few weeks of the program was oriented towards practicing for our independent project. Craft an original, feature-length story for a global audience. Check. Not to mention, our language skills – or lack there of – was immediately put to the test. Gain new competencies in Arabic or French. Check.
I was glad to see my time and money had been well spent. The program was going to deliver what it had promised. Classes, much like any college class, started after an exhausting, week-long orientation. We fell into a routine, learning our respective languages and questioning lecturers, in hopes of pinpointing our articles early in the semester. It began to feel like the college experience I was taking a break from. That was, until we left for our first excursion. Our trip took us to Meknes, Fes, Azrou, Rissani, Merzouga, Ouarzazate, Marrakesh, Essaouira, and El Jadida in seven days. Several of our stops were only long enough to enjoy a meal, but each proved momentous in my personal journey.
On the way to Fes, we learned about the history and geography of the city. We were told what to expect and how to avoid getting lost. In these moments, we were fulfilling the learning objectives posed by the website. When we arrived in the cities, we started learning in a way I had planned.
From trying my hand at traditional weaving in Fes to learning the intricacies of boat building in Essaouria – this lesson happened in French – the snapshots I saw of real life taught me more than I could have hoped to learn in a culture lecture. I discovered: weaving is not my calling, camelback is a slow means of transportation, the sunset looks more beautiful over a foreign city, literacy is spreading, haggling is a skill that requires frequent practice, humsas (or good luck symbols) are hung on doorways, donkeys and children and connections can be made over despite language barriers.
In Fes, traditional looms are used to fashion scarves, tapestries, rugs, purses, Moroccan djellabas and many other fabric products. The process requires a weaver to use both hands and one foot to operate the loom. Students were given a chance to try weaving a line, which was much more difficult than expected. It was also posed an opportunity for the class to practice their Arabic and French skills.
Besides marking “ride a camel” off my bucket list, my trip to the desert allowed me the chance to discuss the culture of desert tribes, with people who live there, and spend time with an amazing group of students. Before the main event that evening, we spent time relaxing on the sand dunes of the Sahara, amazed by the beauty and danger to be found there.
While it only lasted a few minutes, the sunset was one of the highlights of the trip for most of the students. The trip, by camel, from our camp site to the dunes took about 30 minutes, but in that time night fell and cold set in. The night we spent in the desert provided a view into the lives of the people who live in the harsh environment.
In Essaouira, aptly nicknamed the Blue City for its seaside location, I was given an impromptu French tour of a boat building yard with two friends. We learned that the boats take over a year to build, are made of several different varieties of wood and are built in stages, each managed by a craftsmen in that area.
The learning objectives listed on the website were enough to entice me to the program, but in my opinion, the lessons I learned on this excursion were the true purpose of studying in Morocco. Having seen first-hand how people live in this country impacted me more than reading about how they live in a book. So, when I return home and find myself answering the question “what did you learn,” I will have an entirely different answer than I expected.
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