Hey, y’all! I’m Jensen, a junior Sociology major at UT. This semester, I’m attending Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, one of the top universities in Morocco. Before I left Texas, I was definitely nervous about moving to a country across the ocean where I don’t speak any of the languages. I’m used to going back home to Dallas pretty much every month to take a break from the pressure of school and relax with my family. Now that I’m here, I won’t see any of them until Christmas, and I can’t just call up my mom every time I’m super stressed. I’m a little scared still, but mostly I’m excited to learn about a totally new culture and see how much I’ve grown once I get back home.
I’ve been here about a week now, getting oriented and exploring the campus and other fun spots in Morocco. It’s not as exotic a place as I assumed it would be. Actually, it’s kind of strange how familiar this place feels to me. This past weekend, my friends and I took a trip to a beach town called Skhirat, just outside of the capital city, Rabat. The three hour drive across the country, from the mountains to the coast, felt like driving through Texas. Passing by pine trees and hills and farmland and canyons made me feel at home.
It’s not just the landscape- I’m sure in a few months when it starts snowing, it won’t feel as much like the Lone Star State as it does now. The first time we went to the market in Ifrane, (where I found Nutella, thank goodness), we stopped by a little bakery in between a cell phone shop and a butcher. I got this bread called msemen that’s sort of a crossover between a crepe and a tortilla. I smothered it in honey, which I managed to spill all over my pants (shoutout to my mom for packing a Tide To Go stick for me). It was amazing and will make a good stand-in for the sopapillas I’ve already been craving.
Despite some similarities I’ve found, it’s hard not to be reminded that I really am an ocean away from everything I know. The language barrier has been the biggest obstacle, but also kind of the most fun to navigate. A group of us got lost in Ifrane trying to find the taxi station and had to ask five different people for directions just to get a vague idea of where to go, mostly just through lots of pointing. There have been a couple times when we’ve ordered food at restaurants with no idea what we’ll be getting to eat- it’s all been pretty good so far, though. I’m already starting to pick up a few French and Arabic phrases just trying to get around and buy basic things.
It’s nice to feel some comfort in the familiarity, but it’s the differences that I know will be the most important in my time abroad. I’m ready to embrace a new culture, new foods, new languages, and new friends, and go back home with a new perspective I can apply to both my studies and my own world in general. Thanks for reading, or as I’ve started saying here: shukraan (شكرا) beaucoup!
This post was contributed by Jensen Soderland, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
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