Hello everyone! I’ve been back home for about a month and I’m very excited to (finally) share with you some things that I was able to experience while on my study abroad program in Spain and Morocco in January! I recently got around to downloading all of my pictures to my computer so I could ACTUALLY get this post up!
What the Program Was
So my university has a winter term, which is 3 weeks in between the fall and spring semesters where students take one class. It also is an extremely popular time to study abroad, and Elon offers lots of programs going all over the world with focuses on things like history or service learning.
The program I went on was Spain and Morocco. We visited Sevilla, Cádiz, Córdoba, and Granada in Spain, and we visited Tangier, Asillah, Rabat, Salé, Meknes, Fes, and Chefchaouen in Morocco. Not to sound super cliche, but this experience was a little life-changing, and definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
My Favorite Experience
My absolute favorite experience while abroad was simply a conversation a few girls and I had with someone over dinner. Our group’s main travel guide in Morocco set up a talk for us with an American woman who had been living in Morocco for four years because of the Peace Corps. She came to talk to everyone about gender and how male and females are treated differently in Morocco. Hearing her take on things and her answers to everyone’s questions was extremely interesting. She then accompanied us to dinner along with her husband, who was a Moroccan born man. I was lucky enough to sit at a table with her for dinner, and she told us even more about her life, why she went into the Peace Corps, how it led her to Morocco, and different experiences she has had while there.
Hearing her talk was one of the most inspirational moments of my entire life. One of the last things she said at that dinner was a quote that I will never forget. She told us:
“Wherever you are in the world, people are people. We all dance at weddings, we all cry at funerals, and we all want a better future for our kids.”
When I got back to the hotel that night I quickly scribbled what she told us down in my journal, because I knew that was a quote I wanted to have with me forever. The biggest takeaway she wanted us to carry back home with us was just that; people are people. No matter what differences come between us, it is always important to remember that, and I hope that everyone reading this remembers this quote as well.
My Weirdest Experience
Now, no more sappy, inspirational things. It’s about to read real weird here. My weirdest experience also happened to be in Morocco. If you happen to know what a Hammam is, you might know where this story is headed. If not, let me explain. A Hammam is a public bath. People come once a week or a few times a month and basically shower there and use the hot water. In poorer areas, people come often because they may not have access to hot water in their home. One of the Hammams we went to was truly a wild experience. It was inside of a spa, so we all figured it would be pretty fancy. Compared to others, it was, but it certainly was nothing like a spa Americans would expect.
So, picture this: we walked in all in our bathing suits and see these marble tables spread around this tile and marble hot room. Women (naked) are on top being scrubbed down by employees there. Yes, that’s right. Naked women being scrubbed down. And yes, you guessed it. We were going to be next.
So, basically, we first all sat in a sauna room and lathered ourselves up with this Moroccan soap that causes you to sweat. Then one by one we were taken by employees to these marble tables, our bathing suit tops taken off and then scrubbed down by these women using a kees, which is like a textured mitt that is used for exfoliation. And when I say scrubbed down, I mean scrubbed. down. The amount of dead skin that this Moroccan woman sloughed off of my body was actually insane. I felt so soft and brand new afterward it almost made up for the fact that every girl on my study abroad program had just seen me topless.
Hammams are definitely something you should try if you want to fully experience Moroccan culture, but I really don’t know if I will see myself at one again in the future.
One thing that I loved about this program was how different of an experience I had than if I had studied somewhere for a semester. Instead of living somewhere and going to classes (which, don’t get me wrong, is an absolutely amazing experience as well) we traveled all around together and had opportunities set up for us to meet and talk to lots of different people. One day in Morocco we met with undocumented refugees living in Morocco who were all trying to get across the border into Europe to try and start new lives. Another day in Spain we were meeting with people who were working with those in the Western Sahara (which if you don’t know, has had conflict there with Morocco since the 1970s). It was a once in a lifetime experience and one of the greatest experiences I’ve had, and probably will ever have in my lifetime. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this program.
If there’s any last piece of knowledge I can give to you, it is that even in countries that seem so different from us, there are an incredible amount of similarities. Travel to countries that you don’t know much about and learn about the culture and the people, put yourself in uncomfortable situations and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn. And, always remember: people are people.