Scott Barnes, a Parkland student, is living in Seville, Spain for a semester study abroad. As part of his study abroad experience he visited Morocco. I am looking forward to what he has to say!
Remember YOU can study abroad too. We have lots of different experiences. Check out our study abroad options at http://www.parkland.edu/international/studyabroad
When I first arrived in Europe, I knew very little about the history of the various countries in it and had very little knowledge about the many cultures that exist here. Other than the secondhand information I received via the media throughout the years, I didn’t have much of an idea about life abroad.
The differences are what I noticed first and foremost, and those differences are what most students struggle with, initially. Changing mealtimes and sleep habits as well adjusting to the foreign way in which people greet each other and conduct themselves requires some time to understand and get comfortable with.
Despite the differences, there is a lot that Americans and Europeans have in common. Those similarities were brought to light after I took a trip to Morocco.
I hadn’t realized how much the way in which I live echoes the European way of life until I spent some time in the Rif Mountains. The social norms that westerners share exist to a lesser degree in northern Africa. For example, it is uncommon to see men and women together in a public setting and much of the daily routine is centered around practicing religion.
Although my visit to Morocco was very short, it had a significant impact on me. Rather than providing a detailed, firsthand account of the various activities that the International College of Seville planned out for our trip, I prefer to share with you what I found to be truly rewarding about the experience. It is wonderful to have pictures of riding camels and eating in authentic Moroccan restaurants, but what is more valuable is the perspective that is gained from visiting different countries and meeting new people. The stimulation that comes from trying to understand a different way of life or to see the perspective of things through another cultural lens has been life-changing for me.
The name of the game in the touristic areas of Morocco is buy and sell, and merchants love to engage in the act of negotiation. There are no set prices and the bargain to be had is largely determined by the ability of the buyer to be resolute. The confidence of knowing a low price has been paid may be confirmed by the statement, “you haggle like a Berber!” The country is a great place to purchase gifts for friends and family back home and that seems to be the objective for most of the tourists who visit. The products offered vary from handmade gifts and food to just about anything they think people might want to buy.
To my surprise, many Moroccan people know English and speak it very well. It is necessary when dealing with foreigners, and their linguistic capability is impressive. Many of them learn English at a very young age and likely have been speaking more than one language since they were children. In fact, it is normal for Moroccan people to speak three or four different languages; English, French and their own dialect of Arabic are the most common. I found that after the exchange of money was complete, the sellers were more open to conversation. A lot about their culture was conveyed in those brief interactions, and it was easy to feel their affection and see the kindness in their eyes.
Superficially, consumerism is obviously a part of their way of life, and tourism certainly supports the economy, but there is much more to the culture and history of Arabian people. There are stories behind the faces in the shops of the medina, or “Old Town,” district of Tetouan, or within the painted blue walls of Chefchaouen. There is a way of greeting people, of falling in love, of raising children, and of experiencing life that is unique to the culture.
I have found that tasting the different flavors, seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and smelling the scents of various cultures is enlightening. The best way to learn about other countries is to visit them. Sharing face to face conversations is rewarding, even if the interaction is minimal.
Moving beyond being a tourist and finding commonality with people of another race is what is truly beneficial about traveling. Also, to tell the story of the person who sold you the gift makes the act of giving it more enjoyable. I may have left with a pair of high quality, handmade Moroccan leather sandals, but the real present is my new found view of the world and my life.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of studying abroad is the easy access to other worlds and the subsequent comprehensive understanding of culture that results from those adventures.