Alumni Spotlight: Breanna Thompson

Breanna Thompson is from Farmington, Minnesota and is currently a senior at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She is majoring in international relations and history with a minor in politics and a focus in Arabic language and culture. She is an ISA Global Ambassador, a Student Senator, and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. In addition to traveling, Breanna enjoys working with international students, competing in triathlons, and spending time with family and friends. She hopes to go back to the Middle East again soon.

Why choose ISA?

Breanna and friends dress the part!

Breanna: I chose to study abroad with ISA for a variety of reason, one of which was affordability. Finding a program that was affordable was something that was very important to me when looking at different options. My search was relatively limited in the number of countries due to my language requirements, but ISA was both fun and unique while also being affordable. They also offered scholarships for students. For example, I was awarded one of the ISA Diversity Scholarships to help pay for my trip. Additionally, the ISA staff in Austin as well as Meknes was fantastic. The Austin based staff helped a lot in preparation for the trip and answered any questions I had. The onsite staff in Meknes really made Morocco feel like home. Everyone connected to ISA, both new and old, are welcomed with open arms and it is much like a big Moroccan-American family.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

Breanna: I think the placement of the program in Meknes was something that made ISA’s program unique. It is a smaller city and has less tourism and commercialization than can be found in other larger cities. It offered a much different experience than if I would have chosen to live in Rabat, Tangier, or Casablanca, but I am quite thankful for that. I feel that I was able to learn more about the ‘real’ Morocco and am proud to have called Meknes my home. Beyond that, we had the opportunity to partake in a variety of excursions and had access to a lot of unique resources that made my experience special. For me, one of those experiences was being able to watch my host parents, one a surgeon and one a nurse, preform a surgery together; something I know few others have had the opportunity to experience while abroad.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Breanna: Going to Morocco has reconfirmed my passion for the Arab world and its rich culture. I learned a lot about myself and the goals I want to continue to pursue. It exposed me to a completely opposite part of the Arab world than what I had previously experienced. I plan to continue my language and areas studies with now a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the Arab world. It is a beautiful and complex culture that I love to share with those at home in hopes of encouraging them to venture out, go abroad, and have their own international adventures.

Highlights: One of my favorite parts of my trip to Morocco was our three day excursion to Merzouga in the south. Although a long and winding bus ride, camping in the Sahara Desert was an absolutely amazing experience. We stayed in a small camp of tents near the edge of the desert which allowed us to walk around and explore the desert at all different parts of the day. Wandering across the dunes at night with a million stars above was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences. Additionally, we were able to ride camels, climb one of the tallest sand dunes, swim at a local riad (like a hotel), and watch the sun raise over the desert. Although I don’t think I could pin down one highlight from Morocco, the trip to Merzouga and the Sahara Desert was definitely one of my favorites.

Morning: For me, a typical morning in Meknes involved waking up around 8am and grabbing a quick breakfast of houbs (bread) and heading out to class via a grande taxi that I caught a couple of blocks from home. The days I was at the university in the morning for class, I usually tried to get there a little early to get a morning coffee and a delicious egg and chees baguette sandwich from Mohammed who worked the small café on campus; a sure way to make it through the three hour classes. If I did not have class, I would hang out at my host family’s apartment with my housekeepers, often studying or working out. I would often meet up with other ISA students who were available and sit at a sidewalk café to chat as well.

Breanna rides a camel in Morocco!

Afternoon: I had afternoon class most weekdays. After having a large lunch at the apartment with most of my host family, my roommates and I would again head out to the university after walking to the grande taxi station. The majority of the classes were three hours long, but it was only held once a week and there was a break in the middle when many students grabbed a coffee, juice, or snack from the café. One of my favorite classes was about the representation of Arabs and Americans in Arab and Western news media. I thought the professor was very knowledgeable and made his lectures quite interesting. We would take the city bus or a taxi home after class, many times stopping at our favorite little corner stands on the way to grab some nuts or a study snack for later.

Evening: At night, my roommates and I would gather in the main living room in our apartment and usually do some homework. Our host mom would often be there as well watching her favorite Turkish and Arab soap operas. Our host brother, who was eleven, would also be in the living room with us, chatting away or watching videos on his computer. Some nights we would partake in other random and spontaneous activities with our host mom. This included everything from a belly-dancing lesson to helping to prepare dinner. With dinner late in the day, after we finished my host family would usually head to bed. Although we would occasionally watch a Bollywood film with our housekeepers, most nights my roommates and I would do some homework, hangout, or watch movies.