I remember it like it was yesterday. Boarding my flight from Paris to Rabat, I was excited and full of nervous energy. This being my first journey outside of my home country, I could hardly wait to step foot on Moroccan soil and meet my host family. Of course, some aspects of my eight-week experience worried me. For one, I didn't speak a word of Arabic. The language of sweeping letters and beautiful calligraphy was at once intriguing and daunting. Secondly, it would be the longest period of time I had spent away from my family, and with a family of a different faith than my own, during Ramadan, no less! As I entered my new home away from home, which was situated in the heart of Rabat's medina (the old part of the city) I was greeted with warm smiles and hot mint tea. It seemed we would get along just fine.
Thus began my two months in the magnificent Maghreb. Morocco chewed me up and spit out a completely different person. The at times grueling, but ultimately rewarding 6 hour school days provided me with just the rigor I needed to build a solid foundation in Arabic. I found myself speaking full phrases in mere days, and when I returned to the States, I had advanced to Arabic III. The excursions I took all enlightened me in unique ways. A trip to an Amazigh village in Marrakech taught me about the native people of the region, and gave me a new appreciation for them. The whistling dunes of the Sahara reminded me of just how small I was, and to be humble in all I do. The blinding white and electric blue of Chefchaouen gave me a glimpse into heaven- and a look at how I could coexist with those around me.
I always say this, but it bears repeating: The best part about Morocco is, by far, the people. Coming home to my host family every night and eating their mouth-watering cuisine (usually tajine!) was something I will never forget. This aspect of my trip was heightened during Ramadan, when, in the evening, the whole house seemed to be on the edge of their seat. In the pregnant pauses before the last call to prayer, signaling that the day's fast had ended, I learned an invaluable lesson about patience. The harira and dates we savored were manna to me, and I wasn't even fasting. In those dinners, I was also able to completely bond with the members of my family. After a while, I didn't even refer to them as my host family, only as family. On Eid, I felt a closeness that I had seldom experienced before or since. It was something I will cherish forever. The CIEE staff are incredible as well. They care so much about the students on the program, and bent over backwards for me multiple times. Between our sometimes seven hour conversations and the excursions we took together, I made what are sure to be lifelong friends. Moroccan kindness even extends to complete strangers, but who is really a stranger in Morocco? If you are willing to drink a pot of tea and have a meaningful exchange, you're as good as family.
The night before I departed, I sobbed uncontrollably. My family was right there with me, my host sister embracing me and crying with me. The bonds we forged will never be broken, and we still contact one another frequently. And so I returned, with a gift the new members of my family had given me, a more advanced understanding of the Arabic language, and a light heart. I had gained compassion, kindness, an open mind, and peace. I had lost my proclivity to anger, my preconceived notions of others, and my unnecessary worry and anxiousness.
My study abroad will be something I will keep with me for the rest of my life, and I will take the lessons I learned on it and apply them at home and elsewhere abroad. I could not recommend this program more.