I studied abroad this summer in the city of Fez, Morocco for seven weeks. While I was there I intensively studied the Arabic language, lived with a Moroccan host family, and went on weekend excursions to different cities and the Sahara Desert. My Arabic language classes were four hours each day and five days each week, with the classes all taught in Arabic not English. We were in small classes so we all had constant practice reading, writing, and speaking Arabic. My classmates were all study-abroad students from around the United States; a mix of linguistics majors, military universities, and Iowa State /University of Minnesota students.
My host family lived very close to my school so I walked to my 8 AM classes every morning while my classmates took the famous red Fez taxis to school. I lived with my host family of my host mom, Jmiaa, and her adopted ten-year-old daughter, Fatima. My three other host siblings were Jmiaa’s three grandchildren, Abdoo, Alae, and Kenza, who visited every day. My host-family spoke French and Arabic at home, so my listening and pronunciation of Arabic improved immensely. Along with practicing Arabic over home-cooked meals every day, I also experienced an unexpected language exchange with the family’s three grandchildren. Abdoo, age 8, had been taking English classes at school (he will eventually be tri-lingual!), so I helped him with his French and English language workbooks while I worked on my own Arabic homework. My host sister Fatima, age 10, helped me with spelling and pronunciation.
On the weekends we coordinated trips to different Moroccan cities such as liberal Tangier in the north and a caravan trip through the Sahara desert by camel. None of us had ever ridden a camel before, so it was a memory we will never forget. We all had fun naming our one-hump camels, hanging on for dear life while sitting so high up, and taking pictures while traveling across the beautiful dunes. We stayed the night in an oasis that our Moroccan Berber leaders led us to within the Sahara Desert. It was an experience of a lifetime.
One of the most educational aspects of the study abroad program took place outside of the classroom. I learned about the treatment of women, especially with regard to acceptable dress in a Muslim culture, and the general social expectations within Moroccan society. I was respectful of the culture and wore the recommended jacket and jeans combination every day, even in ninety-degree weather, to meet social norms. Another change in lifestyle was adjusting to the mentality that women should not walk alone. All of these learning moments are very unique and I am so grateful for Iowa State’s range of Study Abroad programs. This Study Abroad program, through my study of the Arabic language, has changed my life, giving me the ability to adapt to new cultures and places and understand cultural differences.
My future plans include working with international students studying at Iowa State to give them a smooth and welcoming transition, taking women’s studies courses, and raising awareness for the new ISU Arabic program and difference in cultures around the world.