i have always been a fan of asking questions.
I have been here for three weeks, and I’ve gradually fallen into a busy schedule of school, meals, conversations, and errands—but still, I’m far from completely understanding everything that goes on here. I am becoming a lot better at articulating myself in French all the time. So I ask, ask, ask my classmates, host family, and other Moroccans. I ask about people, places and things;
here’s a small sampling of my questions:
- me at my host grandma’s house, after eating four pieces of delicious flaky moroccan fried pancake with strawberry jam and honey: “what is the name of this pancake?”
- a: it’s rghaif.
- me, trying to pronounce it correctly: raiiif? (missing the gh sound)
- a: “rghaif!” *smiles*
- me: “rghaif!” #smallyesvictories
- me, to classmates at school: “what do you eat for lunch?”
- a: sandwiches, brought by my parents
- a: we eat upstairs in the classroom, while the people who have purchased lunch eat in the cantine
- me: what’s the role of french in your lives? what is it like to learn french as a second language here, where it’s so common?
- a: we just look at it like something we have to do. it brings more opportunities. that’s why school is all in french. but arabic is our native language, and we definitely feel more comfortable speaking it.
- me again: “tell me about what you like to do in your free time. and tell me about your parents. what do they do?”
- varied answers.
- once they reach the lycee (high school), students have very little free time here.
- once second semester of senior year, students start going to school on saturdays and sundays in order to prepare for the bac. it’s a lot more hardcore than anything i’ve experienced.
- for me, personally, i had a ton more free time when i was going to school in the US. school days are a lot longer here.
- “why did you choose to be in science-maths, as opposed to science-physique-chimie?”
- a: science-maths gives us more opportunities. it’s harder to do well, but a good score is worth more.
- (this is a universal answer. i don’t think i’ve heard anything different. ever.)
- me: “why did you decide to come to this school?”
- a: it offered science-maths. none of the schools where i live offer science-maths. i live an overnight train ride away, near the border of algeria. my parents are doctors there, and i am living with my aunt in agdal so that i can take science-maths here.
- the most common answer: i’ve been at this school since i was a toddler. i know most of the students here. we’ve grown up together our whole lives.
- me: what is the education process like? what do you want to do?
- a: medical school! for us in morocco, medical school is completely paid for by the government. well, you need a 16/20 on the bac to get into medical school. but my dream is to become a pharmacist. pharmacy school is the hardest to get into, and you need a 17, but once you get out, you have a variety of career choices available.
- to classmates: “what do you think about barack obama?”
- them: mixed reactions. obama’s kind of iffy on foreign policy.
- they start talking with isabel and me about US foreign policy. needless to say, they seem to know a lot more about united states foreign policy in the middle east than i do. the conversation quickly went over my head, even though i consider myself generally well read.
- my moroccan classmates know a lot about the american political system as well.
- “what do you think about the king of morocco?”
- mostly positive reactions, but still mixed.
- an answer i got: everyone is used to the king. he brings stability to morocco. while the king is there, many people don’t really notice or care that much, but since everyone is used to him, if he weren’t there, we would have a lot of chaos
- do you know who donald trump is?
- a: yeah. he’s a little bit racist and he doesn’t like muslims.
- me: that about sums it up
- recommend me some good restaurants in agdal!
- a: i don’t really like moroccan food, i prefer McDo, or Quick Burger. i like american food
- i was surprised at how common this answer was.
- a: (rattles out names of xyz restaurants)
- me: thanks so much!
- a: i don’t really like moroccan food, i prefer McDo, or Quick Burger. i like american food
- *eating dinner w/ host mom* me: how long have you lived in this apartment?
- a: 30 years.
- 30 yrs!?!
- a: yes!
- me: “how has agdal changed for the last thirty years?”
- a: i was born in agdal. born and raised, and still live here now. back then, it was completely french. there were very few moroccans and my family was one of the only here. i lived on a villa on avenue de france, which they later tore down to build an apartment complex. i went to a french school, and it’s still a french school today, but now it’s a religious catholic school.
- me: why did your parents decide to live in agdal?
- me, signing up for a gym membership: “can i pay with a card?”
- them: no
- me: i need to stop asking that in morocco
here’s a summary of the questions that people here ask me.
- what do you like about morocco?
- me: the food. everything is good! i am eating a lot here. the people, too, are so welcoming and great
- what do you think of our school?
- me: !!! answering this question is so hard because i am thinking so much!!! (i answer, it’s great!)
- school definitely has its positives and negatives, but it’s a net positive.
- are you japanese? do you watch anime?
- me: no, i’m chinese.
- classmates: whoa that’s so cool, i love asian culture. what do you eat in china? are you able to find it in morocco? what kind of rice? what ingredients do you use?
- adults, when they figure out i’m chinese: “what ingredients do you use?”
- everyone: “what is your favorite chinese food? can you make us sushi?”
- me: i love sushi but it’s not chinese! i can make it, though—just not well 🙂
- are you chinese, or are you american?
- why are you here? why did you decide to come? are you not losing a year of high school by coming to morocco?
- a complicated question with a complicated answer
- will you sit for the baccalaureat?
- what do you think about the weather here?
- what music do you listen to? what tv shows do you watch?
- me: french music, spanish music, chinese music, random spotify playlists that fit my mood, i don’t even know the names of certain songs
- me: i watch scandal, grey’s anatomy, and gossip girl…
- them: oh yea i know all of those!
- them: do you know (xyz) american singer? song? artist? band? they’re super popular right now!
- the very uncultured me: aw no 😥
- unfortunately, my knowledge of american pop music is very little.
in the midst of all of these questions, however, i frequently neglect to ask myself about the course of these nine months. sometimes, it feels like i’m living each day as it comes: making very little plans for the day after, just letting the day take me wherever. i enjoy it, and i am so lucky that i am here.
i have a question for myself, though. what is my real purpose here, and what do i want to accomplish while i’m here?
i’m not talking about personal goals. i have my personal goals pretty much set out: become really good at french, learn lots of darija, understand morocco better, journal every day, talk to as many people as i can in the short amount of time i have here, reach out to all types of people from various backgrounds, don’t be shy, just go for it! i also want to continue my academic track back home while i am here, so i have another goal to do math frequently. i’m definitely working toward my personal goals every single day, and i always have them in the back of my head.
but personal goals set aside, what am i really doing here in morocco? the yes abroad program says that we’re “youth ambassadors” for the united states. that does seem about right. i am learning about moroccan culture by talking to moroccans all the time, and they are also learning about my own interpretation of the united states.
my personal goals, though, are predictable, and i can consciously work for them. for my non-personal goals, though, i have no idea of how they’re progressing, how my presence here, as an american, affects the moroccans i meet at all. what are we, the exchange students at Madaris Assalam, to them? are we just a throwaway few of american students that’s there just to “experience the culture”—while all the moroccans are studying for the so-important baccalaureat exam? when i converse with moroccans and ask about morocco, are the questions misdirected without my even noticing it?
i don’t think these problems are morocco specific, but instead happen everywhere when a group of americans suddenly appears. i am self conscious of the way i speak and the way i present my own culture.
i love my classmates. they are welcoming, kind, friendly, and know a lot about things that i don’t know about. they always ask the question, “why morocco?” i give a simplified answer: “because i like morocco!”
there’s no way of measurement that i can go by! during my first three weeks here, i have talked to so many people, but i still don’t know anyone well enough to have really talked about how our presence, as american exchange students, affects the school as a whole. it’s frustrating to not know how much progress i’ve made. i have no idea how to measure it.
what i can do now is just to keep on enjoying morocco, learning from new people, and talking to everyone here so we can learn from both sides of the conversation.