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  • Mikaela Boelkins

Reflecting (Developed Partially on August 4th)

It's been a while since I've been regular on this blog. I anticipated on posting the week before we embarked on our Sahara trip, but we arrived back in Rabat just in time for "grind time," the final week of the NSLI-Y program. I took a two-hour final exam on the Arabic I learned while here, and I wrote a presentation, in Arabic, about the origins of the Happy Birthday song. But at this very moment, I'm sitting in my room for the final time. My green comforter, differently-shaped leaves printed all over it, is laying on the floor beside my yellow and magenta quilt, patterned similarly. I'm sitting only on my twin-sized bed, covered with a bright pink fitted sheet. No longer does my radiant purple Samsonite suitcase sit below the hand-crafted wooden desk that occupies much of my room. Rather, it's sitting in my roommate's room: packed to the brim with shirts, sweatshirts (that I really did not need in the beautiful, temperature Rabat climate), and a plethora of fragile pottery that better not break. I'm bound to pay extra for overweight luggage tomorrow, all because I decided to bring my alto saxophone to Morocco instead of a carry-on. But it hadn't hit me that I'm leaving Morocco until I packed my bag last night–until I packed away more than just my clothes and physical belongings, but a whole lifestyle built on hospitality, spontaneity, and unpunctuality. At this point in the program, there's no doubt I've embraced the city of Rabat, but accepting it in its entirety has been a struggle.


I came to Morocco expecting to conquer the country right off the bat. For months, I couldn't comprehend that I had gotten the opportunity to go to a North African country and learn Arabic for free. As a child who grew up with the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, the values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and risk-taking were instilled in me at a young age. Although I've been taught to listen to and befriend those who are far different than I, both outwardly and culturally, attempting to make sense of Morocco during my first few days in country was much more difficult than I had anticipated. Heck, in hindsight it makes more sense.


My entire life I've grown up in different variations of the same homogeneous suburbia. Not to say that I haven't loved growing up in a comfortable home with reliable A/C, hot water on demand, and supremely comfortable mattresses, but how could I expected my life of privilege and luxury to adequately prepare me for a life in the Rabat's old medina? Exploring my new neighborhood that first day in country, I remember feeling hyper-aware of all of my surroundings. In tourist-fashion, I clutched my bag on the left side of my body, close to my chest. During PDO, we sat through meeting after meeting about safety and security, so the last thing I wanted was to get pickpocketed. It seemed as if every single Moroccan was staring at me. I dreaded walking too far because I was afraid that I'd be catcalled. I was meek and afraid of dealing with the mere possibility of harassment. I was a baby bird leaving my new nest for the first time, and it was scary. After only thirty minutes of walking with my roommate, I was more than relieved to find the thick aqua rim that envelops my host family's hardy wooden door. I walked into the room I was once so unfamiliar with, cold tiles, embellished with the same star-esque design, covering the wall from the very bottom landing just five feet or so below the ceiling, and laid on the bed I'd sleep in for the next six weeks. I cried, wailing just softly enough so that my roommate and host family wouldn't come to check on me. At that time, I would have loved to say that the culture shock didn't quite hit me––that maybe I wouldn't even have to adapt to Morocco––but I would have been lying through my teeth. I really can't deny how immense the adjustment was for me.


Once I got through the first few days of the program, I began to become more comfortable. Still, I silently struggled to feel at home in Morocco, but I tried to get out and adventure more, immersing myself with different people and different sights. Spending time at the beaches of Bouznika allowed me to become closer with the kids on my program, which distracted me from the struggles of culture shock and adapting to Morocco. And going to Marrakesh the following week allowed me to feel like a true tourist during my summer vacation. The Jemaa El Finaa square immersed me in a night-market environment like I had seen in the countless youtube videos I watched prior to my trip. My NSLI-Y friends, friends back home, and traveling to different Moroccan cities together comprised my attempts at escapism in adjusting to Rabat, speaking in a language far different from English, and ultimately developing relationships with other people.


October 20: Unfortunately, this is merely an excerpt of the reflection I began to write during one of my last days in Morocco, but I thought it would be important that I post it, even 2 months after Morocco.


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