Alumni Spotlight: Hannah Lynch


Hannah is a sophomore at the University of Georgia pursuing a double major in Arabic and French and a minor in Religion. She loves learning about other cultures, and she is particularly intrigued by the Arabic-speaking world. She hopes to use her knowledge of the Arabic language and Arab culture to help those in the Middle East and North Africa and to bridge the divide between faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities.

Why did you choose this program?

Being my first time abroad, I wanted a program that allowed me to be immersed in a different culture, but that wasn't too overwhelming. The length of the program, 8 weeks, allowed for just enough time to get familiar with the culture while preventing homesickness among first-timers.

The rigor was another draw for me. I came in speaking no Arabic, so I desperately wanted a study abroad rigorous enough to help me reach a conversational level. I left speaking at a proficiency most reach during their second year of Arabic study.

Yet another factor that appealed to me was the fact that I had the option of staying with a Moroccan family. Since the program would overlap with Ramadan and Eid, I wanted to be able to experience it with Moroccan Muslims. I wanted to hear what their thoughts were on various topics, I wanted to build connections with people while abroad, and I wanted to gain a different perspective on life. All of which I was able to achieve through my summer abroad.

The excursions were also a huge bonus. Being able to travel to many different parts of the country really helped me get my money's worth.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

CIEE was with me every step of the way, both in the States and in Morocco. They helped organize nearly everything, and they were always there for the program's participants. The only thing that I had to organize on my own was my trip to the Sahara, which I took with two other students.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't go in with any expectations, and there's no way you'll be disappointed. Don't expect it to be like your home country, or like the photos you've seen on those trendy travel blogs.

Don't expect it to be good or bad. Just go and experience as much as you can, and you won't leave with any regrets. Make an effort to actually participate in the culture, rather than just observe it.

Talk to people, and try absolutely everything. If you are presented with an opportunity to do something, especially related to Moroccan culture, do it. Don't hesitate. Don't overthink it. It will probably be one of your best memories.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Monday through Friday, students attend Modern Standard Arabic class at their level from 9 am until 12 pm at CIEE's Study Center in Agdal. As a group, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, they also have three hours of Darija (Moroccan Arabic) instruction (the time and duration of instruction varies depending on the week).

There are optional cultural activities that are held in the afternoons on weekdays as well and do not require any major traveling. Depending on where the student is situated in Rabat, the study center can be reached by tram, taxi, or on foot.

On the weekends, there is normally a group excursion to another Moroccan city. The excursions can be as short as a day or as long as a weekend.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear had to do with communication. There I was, with no knowledge of Arabic, in an Arabic-speaking country, with an Arabic-speaking host family. I was nervous about being able to express myself articulately and accurately, and of course about reaching my goals in my target language.

I quickly realized that this fear was unnecessary, as my professor was more than happy to help me with the concepts I found difficult, and most Moroccans were delighted and flattered by an American even making an effort to speak to them in their native language, mistakes and all. It helped me realize that it doesn't really matter your level in your target language, as long as you are trying, most people will respond positively.

What is your favorite story from your time abroad?

One of my favorite stories comes from the Sahara, of course. After enduring a series of sweltering bus rides, my two classmates and I arrived at the sprawling, scorching, golden dunes characteristic of the Sahara desert. We had each packed two huge water bottles and a change of clothes for our sojourn, to which we clung tightly on the backs of our camels.

I was at the front of my caravan, my light brown camel seemingly ambivalent to the world around it. Our guides were Amazigh, that is, belonging to the native population in the Maghreb, and they had many enchanting stories to tell. I had a powder blue scarf tied securely around my head and across my nose in order to avoid inhaling the ever-shifting sand. I observed the landscape- something I had only seen in pictures and dreamed about up until that point.

In the sky above, foreboding clouds were forming, as dark as the indigo clothing our guides donned. I've always loved thunderstorms, but their power has always frightened me, so I felt a surge of excitement and anxiousness overwhelm me. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and my eyes were glued above as blinding white streaks of lightning propelled angrily across the sky.

Camels are amazing creatures that I admire to no end, but I discovered that they're an ideal seat for watching a storm. Then the rain started falling. In sheets it drenched everything, and the desert seemed to sigh with relief. The air was no longer thick and heavy but rather energized and light. The guide leading me ululated with glee at the sudden hydration, and I basked in the much-needed downpour.

Shortly thereafter, we reached our campsite, just as the storm was intensifying. It turned out to be one of only two times it rained during my stay in Morocco. That night, we dined on warm tajine and unleavened bread made by the men who had led us. They played songs they knew by heart on drums that looked older than the desert itself, and I could've sworn I heard the sand whistling along.

The next morning, I awoke to shouts of "Yallah, yallah!", and we hurriedly mounted our camels. We raced the dawn to a spot on the path that had been deemed perfect for viewing a sunrise, and I watched as the sun peeked over and eventually coated the dunes in a scarlet haze.