Jeanette in Morocco: A Different Universe

November 12, 2017

It’s difficult to admit, but before I came to Morocco, there were only a handful of people I felt like I had genuine support from. Whenever I told people where I would be spending my fall semester, it seemed like the first thing they said was “is it safe?” or “be careful” but it never seemed as though it was coming from a genuine place of care, but rather a place of concern. Perhaps such fears stem from the fact that Morocco is considered a developing country in Africa, or American rhetoric has made people narrow-minded about Muslim-majority countries. However, despite the doubt surrounding me, something in me told me that it couldn’t be true. There was no way people who have had no connection with a country could generalize a truth about it. It was unfair. It was ignorant.

Though I had no idea what to expect coming into Morocco, I can say that after having spent over two months here, my gut feeling was right.

Morocco is a country rich with history and culture. It is a place where strangers welcome you with mint tea, warm hugs, and hours of laughter despite strong language barriers. It is a place where community is deeply valued and everyone thinks of their neighbor before themselves. It is a place where I have been challenged to deconstruct my preconceived notions and see the world around me for what it is.

Below is a short film I created to capture my thoughts, emotions, and reflections. It was inspired by a poem I wrote the first week I was here.

“A Different Universe” – Enjoy!

 

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Jeanette in Morocco: Bni Koulla Village

November 1, 2017

Last week, I spent ten days in Bni Koulla, a small Moroccan village located in the Rif Mountains. Despite the lack of running water, language barriers, and differing cultures, it has been one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. Find some of my favorite moments below.

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The sun paints the sky burnt orange as it sets over the mountains and families gather along the dirt roads to share laughs and stories.

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Mourad, 10, smiles for the camera after herding sheep back into their pen.

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Jeanette means “paradise” in Arabic. This is little Jeanette and I. Our communication did not extend beyond counting to ten, playing hide and seek, and variations of concentration hand games but she made me smile every day even when it wasn’t easy to.

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This is the adobe tin-roof home I stayed in. Although my home-stay family and I could could only have minimal language exchange, it was hard to leave them at the end of the week. I had a humbling experience helping them get water from the well, cook, sweep, and perform farm work.

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On Friday, we all gathered together to make couscous, a staple food in Moroccan culture. It was a rewarding experience watching our hard work come to fruition, and not to mention, tasty!

 


Jeanette in Morocco: Southern Excursion

October 6, 2017

Last week, my SIT cohort embarked on an excursion through the south of Morocco. We traveled through the diverse cities of Fez, Azrou, Merzouga, Ouerzazte, and Marrakech. We saw the behind the scenes of local tanneries and tile factories, visited women’s education non-profit organizations, saw wild monkeys in the Cedar forest, rode camels in the Sahara desert, spent a night at a girls dormitory, and explored the tourism hub of Morocco.

Check out our adventures in the short film below!


Jeanette in Morocco: Calligraphy is Existence

October 3, 2017

As a member of the SIT: Field Studies Journalism and New Media program, I am currently specializing as a videographer. Last week, I had the honor of profiling Mohamed Oujddi, a thirty-five year-old local calligraphy artist based in Rabat, Morocco.

Oujddi began his career as a calligrapher to help his eight brothers’ through school. He currently teaches calligraphy to non-Arabic speaking students and completes designs for clientele and the royal palace.

“Calligraphy is existence. Because if you give more, if you create more, that means that you are here,” said Oujddi.

Oujddi shared that he is still learning about calligraphy. He hopes one day, the state can support this noble art.


Jeanette in Morocco: Tasty, Tasty!

September 19, 2017

Kouli, kouli, kouli! (Eat, eat, eat!) 

If you ever find yourself having a meal in Morocco, you’ll likely hear these words enthusiastically said to you. Lucky for you, Morocco is full of tasty foods, drinks, and desserts. Heading into my third week, I’ve already labeled three as my favorites!

 

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First, the infamous Moroccan dish, couscous! Couscous, made of crushed wheat, much like a blend between rice and pasta, is eaten every Friday in Morocco, as a celebration of the Holy Day. Families come together on this day, sit around a round table, and eat out of a large bowl together. The first photo features dessert couscous often made for special occasions. With caramelized onions, sweet raisins, and chickpeas as toppings, this dish had everyone murmuring sweet “mmmm” sounds and fighting for seconds. The second photo is a savory couscous with seven different vegetables and lamb. Both are must-haves if you ever find yourself in Morocco!

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Secondly, after almost every meal in Morocco, you will find yourself enjoying a cup of mint tea. This cultural delicacy will leave a refreshing taste lingering on your tongue after every sip, even though you’ll already be ready for the next!

 

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Third, we can’t forget desert! At Passion Creme, a local family owned ice-cream shop in Rabat, one can find unique flavors such as dates, figs, bubble gum, and more for only $1 US per scoop! I’ve been to this place four times in the past week and I’ll surely be back for more.

 


Jeanette in Morocco: Moroc(kin’) First Week

September 10, 2017

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Wow, it’s hard to believe I’ve already been in Morocco for nearly a week! Stepping off the plane felt surreal. There is something unexplainably special about experiencing a place for the first time.

The days feel long, but the moments feel fleeing.

As much as I would like to talk about all the things happening so quickly, I am slowly learning through the relaxed Moroccan lifestyle that it is unnecessary to make sense of everything immediately. Instead, we should understand that reflection takes time. It is this acknowledgement which liberates us, allowing us to not only be in a moment, but to truly soak it in.

In one week, Morocco has already challenged my abilities to relax, unwind, and be present. As an American, go-go-going is an embedded notion difficult to strip. However, as my host dad says, “Relax! It is not a problem!”

Day by day, I am learning to replace a stressful need to achieve with a calm desire to enjoy.

Enjoy this collection of small, but meaningful moments I have been lucky enough to experience, and more importantly, enjoy.

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My program SIT Morocco: Field Studies in Journalism and New Media is made up of 15 students from across the U.S. pursuing degrees in a mixture of journalism, film, photography, international relations, foreign correspondence, and more. Aka – a group of artistic junkies obsessed with words, images, and storytelling lucky enough to be mentored by award-winning creatives.

To say I am incredibly inspired by my new friends and professors is an understatement. From a Late Night Show intern to a New York Times published writer, I am surrounded by some serious talent and I can’t wait to learn from them and offer what I can!

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As a University of Richmond student pursuing a double major in Leadership Studies and Journalism, with a minor in Film Studies, it can sometimes feel like I am a fish swimming upstream. Whereas I find passion in literature and cinema, much of the university spends their time mixing chemicals or studying Econ.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that almost every single person in my study abroad program journals like I do!

A few nights ago, my friend and I went to the beach to watch the sunset and journal. Foolishly, we left too late and missed the sunset. We ended up laughing about the fact that we were sitting in the dark more than we actually journaled, but this has been one of my favorite nights thus far. And I look forward to many more.

I just moved into my homestay last night, and I already feel a part of the family! For homestay gifts, I brought a lighthouse candle holder (resembling the Virginia Beach lighthouse seal), autumn-scented candles, and one of my mom’s canvases.

Within seconds of unwrapping the gifts, my homestay mom immediately made them a part of the home decor!

She couldn’t read the Chinese calligraphy my mom wrote on the canvas, and I couldn’t explain them to her in Arabic, but somehow, with the little English we share, I was able to communicate the characters. “Peace is a blessing.” She smiled from ear to ear.

It was amazing to watch the way art bridged three cultures in this simple moment.

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Meet my little brother Youssef! He is the most adorable seven year old I have ever met and for the first time in my life, I’m not the youngest one!

My lack of Arabic and his lack of English don’t make for rich conversations, but we spent the whole afternoon playing catch, coloring, drawing, and communicating in an ongoing game of charades and validating thumbs-ups.

Despite language barriers and cultural differences, Youssef makes me smile as though I were seven again too.

 

 

 


Jeanette in Morocco: Pre-Departure Feels

September 1, 2017

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Eight months ago, I sat in the University of Richmond dining hall, unsure of where to study abroad. Part of me wanted to return to my mother’s loving homeland, Taiwan, while another part of me sought a new adventure to deconstruct the confines of my comfort zone. Unable to decide, I left it up to fate.

With the flip of a coin, I will be on a plane, flying to Morocco tomorrow! As a Leadership Studies, Journalism, and Film Studies student, I will be embarking on the SIT: Field Studies in Journalism and New Media Program.

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I cannot wait to combine my passions for social justice and visual storytelling as I explore the ins and outs of imperial cities and rural villages, seeking and sharing diverse, rich, and perhaps, silenced stories.

Book.jpgTomorrow, I will be watching the sunrise in Africa. This is both a beautiful and nerve-wrecking thought.

I feel as though people typically have a reason for choosing a particular country to study abroad in. However, I feel as though I will not know my reason until I return. And strangely, I am content with that.

For the next four months, I want to experience as a sponge – soaking in all the knowledge, experience, and culture Morocco has to offer. Here’s to a semester of growth, change, and new beginnings. As salam aleykum! أس سالم عليكم!



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