Study Abroad: Lessons from Morocco

There is no time better than now to take that first step out into the world!

Since I arrived at Emory & Henry College, I knew that I needed to study abroad. While it took me a long time and many changes of heart to figure out where I wanted to go; eventually I came to the conclusion that, as a Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies and Political Science double major, I needed to go somewhere that I could continue learning Arabic, and Morocco seemed like my best choice. After having spent a semester roaming North Africa, this is what I learned:

1) Going abroad isn’t always what you think it will be

When I signed up to spend a semester in Morocco, I had very high expectations of what my time abroad was going to be like. After reading blogs from former students in my program and speaking to students on campus who had studied abroad in other places, I was convinced that this trip was going to be a life-changing opportunity completely different from anything I had ever experienced. After settling in to my new home, however, I remembered a crucial detail: I was still in college. Due to my schedule, most of my days abroad consisted of being in class or in my apartment doing homework. When I look back on my time in Meknes, I realize that these are the moments that stand out, simply because…

 Rachael experiences her first camel ride in the Sahara near Merzouga. 

Rachael experiences her first camel ride in the Sahara near Merzouga. 

2) You get used to the differences

Upon arriving in Morocco, I was struck by everything that felt new and exciting. I marveled at the shops and goods on display in the Medina (the old city), was frustrated and confused by the haggling process, was offended by the catcalling, raved about eating communal food and having daily siesta time Moroccan time, and was awestruck by the beauty of the call to prayer. While I can still appreciate many of these differences, they don’t seem that “different” to me anymore; they were simply parts of my daily life. When I am asked about my experience in Morocco, I have to consciously remember to talk about these things that are so normal to me yet are still different to someone who has never experienced Moroccan life.

 Rachael visits the Volubilis ( Roman ruins ) near Meknes, Morocco. 

Rachael visits the Volubilis (Roman ruins) near Meknes, Morocco. 

3) That doesn’t mean it won’t be a great experience

Even if you don't have the experience you thought you were going to have when you go abroad, it is still likely that studying abroad will be one of the best experiences of your life so far. You make so many new friends, both American students and locals, who open your eyes in ways that would have never thought possible. You are exposed to new teaching methods that make you think long and hard about things that you have come to take for granted at your home university. Most importantly, you are immersed in a completely new culture, in my case one in which English was not the first or second language, which helps you gain perspective about American culture in a way that isn’t possible without leaving the United States.

4) You learn things about yourself you can’t learn any other way

All of the experiences described above create the perfect circumstance for you to jump out on your own and really figure out who you truly are. You learn how to normalize expectations of future experiences, both abroad and otherwise, with knowledge of yourself. The things you learn about yourself while abroad, whether it is the knowledge you sought or not, will help you grow in ways you never thought possible.

If you think you want to live or work abroad in the future, or if you are even just curious about what it might be like, you need to study abroad. There is no time better than now to take that first step out into the world!

BY: Rachael Sharp ‘16