In about three months I’ll be on any one of a few flight segments that I’ll have to take to get from Raleigh (North Carolina) to Rabat (Morocco). I’ll be living in Morocco for my senior year of high school, and I’ll come back in the early summer.
I’m one of sixty-five recipients of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad scholarship.
This program is the reciprocal of the YES program. Founded by senators Ted Kennedy and Richard Lugar in the aftermath of 9/11, and funded by the U.S. Department of State, the YES program provides scholarships for high-school students from countries with significant Muslim populations. These international students live with a host family and study for a year in the United States.
My program, YES Abroad, gives U.S. students a similar opportunity. YES Abroad fully funds American students to study in significantly Muslim countries for an academic year—meaning that the program covers absolutely everything, including airfare, host family fees, transportation, insurance, and a stipend. We sixty-five students will be spread out across thirteen countries, where we’ll live with host families and attend local high schools. Six people (including me) will be going to Morocco next year.
What will I do there?
I’ll live with a host family and go to school with local Moroccan students. School will be completely taught in French, and will also follow the French school system. I’ll be one of three American students at my Moroccan school. We’re not only there to learn about the host country’s society and values, but also there to bring American society, values, and culture to our host communities. As a first-generation US citizen, I am so excited to participate in an issue that has been so important to me and to make an impact on the host community.
During my time in Morocco, I’ll also be working on a capstone project, which is a mandatory project for all YES Abroad participants. Through the year, we’re expected to research an aspect of our host culture; at the end of our exchange, we’ll present these projects to the US Embassy in Morocco.
I’ll also have some free time. I’ll spend this free time learning Arabic, volunteering, meeting locals, talking to my host family/friends and hopefully writing/reflecting a lot. I’ll also be doing some math/physics on my own time ’cause those are important. I want to try to fully immerse in my host culture, though, so I’ll try to limit doing “American” things (talking in English, reading English language websites, and watching American TV) as much as I can.
Why YES Abroad? Why Morocco?
Gosh. Simple questions, complicated answers. Here is a condensed version that’s by no means complete:
Why study abroad? I think that people learn a lot from people who are different from them.
Why Morocco? Although Morocco was my first choice out of the YES Abroad countries, I didn’t directly choose Morocco; the program chose Morocco for me. I had to take a French writing exam and complete a French interview to be placed in either Morocco or Senegal.
any goals for before/after leaving?
Before leaving: Buy clothing that is not t-shirts (all I wear here in the US are t-shirts lol), learn how to use Adobe Premiere Pro (thanks Ariel!), get vaccinated for travel, learn photography, be more active, read less BuzzFeed, meet new people, successfully potty train my dog, learn as much French as I can. I need to finish the French movies in my Netflix watchlist asap. (Just realized that this list has turned into a self-improvement list… oops)
After arriving in Morocco: Write in copious amounts, religiously. Join a women’s gym. Do as much interacting with locals as is possible. Learn by watching. Talk. Read. Try to make your actions count.
What about the immediate future?
I’m writing this post at the end of May, but I won’t be leaving the country until late August. But my summer isn’t empty. The State Department flies all sixty-five of us to Washington, D.C. next month for our Pre-Departure Orientation, or PDO. I’ll be there from the 22nd to the 25th—so excited to meet everyone!
In the even more immediate future, I have four days of school left. Then I’ll be done with high school. Graduation is on Saturday. I won’t be graduating, but a lot of my friends will be. I don’t leave for Morocco until late August, so I do have a month or so of free time during the summer, not counting the five-and-a-half weeks that I’ll be away.
I’m one of those people who (most of the time) actually enjoys going to school so I’ll miss it a lot.
The official language in Morocco is Arabic, but many people also speak French.
My year will culture based instead of language based, so I won’t be talking specialized language classes daily. But that doesn’t mean I won’t learn the language, because I’ll be surrounded by multiple languages all the time. I’ll be learning French and Moroccan Arabic (Darija) actively: my host family will speak Darija and French, I’ll spend most of my day in a French language school, and I’ll be doing homework in French. And even though MSA (Modern Standard Arabic, or Fusha) isn’t widely spoken in Morocco, it’s still widely understandable so I hope to start learning classical Arabic as well. Being constantly exposed to the target language is a lot more effective for language learning than taking specialized grammar classes and in Morocco I’ll have the chance to speak to native speakers all the time 🙂 I’ve actually kind of enjoyed learning about French grammar in middle and high school, but I’ve realized that I learn languages so much faster when I watch movies and read Buzzfeed (nbd, no shame) in the target language. So living in Morocco will be a constant language immersion experience. Maybe I’ll be able to practice Spanish as well if I go to the north.
Right now I don’t know any Arabic except how to say hello and goodbye, and a little bit of the alphabet, and how to count. In sophomore year my school had an Arabic Club and I learned a bit from there. I’ve forgotten a lot since then, but I have a summer to learn. Arabic varies a lot between regions, though, and within Morocco, people speak Darija. Darija and Modern Standard Arabic are not mutually intelligible. MSA is what you see on Al Jazeera; Darija is Arabic mixed with French and Spanish.
A few tidbits that don’t fit into any category
While applying for this scholarship, I was at first hesitant to go with a program because I would have wanted more freedom to plan my year and go where I want while doing the volunteer work that I wanted to do. I was wrong; now I’m so happy that I have this scholarship. AMIDEAST, our implementing organization in Rabat, finds and screens host families as well as provides a stipend, among other things like Arabic classes that we can sign up for and in-country phones safety support. As an Asian American teenage female, having this support is very reassuring. Thank you so much, State Department and taxpayers (<3) who are funding this.
My parents, teachers, and friends are wonderful. So is my dog Schuyler, no matter how many times he pees on the air mattress in the living room. I love them a lot and I’ll miss them ❤
lastly, kjasper (Macedonia 16-17!), if you’re reading this, thank you for putting up with my continuous study abroad ranting for a year smh
if you have any questions, please comment on this post and I’ll answer them! An alternative is to contact me—I’ve added some contact information to the “About” tab on the top of the page.