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  • Mikaela Boelkins

A New York Minute at Pre-departure Orientation

*As a heads up, this post was written less than 12 hours ago. I am now beginning to take in the wonders of Rabat and Morocco.


My journey began only a few days ago. I was driven to my local airport where I flew to NYC for orientation. My flight was supposed to leave at 1:05, but didn’t depart until around 3:50, causing me to arrive very late as compared to the rest of my cohort (9:15, ugh). Whilst being driven to Columbia University by shuttle for the iEARN NSLI-Y orientation, an older mustached man sitting directly behind me incessantly voiced his discomfort with the lack of air conditioning on the bus. As a matter of fact, the entirety of my voyage on wheels to Columbia consisted of this man’s complaints. On the bright side, his enthusiastic picture-taking encouraged me to take some of my own “NYC-at-night” pictures. They aren’t too shabby.


Once I arrived, I was told that I had 45 minutes to get myself something to eat, an opportunity I jumped on. Luckily, there was a lovely pizza place nearby that served a toothsome Margarita pizza and some mean garlic knots. I met my roommate, apologized for my reeling breath, and went to bed.


Although my Saturday consisted of sitting through meetings all day regarding NSLI-Y expectations, leaving me practically begging for caffeine pick-me-up, it seems now that it went by in a flash. I acquainted with myself with over 20 NSLI-Y students in two days (28, to be exact) and have already had several memorable experiences. I learned that when Moroccans of the same gender greet each other, they kiss each other’s cheeks. Although we all weren’t emboldened enough to smooch our new friends’ cheeks, we were able to emulate a cultural tradition that will soon come to life in front of us. Later that night, we were given the freedom to eat at a restaurant with the NSLI-Y provided stipend, as long as it was within radius. I can still taste the mouthwatering broth of the spicy tonkotsu ramen I ate for dinner on Saturday—-the creamy demeanor of the marrow bone broth, the salty crunch of the seaweed and bean sprouts, the familiar taste of the boiled egg, and the melt-in-your mouth delight of two, fatty slices of pork—-the meal was delicious, especially after a tiring, sedentary day.


Being surrounded by others from throughout the the country is a unique experience. But these students of my program are interested in more than just learning Arabic. They strive to become model citizen ambassadors and flexible, open-minded cultural explorers. They’re interested in learning Arabic as to gain a deeper connection to Moroccan and Arab culture at large.


As I sit on the plane and type a rough draft for my blog into my notes application, I can’t think about anything that I’d rather be doing this summer. I am so fortunate to have family and friends back home anticipating my writing and photos. Looking forward to showing bits and pieces of Morocco starting tomorrow.


مع السلامة،

Mikaela “almost-in-Morocco”

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