Happy new year, everyone! Officially a second semester senior, I guess. 2016’s been a pretty packed year. Last year at this time I was in the middle of junior year in cold North Carolina (or maybe in the Grand Canyon?) and everything seemed so far. I had no idea that I’d be in Morocco and I’d had the idea that if I were to spend my senior year abroad, I’d come back to Raleigh Charter and redo my senior year. Things have changed since then. I’ll be going to college this coming fall instead.
I just spent the last hour or so reading other people’s exchange blogs—both from this year of YES Abroad and from previous years. It’s pretty interesting how everyone goes through his/her exchange differently. Exchange is an intensely personal experience. There are always people around me, but at the end of the day it’s up to myself to plan what I do with my time during the next day so I can make the most of my time here. Admittedly, I have to set aside time every day for errands (sending emails, setting up college interviews, spending hours dealing with the sign-up process for my community college class this semester that still hasn’t shown up on Blackboard), but outside of that and outside of school, I’m pretty happy with how I spend my time.
It’s also interesting how before exchange, you expect that there’ll be certain hard parts of exchange. But then they turn out completely different from what you expect. At PDO, we were warned that exchange would be the most difficult thing that you’ve done in your life because of a mix of culture shock + being away from family. But is it? I don’t know. The hard parts of first semester weren’t exchange based, and I came to love my exchange and everything in Morocco because everything else I chose to do was an escape from everything I had to do. During first semester I applied to eleven colleges, and I had a great deal of emails to write and things to schedule that took up maybe 60% of my free time during first semester. I usually like writing, but the whole college application process was pretty stressful—not because of the writing, but instead because everything was up in the air and I was pouring my heart out into these college applications while still being a high-school dropout and I still had no idea where I would end up or if I would end up anywhere at all. And then I got frustrated because it felt like I didn’t have time to do anything except for school (in the beginning we had a lot of school) and college apps and going to the gym. That was the first hard part of first semester. The second hard part of first semester was something that before coming to Morocco, I definitely wouldn’t expect to be a difficulty. But it was temporary and I’m glad it’s solved now.
I was also warned about homesickness. But I am not homesick. Am I a normal exchange student? I wonder. I thought all exchange students go through homesickness at least once? We were warned multiple times that the holidays would be the hardest part of exchange, so I waited for homesickeness to hit twice, both in November and in December… but it didn’t. Thanksgiving and Christmas were some of the happiest points of my exchange because I surrounded myself with good food and good people. Here, I find myself unable to be homesick, mostly because I am constantly reminded of how little time I have here in Morocco and how I cannot fit enough hours into each day. Eight months seems like a long time in the beginning, but it really isn’t once you start building up a routine.
Of course, there are some parts of North Carolina and the United States that are nice to have, including Chipotle burrito bowls, pets, cooking my own food, and being able to operate a car. But I don’t miss those things and I would not want to have those things here in Morocco. My time at home is separate from my time here in Morocco, there’s a time and place for everything, and it doesn’t make sense to mix the two. I love my family a lot, and I like North Carolina, but I only have four and a half months left here and I find myself thinking a lot more about what I can do here in Rabat before my time is up instead of trying to incorporate parts of my American life into my exchange life.
This year, I also started journaling. I don’t think I’m a very introspective person—instead, I like to do things instead of thinking about what I can do. I sometimes leave my house without a plan and then I do whatever comes to me, whether it be a walk to a part of the city I’ve never been to before, or a visit to a new café. And I have a bunch of uncompleted journals sitting around in my house back in NC because I would start them and then write in them for maybe five days, and then stop. But before coming on exchange, I told myself that I would journal regularly. And I’ve been journaling regularly. (!!!) In the beginning it was every day, now it’s at least twice a week. Granted, a lot of it is because I journal during class, but I’ve realized that I actually like journaling. I’m going to try not to read any of what I wrote until I leave Morocco in May. Maybe it’ll be some nice reading on the plane ride back home.
Time here passes so fast because my days seem so packed. Now I always feel like I have too little time to accomplish what I accomplish. Too little time to do all that I want to do here in Morocco, like discover new antique bookstores and read my French books in Centre Ville and meet new people in the streets. Rabat is really a great place for an exchange student, and there are so many cool people to meet and interesting places to go. The other day I was walking around Agdal and decided to go into an old bookstore that I’ve never visited before and talk to the owner. I like to arrive to my internship early so I can walk around the Hassan neighborhood. One day when I was getting on the tram back from my internship, I met a university student who was majoring in English who started talking to me because she noticed that I was writing an email in English on my phone. About a month ago, I was sitting in front of the Salé medina reading on my Kindle when I met a mom who brought her kids there to play in the playground and who shared Moroccan cookies with me that she bought for the Prophet’s birthday. Then on the tram that day, Catherine (NSLI-Y) and I met a mother/daughter pair who spoke Spanish on the tram. They reminded me of how much Spanish I forgot since coming here, haha. And those are just the highlights of what has happened in the past few months—because every day, I get to plan for myself something new that I’ve never done before. I have a bunch of saved places on Google Maps of cafés that I want to go to. On my daily walk to Gym Garden, there’s a place called Fan Dok that exhibits crafts from artisans. Right now it’s all rugs, and they’re all pretty cool.
As for languages, I don’t even know where I’m at. My French is so much better than when I first got here. So is my Darija. But French feels like a tool to me—and just that. It doesn’t feel like a real language that I have fun connecting with people with because not everyone speaks French, and among the people who speak French, their first language is still Darija. People’s eyes light up when I communicate with them in broken Darija as opposed to in fluid French. I’m not happy with my progress in Darija, though, especially since our weekly classes have stopped, and because it’s such a hard language to formally learn. I’m just trying to speak as little French as I can and see where I can go with the Darija. Darija’s really fun, and I love it a lot.
Even though I have already lived in Rabat for four months, and although I’m already past the halfway point of my exchange, in no way can I say that I am an expert on Morocco. On the surface, I seem pretty culturally competent. I communicate effectively, either in Darija or in French, and I have spent enough time with my host family and around Moroccans that I am able to blend in (with my actions) and not seem too out of space. But to really get to know Morocco, I need to observe more, and have more conversations with lots of different people. That’s my goal for the next four months.