I’ve been meaning to write another life update in a long time. As exchange goes on, blogging gets harder and harder. In the beginning it was easy because I wrote about my own life from a kind-of outsider’s perspective. I’m thinking about the posts I wrote from the beginning of the year and how those posts are so seemingly really unimportant now—and sometimes, even cringeworthy because of how “new” Morocco seemed to me, and how obviously evident my posts showed that? In the beginning I think I was also better at presenting my life through writing in a blog because I didn’t feel like an insider at all. I wrote about Morocco from an American perspective, from whatever “American” lens they told us about at PDO. I don’t think I’ll ever be a complete insider, but now I can say that after the United States, Morocco is the country that I know best, the country that I navigate the best in terms of being competent.
Strangely, living in Morocco has made me want to go back to China and live there for an extended period of time. I’m Chinese American and I’ve always considered myself pretty “proud” of my culture but in reality, I don’t know China that well. I don’t know any Chinese city as well as I know Rabat, I’m not sensitive to cultural cues, and I haven’t spoken Chinese in so long that I think I’ve lost some of it (oops). The last time I’ve gone back to China was with my family during the summer after my freshman year, and that was just for three weeks. Here in Rabat, I’m essentially living independently, able to make my own decisions, mature enough to figure everything out by myself. That wasn’t the case for me three years ago. I’m going back this summer, though, most likely for the whole summer—and I’m so excited, yay!
Anyway, exchange life is just life; it is different, but I’m still the same person. I just live in Morocco, and as the days go on and on, I know a few more people, I find something new to do, and I feel more at peace with myself. I like to go outside, wander around, speak to people, and discover new places. Recently I’ve been more busy with capstone work + other scheduling issues, which is annoying (because of the whole no time left thing), and because it’s been a while since I’ve had to block out pieces of time to sit down and do work.
I’m not sure that I’m even totally 100% with the principle of blogging an exchange year. I really have to examine myself and think about what is my real purpose of blogging. In the beginning it was so that I could show my friends and family back home what Morocco is like, and even today, that’s one of my main purposes and the main factor that keeps me blogging as the year goes on. Maybe I’m also blogging so I can have a record of what I do. But my blog has never been very personal—I’ve reserved my journal for things like that. But then I find myself neglecting writing journal entries because I go back and forth about whether it’s worth it to record what I do. I think that benefits of journaling greatly outweigh the drawbacks, but when I’m actually trying to get myself to journal, it feels a little different, and a little bit contrived? Blogging feels the same way too. Even Instagram. I’ve posted pretty pictures but they haven’t described my life that well.
I like the idea of blogging, but not when my posts turn Morocco into something inherently “different” and separate. My posts shouldn’t make it seem like I’m here to visit—instead, I live here. This is my life, at least for eight and a half short months. How do I combat this? Should I be more personal? Should I put more thought into what I post, and should I post more often about daily life + my own thoughts instead of just posting my journal entries for class where I force myself to find cultural differences in everyday life? A friend read one of my journal entries that I’d posted on this blog (I don’t see little kids by themselves in Rabat streets) and she then explicitly told me by WhatsApp message that my perspective is wrong and that I’m not seeing the whole picture. Granted, that post was a lot of speculation, and I shouldn’t be expected to be right on everything. But also her comment made me think about one really fundamental problem that we Americans have while we live abroad, which is the fact that we often problematize cultural differences that are un-American.
I haven’t written a proper blog post in a while. My most recent posts, mostly from a month (or more) ago, have been pictures from trips. Many of them have also been mandatory journal entries I’ve been writing each month for Global Citizen class, a class we take in conjunction with NSLI-Y here. But in reality, that’s not what my exchange is like. My life here isn’t the Sahara Desert, nor is it the beach, nor is it finding little cultural differences in everyday situations that I write about for class. My life is a lot more complex than that, and I have realized that the most meaningful parts of my life haven’t been written about at all.
Has being in Morocco changed me? Before I went on exchange I’d been told over and over again by former exchange students that exchange will be the most life-changing year of your life etc. I’d shot that idea down in the beginning because I couldn’t come up with a concrete reason why exchange would change a person so much and I’d also thought that it was a totally cliché thing to say.
I’m not completely done with my year in Morocco yet, but I am seven months in, and I’d agree that yeah, being in Morocco for seven months has changed me, but in ways that I hadn’t expected. Before, I was kind of obsessed with the practical benefits of being an exchange student. I came to Morocco expecting myself to be 100% fluent in French by the time I left, expecting to practice Spanish, to spend time intensely studying Classical Arabic on my own, expecting to spend some time doing math because I’ve always kind of sucked at math and I wanted to spend some free time improving before going to college. I’d also expected to have a group of friends who were also high-school seniors, to be super healthy in terms of what I ate, and to work out all the time.
In reality, I’m not completely fluent in French yet. I’m good at conversational French but I have no knowledge of formal French, because for me, French is a tool to communicate and that’s it. I haven’t spent time studying anything on my own because I quickly realized that whenever I spend time alone doing things I could also do in the US, I’m losing the short, valuable time I have here in Morocco. School isn’t important for the same reason—why would I spend time learning math and physics when I can literally learn math and physics anywhere else on my own? I have gotten better at French since being here but I’m pretty sure that’s come at the expense of my Spanish and Chinese.
And @ the being healthy part: when you’re an exchange student you soon realize that it’s more important to try lots of different foods than to eat vegetables all the time. I can be healthy back in the US, but I don’t necessarily want to be healthy here because it means that I’ll miss out on delicious food haha.
In reality, in terms of my own personal improvement, it’s a lot more hazy. I’d say that around 90% of it has been related to interpersonal skills—mostly reaching out to people who are different from me in every imaginable way and making friends with a wide variety of people. I’ve gained a lot in terms of patience and openness. In the US, my friends were so similar to me: age, family, culture, etc.
Also, here, some random person I meet through mutual friends won’t know about my past history, the fact that I got into Harvard, or whatever. Things that were important in the US (college! jobs! etc!) aren’t as important here, and relationships I build often depend solely on myself and my communication skills, something that has never been as important as when I moved here. I like this a lot.
Wow that was a messy post. I’m still figuring out how to process everything and what to make of the year so far. Here’s to hoping that the next month and a half will be as good as the last seven have been!