Morocco Offers New Perspectives for Fordham Students Abroad

Reese Ravner visited Chefchaouen while in Morocco. (REESE RAVNER/THE OBSERVER)

By REESE RAVNER
Asst. Features Co-Editor

On Jan. 27 at 5 a.m., a group of 29 students studying at Fordham’s Spanish immersion program in Granada, Spain began their journey to Morocco, unaware of the perspective they would gain in just four short days. A known perk of being abroad is the ability to travel and experience new cultures. Fordham’s partnering with the program, Morocco Exchange, allowed us to explore the country and the culture of Morocco in a more intimate way than we would have been able to do by ourselves.

The weather was less than pleasant the morning we left. We woke up at 4 a.m. and took a bus to Tarifa to catch a ferry to Tangier. Due to the rain and turbulent winds, our ferry was canceled. Luckily, our trip organizers, Melissa, who is from Seattle, and Claire, who is from France, were experienced travelers and were able to book us tickets on another ferry out of a port about an hour away. The ride itself was very rocky due to the weather, and after our hour long journey, the boat pulled into Tanger-Med port, and we were greeted by a large Arabic inscription on the side of a hill, visible from the boat.

As soon as we parted ways with the boat, we boarded a bus that would take us to Tangier. As we drove, I noticed the powerful presence of nature in the Tangier outskirts. There were full flocks of sheep roaming the grassy hillsides around the scattered houses. Because I had not done my research—I had decided I would just go along for the ride—, this is what I was expecting most of Morocco to be like. However, when we arrived in Tangier, I was met with a developing, modern city. This was the first of many surprises Morocco would give me on this trip.

We had lunch—our first of many meals consisting of couscous, chicken and vegetables—at Darna, a Moroccan women’s association that aims to support women, children and families in difficult situations. In Arabic, Darna means “our house.” We spoke to three local college students about their experiences with school and growing up in Morocco. Each had very different opinions about their government, such as the extent of its corruptness, and their religion. The main religion in Morocco is Islam, and these first three students exemplified right off the bat how different each Muslim’s experience and interpretation of the religion could be. One of the two girls was wearing a hijab, and she explained that it was a personal choice to wear one. Later, our guide informed us that this thinking was progressive and somewhat exclusive to the larger cities.

That night, we traveled to Rabat and met the Moroccan families we’d be staying with for the next two days. We were greeted with hugs and kisses in homes decorated with beautiful tile and rugs. We stayed with a mother, her sister, and her 15-year-old daughter, who was learning English and was very excited to practice with us. Despite the language barrier, they were incredibly warm to us, and were excited to share their food and culture.
We were all floored by the immense hospitality we were shown. The families differed in terms of their occupations and size—some of us stayed with traditional families, consisting of a mother, father, and children, while others of us stayed in atypical situations.

“Despite the language barrier, they were incredibly warm to us, and were excited to share their food and culture.
We were all floored by the immense hospitality we were shown.”

My Spanish roommate, Katie DeFonzo, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’18, gushed about her host mother’s three-year-old grandson, who lived with her. She and her roommates in Morocco played with him for hours, and she commented, “smiles and laughs really transcend language.”This was our first interaction with Moroccan hospitality, and the days that followed were filled with nothing less. We met more students in Rabat and hung out with them in small groups. My friend Dounea Elbroji, whose father is Moroccan, found a connection with one of the Moroccan students we had tea with—they both liked country music and began singing a Luke Bryan song in the restaurant.

The following day, we visited a family who lived in a rural part of the Rif mountains. Their lifestyle was much slower paced than that of those in the cities we visited, just as one may find when comparing small towns and big cities in the United States. After they served us more of the delicious couscous we grew accustomed to over the four days, we talked with the women and were able to ask them questions about their lives.

Someone asked the three children, all under the age of 13, what they wanted to be when they grew up. One of them replied that she wanted to be a doctor, and the other two that they wanted to be engineers. This moment solidified my recognition of the large emphasis on education we had seen over the past few days. College in Morocco is free, and, especially for the students in the cities, is widely pursued.

Our final stop was in the beautiful “Blue City” of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. It was here that I noticed the new level of comfort I felt in Morocco, something that had grown in just four days and that I attributed to the kindness we were shown.Visiting Morocco altered my perspective on the world in a way I did not expect. Because of the program we traveled with, we were able to experience the country in a very intimate way. This intimacy, a result of meeting individuals and bonding with them, showed me how much more enriching traveling to a new place can be if you get out of your comfort zone and talk to real citizens about their daily lives, as opposed to solely seeking out picturesque monuments. I returned to Spain with an elevated appreciation for kindness and warmth, the embracing of differences and Moroccan food.

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