Horns meet world. World meet Marie. Marie is an International Relations and Global Studies major here at UT Austin, but just this past summer she studied abroad in the American Councils: Arabic Flagship Program in Meknes, Morocco. The affiliate program is offered during the Spring and Fall semesters as well and focuses on achieving Arabic proficiency. The program also puts you near the northern tip of Morocco with the possibility of experiencing the influence of European culture as well as the culture of Northern Africa. To get an inside look at the program, check out Marie’s recap on her experience.
Honestly, I did not know what I could see myself doing in Morocco other than studying Arabic, attending class, and living with my host family. Teachers, friends, employers, and other influential individuals kept telling that I was going to have “the time of my life”, “an unforgettable experience”, and that I will come back as a “changed person”. Of course, I was excited that I was going to be living in a faraway country with a different culture and social circles. However, I was not drinking the Kool-Aid like everybody else. My simple assumption was that although I would be speaking only in Arabic for the next couple of months and, traveling to different cities on the weekends to get a taste of the culture, I will still have a somewhat similar lifestyle by going to class every day, talking to my classmates, and doing homework, just like how things worked in the United States. After the first week and eventually through the rest of the program’s duration, I quickly learned that my life in Morocco was unlike anything I endured. I struggled, learned, conquered, and most importantly, came back as a “changed” person.
The thing that made my life in Morocco so memorable was that I was able to have the opportunity to go to places and do things that I dreamed of doing, but hadn’t had the means of achieving it. Traveling was inexpensive, so I was able to go across the country. It allowed me to see that Morocco, from the northern towns filled with European villas and the whispers of French and Spanish, to the southern desert towns where Amazigh (Berber) and Hausa Arabic sprinkle the Moroccan Darija conversations and the types of transportation range from taxi to camel, is a truly beautiful and diverse nation. In addition, I also had the opportunity to live with a host family, who were always kind to me and encouraged me with my studies. At first, it seemed impossible that I was going to be able to be fully accepted by them as an equal, instead of forever being seen as an outsider. However, my family took me in like a second daughter, and I still keep in touch with them to this day. Since I never had the chance to experience living in a stable family home, my time with my host family was magical because it was the first time I was able to have a mother and father who loved each other and worked together to keep the family together, and having siblings who always looked out for one another. It was nice to be able to live with a happy, healthy family, and it was all I ever wanted in life.
On one hand, my intensive Arabic classes and language partner sessions prepared me by greatly improving my Arabic. But on the other hand, the exploring to and from different cities and interacting with the locals and my host family taught me more about the culture, the lifestyle, and Moroccan values than my hours from the classroom. It was not because the classes and the teachers were insufficient. On the contrary, the teachers in the program were so supportive and well qualified that they were some of the best instructors I’ve ever had in my life. But the truth of the matter was that that the importance of education does not only come from information found in books, assignments, and research, but gaining knowledge also involves delving into nature, and going outside one’s comfort zone to learn from the people that help make up the world and its wondrous things it has to offer.
Being in Morocco taught me what it means to be a true traveler: studying about the world by living and seeing every part of it myself, and taking back what I learned on my adventures by giving it back to my family, friends, and people in my community.
To me, that truth was the most important lesson that studying abroad taught me, and its impact has stayed with me since returning to the United States and UT Austin. Now, I have become a better student by investigating more about what is going on around me, and always seeking opportunities in all situations. Little by little, I have began participating more often in class, and taking advantage of office hours not only to ask for homework help, but for the sake of developing meaningful relationships with my professors and teaching assistants to learn more about lifelong lessons that extend outside of the classroom. I now make personal time for self-care, staying in touch with my friends and family more often, and for getting more involved in student leadership positions on campus, and volunteering in community service. I do not do it because it makes me happy or only for the sake of my health, but because the power of people’s wisdom and support are what helped me get to Morocco and made me a stronger person, and it is what still fuels me and keep me going strong.
In the end, I suppose that I drank the Kool-Aid after all. Studying abroad changed my life by allowing me to see the beauty of the world, whether it was nature, family love, or the kindness of the people from all parts of the Earth, and for teaching me to become a more responsible individual. Being in Morocco taught me what it means to be a true traveler: studying about the world by living and seeing every part of it myself, and taking back what I learned on my adventures by giving it back to my family, friends, and people in my community. I hope that this first realization will be the result of many more revelations that I will gain from traveling in the future, and that every person at UT will pursue study abroad and take the world by the horns. The knowledge he or she will gain from studying abroad will be used to change the world. I think that is what UT Austin and the life of traveling represents.
If Marie’s experience sparked some interest for you, click here to find out more about the program that helped get her there. Leave your thoughts and comments below, especially if you’ve had a similar experience living, working, studying, or even traveling in the Middle East. And, as always, be sure to check in next week to see where in the world our Horns pop up next!