Destination: Morocco

Study abroad allows students to explore Morocco

Editor's note: Emma Dear is a sophomore majoring in public health. She traveled to Morocco for Maymester as a part of a study abroad program.

I always knew I wanted to study aboard in college. At first, I had a full semester in mind, but since I was a freshman last year it seemed too soon. So when I heard about Preston’s Maymester trip to Morocco, it looked like the perfect opportunity. I would get to travel somewhere I’d never been to before for a relatively short amount of time. It was like a test run to see if this was something I really wanted to do for a whole semester.

Everything was finalized by December and I’d taken a specialized class that spring about Moroccan culture, but I was still nervous about how I’d be treated as a woman in a predominately Muslim country. Luckily, my fears were completely unfounded. Morocco is a country with progressive cities, and the people there are incredibly tolerant and kind. Their acceptance of others can be seen by the way they speak so many different languages: Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian and English. The experiences and the people I met there are unforgettable.

We visited six different cities and had enough free time to explore all of them. We always had group dinners, either at restaurants or a local’s house, and ate traditional Moroccan food. I even got to try a camel burger. Since our visit also coincided with Ramadan, a small group of us fasted with our tour guide for a day. We didn’t eat the entire time the sun was up. It was really difficult, but as soon as the sun went down we had a feast for dinner.

Because I’m a public health major, I conducted a research project in Morocco about women’s health. I had to be careful about how I phrased my questions, and not to have any Western-bias, but all the women I talked to were really open. Health history is a very personal thing to share, and while there are differences between Morocco and the U.S., it isn’t as far apart as you would think.

The days we spent in different bazaars throughout the trip were insane. Shopping there isn’t like how it is in the U.S. where there is a set price for things and you just pay for it. In Morocco, you have to barter for anything you want to buy. Most tourists aren’t used to that, so the merchants will start out by asking for a price that’s marked up 50 percent higher than what they will take for their goods. I knew not to fall for it, and as time went on I learned different strategies on how to trade. I ended up coming home with souvenirs like a mosaic coffee mug, a mini mosque and a camel ornament for my mom.

Some of my favorite memories from the trip were the nights we spent out in the Sahara. We all drove out in a bus to the middle of nowhere, got off then traveled through the desert for two days on camelback. Without our caravan leaders, we would’ve been completely lost. In every direction I looked, everything looked the same: sand, sand and more sand.

On one of the nights, we came across a tribe of nomadic people native to north Africa known as the Berbers. We visited them and one of the local women hosted us in her tent and gave us mint tea. She was living in poverty, but she still showed us hospitality. That really cemented in my mind the generosity that Moroccans have for others.

Coming back home, I still keep in touch with my fellow travelers. We’re having a Moroccan-style reunion dinner as soon as we all get back to Columbia this fall. I can’t wait to see them.

Learn more

Interested in having your own adventure? Visit the Study Aboard Fair on Sept. 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Russell House Ballroom, or take a look at the Study Abroad Office website.

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