Halfway there. . .

Due to all of us being tired, week 3 was off to a very slow start. On Monday, everyone was super tired at school but thankfully there was an information session for new students. This meant that we were allowed to sleep in the tent in the garden for another hour. At 9:30, Nancy, my language teacher, woke us up and we started right where we had left off the week before. After school, a big group of us headed to a local bakery where we saw signs that they had cheesecake. I ended up getting Oreo cheesecake which was really good. I was in the mood for a really long walk so Simone and I trekked almost an hour from our school to our apartments. I have really enjoyed getting to know my way around the city on foot plus it’s nice to be outside after being inside for several hours in class.
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One of my favorite murals that I see on my way back home.
On Tuesday, we visited the zoo after school with some of our language partners. Earlier in the day, we learned the names of animals so it was really fun to apply what we learned in class to a real world situation. My favorite animal that I saw was the desert fox which is one of the cutest animals ever. When we visited the lions, there was a fight that had just broken out between two of the males. We left but when we came back, two lions were sharing an “intimate” moment together. After the zoo, a group of us went to Olivera, a gelato place, to grab a quick snack. This was the best gelato I’ve ever had. I got 3 flavors, raspberry, vanilla, and chocolate (my personal favorite was the chocolate but they were all incredibly good). The chocolate was the perfect combination of sweet and rich, it wasn’t like super sugary and the flavor wasn’t overwhelming but it was very deep. I bet once this trip is over, I’ll have a side job as a food critic.
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Maybe the cutest animals ever?
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The best gelato in the world!
For class on Wednesday, we worked on conjugating verbs which was very confusing but something that I just need to practice a lot. After lunch, we had our weekly NSLI-Y meeting and we talked about some of the most meaningful relationships we have established so far. I talked about the taxi driver who had 14 brothers and was really excited that we were learning Arabic. Other people talked about shop keepers, host siblings, and even teachers. It’s amazing to see how much our relationships with these people have grown in only 3 weeks. We also talked about the goals that we set at the beginning of the trip during the PDO in New York. I was glad that I was able to achieve my first goal which was to talk to my family about Islam and watch their practices for at least 10 minutes a day. My second goal was to learn about transportation in Rabat from my host family but we went over that in school so I changed it to trying to talk to every cab driver on the way back from school. After the meeting, we had our language partners where  I was paired up with Mollie and Simone which made the experience a lot better. We went over all of the verbs that we learned in class. I forgot to mention that we are also working on a dance and a speech for the 23rd iEarn Conference and 20th Youth Summit in Marrakesh, Morocco. This conference will have people from all over the world talking about their experiences with iEarn.  We decided to make a mashup of songs corresponding with the different types of dances that people in our group know. We also wanted to highlight the diversity of the United States so started out and ended with “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus and we cut to different dances in the middle of the song. We had Michael lead the Irish Step Dance, Paola lead a traditional Mexican dance, Seena lead a Persian dance and Meher closed it out with a Bhangra dance. Once our time with the language partners were finished, we then learned Michael’s and Paola’s dance and after about 45 minutes, we headed into Agdal to get some gelato. On the way to Agdal (about a 10 minute drive from our school) we saw two police scooters that were followed by a big black truck and another car behind that one (we later found out that the King of Morocco was in the black truck and was being driven through Rabat). Once we got to Agdal, Simone, Tiffany, Jane and I split off from the group getting gelato and decided to go to a local cafe which had AC because we were feeling the heat after the dance. The food was ok but it was a lot of fun to talk with each other. We ended up staying there for 2 hours before walking home together. We first walked Simone to her house and then we headed back to my house where we would get some supplies for our upcoming trip to Marrakesh. Once I got home, I ate dinner with my host family and I went over the stuff we learned in class with my older host brother.
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Fun times at the cafe!
Thursday was a lot of fun. In the morning we had a calligraphy class and this was the first time that we were allowed to be really creative. I freehanded my name and I was able to turn Tiffany’s name into an arch which was really cool. For lunch, there were several NSLI-Y Alumni who were at our language school and we got to talk to them about their experiences and what they did or are planning on doing after their time at NSLI-Y. I got to sit with Noor who had done NSLI-Y Summer and Year programs in Morocco and she is currently working at our school for the summer. It was really cool to hear about her experiences with NSLI-Y and what she was able to do once she got back home. I also met Grace who will also be attending school in D.C. in the fall so we exchanged info so we can meet up at some point. After school, I went to McDonalds with most of the group which was something I’d been wanting to try for a long time. I got a Petit McArabia as well as a KitKat McFlurry.  The McArabia was . . .  interesting but I really liked the McFlurry. I then headed home and I got to talk for a long time with my host brothers about traveling, religion, all of that good stuff. Friday is our midterm so I spent a long time studying for that.
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McDonalds in Morocco!
Friday was the big day. In the morning we reviewed for the test and after the tea break, we took the test. The test was very similar to the review so I wish I had studied that a bit more. I felt like I did good job on some parts of the test and then not so good on other parts. After the test, we had lunch, and then worked on the song that Youssef began teaching us last week. I was given the letter thaal and the word I had to sing was “thahab asfar” which means gold in Arabic. I could not memorize it for the life of me so every time the song came to my part, I would try and fake it but it never worked. I eventually wrote it down and then I was good from then on. After music, it was time for sports club where we would be playing soccer in a local field. When we got there, there were two other students in addition to the 14 in my group. My team ended up being Yuki and Meher (both of which play soccer), Tiffany, Seena, Diana, and Caspar who was from Chelsea in the United Kingdom. Despite the heat and the powerful song, we played for around 2 hours and it was a lot of fun. Youssef was also really good and he made me fall a few times. I ended up scoring a total of 3 goals and our team won with 10 goals compared to the other team’s 9. On the car ride home, we belted songs like “Titanium” and “Diamonds” and it was a really good time (despite our not so good singing). Once we got back to the language center, we met up with Youssef to go shopping for traditional Moroccan clothing. I ended up buying a long royal blue robe with light blue detailing for celebrations and as a souvenir.
I can’t believe that we are already halfway done with this trip. It is a really weird feeling because it has gone by so fast but it also feels like we have been here for a super long time. I have learned so much and I have had so many amazing experiences with people that I only met 3 weeks ago. We are so excited for these last 3 weeks but are also starting to feel song that we eventually have to leave this amazing country. I’m so excited for the conference this weekend in Marrakesh as well as our visit to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.

 

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Feeling blue. . .

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NSLI-Y at the top of the Spanish Mosque in Chefcaouen
This weekend, we got to visit Chefcaouen and Tangiers, two cites in northern Morocco. If you’re on any type of social media, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of a beautiful blue and white town in Morocco, those were all taken in Chefcaouen. We left Rabat Saturday early in the morning because the drive is 5 hours and we wanted to get there with plenty of time to explore the city. The bus ride was fairly quiet with most people sleeping or listening to music. As we got closer and closer to Chefcaouen, the ride became really bumpy as we headed up and down mountains. As we went around a corner, we saw this beautiful blue city on the left and we all gasped a little bit. It was crazy to finally see the city in person after I’ve seen it all across social media.
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Why is every alley so photogenic?
We then drove down to our hotel which was brand new. When I say brand new, I mean we were literally the first people to stay in the hotel. We later found out that there were some much needed changes that they hadn’t quite figured out yet but it was a really nice place (Seena ended up with about 2 inches of water flooding his room after he took a shower). After putting our bags down, we headed into the medina where we would be eating our lunch. For lunch, I had some beef tajine (yay! more tajine!!!!). After lunch, we headed on a tour of Chefcaouen. Our guide was Hassan, a very old man who walked very slowly and I expected this tour to be long, hot, and boring. However as we kept walking with him, he made some jokes and was overall just a very funny person. He also told us how he gave a tour to Chelsea Clinton and is going to be giving one to one Sasha Obama. He was very knowledgeable about Chefchaouen and we were always excited to hear his thoughts on a specific monument or the history of this city.
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Our guide leading the way.
At the end of the tour, we had the option to take a short hike up to the Spanish Mosque which had spectacular views of the town and the surrounding landscape. I swear it is the most photogenic city I’ve ever been to and it looks amazing from any angle you can think of. After the short hike, we went back to the hotel and had some free time before dinner. I read a little bit (something that I’ve had almost no time to do). For dinner, we headed back into the medina and went to a place that was very similar to our lunch place. Dinner was a lot of fun and we all talked about how we heard about NSLI-Y and our experiences with the whole application process. I had applied one time before this year but for almost everyone else, it was their first time. Almost everyone also had waited until the end to apply (I think finished my application 3 days before the deadline). For dinner, I had beef tajine (again). For dessert, we had goat yogurt (we nicknamed it goat-gurt) with date sauce, a specialty of this region. After dinner, we all were super tired and wanted to head back to the hotel. The thing about this trick is that almost every second is jammed packed and this leaves little room for sleep, let alone relaxation. For me, I have really had to carve out time to keep up with this blog and my own personal journal but I love writing so it’s worth all of the hard work.
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Halfway up the hike to the Spanish Mosque
The next day, we headed to north to Tangiers which is further up the Atlantic coast. I woke up early to catch a glimpse of the sunset but it was nothing compared to the one in Fez. After about being on the roof for 30 seconds, I headed down and took a shower. We were supposed to be served breakfast at 7:00 but that was another thing that they hadn’t figured out yet. It also didn’t help that I was all the way on the bottom floor because the kitchen was at the very top. It was around 8:30 when I finally got my breakfast. In the mean time, I watched children’s tv shows and I was able to understand about 5% percent of what they were saying but it’s better than nothing. We were finally served these really good fried dough pancakes with jam, goat cheese, and butter (and mint tea of course). Little did I know that this delay would make the ride home a lot less enjoyable. We left the hotel around 9 and then headed north to Tangiers which was about a 2 hour drive. Everyone was either asleep or listening to music and I tried a mixture of the two. We finally made it to Tangiers and then headed to a local beach where we could go swimming. As soon as we put our stuff down on the sand and started to get ready to go swimming, there was this big commotion and all of the life guards jumped into the water. It turned out that 3 people had been trapped in a rip current and needed to be rescued. With that information, we headed further down the beach where a lot of people were swimming without problem. The water was much colder than Rabat so I spent a lot of time just shivering and trying to stay warm.
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On the way to the beach in Tangiers
We stayed at the beach for a few hours and then we headed in to Tangiers. At this point, it had been several hours since we last ate and we were all starving. Little did we know that the food would take even longer than breakfast to reach us. Pretty much everyone ordered a pizza (mine was with veggies) and it took about 2 hours for everyone to get what they ordered. At around 1 hour into the wait, we were given bread and water and we all devoured that. After lunch we still had a tour of Tangiers and a visit to a cave planned. All of us were tired due to the rigious plan of the trip but we still went on the tour. Instead of being an hour and a half, the tour ended up being 30 minutes because we were running so late. We got a little taste of Tangiers but not as much as I would have liked. After visiting the Medina, we headed to the Cave of Hercules which is a cave that looks like a face. We were all so tired at this point but the sun was starting to set over the ocean and it was golden hour so it was perfect timing for pictures. The cave itself was ok but I feel like we could have skipped the visit.
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The Cave of Hercules (if you flip the image, it looks like Africa)
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A very natural, not posed, candid image of Simone and I
Once we were done visiting the cave, we finally started the long drive home. Almost as soon as we left, I started to feel nauseous and I felt like this for almost the whole ride home. The only time I really felt good was when I was watching the sun set over the rolling hills. It was just a perfect moment, I was listening to my new favorite album (Melodrama by Lorde) and watching this golden orb slowly fall from the sky and leaving it’s colorful trail across the sky.
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Not at all what it looked like in real life.
But for the rest of the ride, I felt terrible. I drifted in and out of sleep the whole time and it was close to 11:30 pm when we arrived back in Rabat. I felt very out of it getting out of the bus and good thing that we one of the guides helped us get a taxi. Tiffany, Caity, and I all live near each other (Tiffany and I live in the same building which is super convenient). Freida, our RD, wanted to make sure that we all got home safely so Tiffany and I walked Caity home before heading back to our house. By the time I made it back to the apartment, it was past midnight and I still had to prepare for school the next day. I ended up going to bed around 1 and having to wake up for the school day at 6:30 the next morning.
These past two weekends have been incredible but also incredibly tiring.  I really enjoyed seeing another part of the country and next weekend, we are headed off to Marrakesh for a iEarn conference where we will be representatives of the NSLI-Y program and the United States.

Starting to Settle In

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NSLI-Y and local students after volunteering together
This week was our first full week in school and the set routine has really made time fly. After really fun weekend trip, we were all tired and ready to head back to class. On Monday, we had morning classes and in the afternoon we had language partners which are people that we can practice what we learned in class with. I reviewed dictation with my language partner, he would say a word, I would write it in Arabic, and he would correct it. After that, we visited Chellah which is a medieval fortress in Rabat which has really cool architecture and beautiful gardens. There were also cats everywhere and I enjoyed seeing the adorable kittens (even though I’m allergic to cats). After our visit to Chellah, we stopped by a local supermarket and picked up supplies for our 4th of July party. I was in charge of snacks so I picked up chips and popcorn. We also bought watermelon (about 3 dollars for a 30 pound melon), Coca-Cola, ice cream, hot dogs, and buns. After making it back home, Tiffany and I walked around the neighborhood to familiarize ourself with the area.
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With our language partners at Chellah
After class in the morning on Tuesday, it was time to prepare for our 4th of July party. I was in charge of cooking the hot dogs.  Neither Tiffany or I are chefs but we both know how to cook a hotdog, but these aren’t the type we have in the states. We tried all these different methods to cook the hot dogs but we finally settled on cooking them in a skillet. We prepared around 50 hot dogs and buns and then also made some Coca-Cola floats with vanilla ice cream. Once everything was done cooking, it was time to eat and the party started. We all ate the food and then began dancing to bops like Cotton Eye Joe and the Cupid Shuffle.  After that, we played some field games like limbo, tug of war, jump rope, and then reverse limbo (starts off low and who ever can jump the highest wins). After those games, we played Fishy, Fishy, Cross my Ocean and then that migrated to American football and then that migrated to soccer. We all had a great time eating familiar foods, playing games, and dancing to classic American hits.
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Happy 4th!
On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to volunteer at a local school after our morning classes. When we got to the school, we were all given tasks in groups. We introduced ourselves to all the Moroccan students and we found out that they were all around the same ages as us. I was told to help with landscaping which was perfect to me because I’ve worked on a farm for more than 5 years. We picked up dead branches and leaves, cleaned up trash, and eventually got to plant some trees. We planted two olive trees in small groups (I thought this was very symbolic). Once we had all finished picking up the last leaves, it was time for the group to plant an orange tree. Again, I got to plant the tree which was a lot of fun. I’m excited to come back in the future and see these trees be much bigger. I was really happy for this opportunity to give back to a community that has already given me so much in my short time here. In the next few weeks, we will have a lot more opportunities to volunteer so I’m really excited for that.
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Planing an olive tree with local students.
It also seemed that around Wednesday, a lot of people started to get sick. Simone had gotten really sick after her time in Fez and Tiffany was just starting to feel bad so we decided that instead of taking a taxi home, we would all walk to Simone’s house. The walk was fun and I think it allowed us to bond a little bit more, and also see a different part of Rabat. Once we dropped Simone off, Tiffany and I picked up medicine and headed back to the apartment.
On Thursday, we had our morning classes. We had learned numbers earlier in the day so I volunteered to be the teacher for an hour and I decided that we should play bingo. This game really helped me learn my numbers and was better than just trying to memorize random combinations. After lunch, we headed to Oudayas which is an old neighborhood in Rabat. On the bus ride there, our guide played some Moroccan songs and we all jammed out even though we had no idea what the songs were about. The neighborhood reminded me of a mini-Chefchaoeuen because all of the buildings were blue and white. We walked around for a bit and then headed back to the language center for an hour of Darija. After class, I headed to Marjain with a group of people so we could pick up stuff that we needed. I bought Tiffany some apple sauce because I know that is good to eat while you are sick and it always makes me feel better. After we checked out, I returned to the apartment where I had beef tajine for dinner (and I also had it for lunch, and for dinner the night before, and lunch a few days before, and, you get the point.)
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A house in Oudayas. Imagine living here!
Today was a beach day. We had normal classes in the morning, followed by a music lesson led by Youseff, the other teacher for a song that we will be preforming at our graduation party. I didn’t remember most of the lyrics but it was a really catchy beat so I just kind of mumbled along with the music. We had our lunch on the bus to the beach which was maybe a 15 minute drive south of the school. We got to to the beach and I almost immediately jumped into the water. Everyone else took their time getting in because it was “cold” but I’m used to Massachusetts water which is max 70 degrees. I brought my underwater camera so we took some really cool underwater pictures and videos. Everyone eventually got out and then I started to look around the rocks for sea glass and pottery. People found some pretty cool things and I spent most of the time there digging out a piece of sea glass that was wedged between two rocks. I got back into the water for one last time and then it was time to head back to the language center for graduation. The school works on 4 week sessions so the people who graduated today had been here for 4 weeks or more. There was music, dancing, henna, and most importantly, food. We danced for a bit and then I decided to get some henna, which I don’t think a lot of men get but, who cares. Tiffany and I left the party a bit early so we could pack for our big trip tomorrow. I also worked on some homework and then wrote some blog posts about our past weekend at Fez. I’m excited for this weekend’s trip!
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Beach day! It was nice to relax after a long week.
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First time getting henna. I really liked how it turned out!

When in Fez. . .

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NSLI-Y (kind of?)
For our first weekend trip, the NSLI-Y group headed to the towns of Volubilis (an ancient Roman city), Meknes (a former capital of Morocco) and Fez (the second largest city in Morocco behind Casablanca). These weekend trips give all of us a great opportunity to discover Moroccan history and culture outside of Rabat, our homestay town.
Volubilis is about a 2 and a half hour drive from Rabat. We left early from the language center after having breakfast. Everyone slept on the way there and we finally arrived there around 11 pm. The area of Morocco that we were visiting is very hot and dry, something that we don’t experience in Rabat. Volubilis was a very cool place to visit, but my favorite thing by far were the intricate tile mosaics from when the Romans ruled the area. Despite being thousands of years old, the mosaics were still in amazing shape and you could easily tell what story they were telling. My favorite one was one that depicted the wildlife that once lived in this region including lions and elephants.
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My favorite mosaic (you can see an elephant and a zebra in this photo)
Once we toured all of the ancient city, it was time to head to the next stop on our journey, Meknes. Meknes was the capital of the Moroccan empire from 1672 to 1727 and experienced a golden age under the reign of Sultan Ismail ibn Sharif (the great great great great great great great great grandfather of the current king, Mohammed VI). He turned this fortrus into a city. One of the main aspects that he was concerned about was the treat of invasion. Because of this, he built a large reservoir and a granary that could keep the city fed and hydrated for years if needed. Behind the granary were the royal stables, which was one of my favorite sites I’ve seen in Morocco so far. Pictures hardly show the beauty of this hidden treasure. There are arches made of some type of beautiful stone that extend far above our heads (it’s hard to describe the beauty so I’ll just include a lot of photos).
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Quite a nice view. . .
After we were done touring, we headed to Fez, where we would be staying for the night. Fez was the former capital of Morocco until 1925. I was super excited to visit the medinas, one of which is thought to be the largest car-free area in the world (thanks Wikipedia). Our hotel was a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard). The center of the building was beautiful but the real beauty was the view from the top of the building. The view from the top took my breath away. It was so beautiful to see all of the city below you and surrounded by these beautiful rolling mountains. As soon as I went downstairs for dinner, I planned to watch the sunrise from the roof because I knew that it would be absolutely beautiful. After dinner, we had a mini dance party on the top of the riad but I headed to bed early because I knew that I would be waking up early. I was also worried about the time change because in Morocco during Ramadan, they don’t practice daylight savings time. I was worried that my phone would some how mix up the times and I would miss the sunrise.
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View from the top of the hotel before the sunrise
Turns out that everything worked out and I was able to watch the sunrise with Caity, Sally and Meher. It was so cool watching how the sun hit the buildings and then finally rose from behind a hill and lit the whole city. I took a timelapse and some photos but I really tried to just enjoy my time there. At around 10:00, we packed up our bags and headed out for our tour of Fez. We started out touring a fortress, passing through the old Jewish part of the town, and then we headed to a ceramics and mosaic studio. I really enjoyed seeing the process of how they made everything because I love to do ceramics. Despite me living halfway across the world it was really cool to see how similar the two processes were. I also really enjoyed seeing how these beautiful mosaics were made from ceramic tiles. After the studio visit, we headed to the medina.
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A master at work
The medina is a maze, random alleys leading to small streets, those small streets leading to even smaller alleys, going through some random door, and then winding up at some ancient wonder. My favorite thing that we saw was the University of Al Quaraouiyine which is the oldest university in the world. We weren’t allowed to go in because only Muslims can go in due to Morocco’s rules about visiting Muslim sites. We did however get to visit the old student housing which was beautiful and contained all these intricate details that have been preserved for so long. After visiting the school, we visited a weavers shop were they make cloth. I ended up getting some souvenirs including a “Fez blue” scarf. From there, we headed to the tannery which is used to tan camel, cow, and goat hides that are then turned into bags, shoes, etc. Before we visited, we were all given a mint stalk because the smell is quite overwhelming. Our guide explained to us that first, the hides are put into tubs of limestone which removes any non-leather material from the hides. After soaking in the limestone for 2 weeks, they are then transported to vats of pigeon poop which helps to soften the hides. After they are soft, they are lastly transported into dying tanks. All of the dyes that they use there are natural and are made up of ingredients like pomegranate and saffron. I had spent most of my money earlier in the day so I didn’t have enough to buy a pair leather slippers that I wanted. After the tannery, it was time to head back to Rabat.
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The student dorms at the university, look at the intricate woodwork
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The tannery. The limestone baths are the white ones on the left, the pigeon poop ones are on the left, above the white tubs but below the brown ones. The brown ones are used for dying.
This weekend was a lot of fun and I was able to learn a lot more about Moroccan history outside of Rabat. This week is going to be our first full week of classes and next weekend, we are headed to Tangiers and Chefchaouen (the blue town) in the northern part of Morocco.

Learning Inside and Outside the Classroom

This week was our very first week of school and we are off to a running start. On Monday, the day was mostly full of formalities. We were given a presentation and then took a placement exam to see what classes that we would be put into. Despite all of these things that may seem boring, there were some really fun things that were planned for us. We were also given a tour all around Rabat by one of the teachers of the school. The tour consisted of a walk around Agdal, the neighborhood where I lived, in the center of town, in the Medina, and also a hill where you could see the ocean and Rabat’s neighboring town, Salé. We also visited a mausoleum where two former kings are buried. Another really fun moment of the day was lunch time where we had yet another incredible exposure to Moroccan cuisine. I ate some really good beef tajine which is beef and vegetables that are cooked inside a special piece of pottery for hours so all of their flavors combine into one amazing dish. In addition to the tajine, we were also served some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten, a roasted pepper dish, and some really good watermelon. The food was the highlight of that day.
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Making friends at the mausoleum.
In addition to us starting a new school, I also began living with a new host family. The organizers of our trip were able to find a host family that I could live with for the rest of the trip. I had to sadly say goodbye to the family that I had temporarily lived with and hello to a group of entirely new people. Although changing my family was nerve-wracking at first, it is nice to finally to have a permanent home. I really enjoy my new host family and they seem really motivated to help me with Arabic.
The very first night I was at their house, I viewed one of the most amazing and beautiful things that I’ve seen on this trip so far. As I was siting at the dinner table, I learned that my family was fasting for 6 more days past the end of Ramadan. It’s a practice that my host dad said “brings them closer to god”. Once the call to prayer started, they broke their fast in the traditional way with a glass of water and a date (tamar in Arabic). After about 10 minutes, I saw them all starting to put on their traditional clothes and then my host dad mentioned that they were about to start praying. I asked him if I should go to a separate room and he said I could do what I wanted to, but they were all comfortable with me being there. They all finished putting on their traditional clothes, laid down their prayer mats facing Mecca and began to pray as a family. I found the whole prayer routine beautiful and fascinating at the same time. My host dad led the whole thing and it took no more than 5 minutes. I just sat at the kitchen table, watching them do this routine and trying to learn as much as I could about this practice that I could by watching. While they were praying, I was thinking to myself, “How could anybody hate these people?”. The beauty of Islam is present throughout the religion and their practices and I feel that Muslims are greatly misunderstood in the United States. I feel like that a lot of Americans just don’t know a lot about Islam and it’s practices. Even I used to have no idea what Islam was. In 7th grade, we took a pretest about world religions and I had no idea what Islam was, but for all of my life, I was told to fear these people, that they hate Americans, and everything that our country stands for. This could be further from the truth. Muslims are human beings, just like you and me, not monsters that some people make them out to be. I want those people who have a hatred towards Islam to really try and understand this religion, meet with some practicers, and learn from a first hand experience everything that Islam is, rather than things that people often make up to create a division between our community and theirs.
The opportunity that NSLI-Y gives to promote cross-cultural understanding is invaluable to creating meaningful relationships, regardless of any factors that divide us. Instead of seeing the world as me vs. you issue, I am now able to see the world is a lot more complex than I ever thought.
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A local mosque. I love hearing the call to prayer!
Back to inside the classroom, the next few days of school were a lot of fun. On Thursday we had a calligraphy lesson from one of the teachers at the school. I was amazed at how many different ways and styles a simple sentence can be written in. We got to practice writing with a thin bamboo stick and a jar of ink. Later that day, we had a visit to the United States embassy in Rabat and I must admit, it was nice to return “home”a little bit.
On Friday, we had a fairly normal day, learning about the names of colors and starting to understand how to properly use verbs. After school, a group of us headed into Agdal to try and find some cellular data that we could buy for our phones. I didn’t need any so I headed back home. On our way home, Tiffany wanted to buy some Sidi Ali (it’s the name of a brand for bottled water but everyone calls bottled water Sidi Ali. It’s exactly like how Bandaids are the name of a brand but are used to describe all similar products). We went to a local hanout (neighborhood’s basic needs store) to pick up some Sidi Ali. Once we got there, we introduced ourselves to the shop owner and proceeded to try and get some water with our basic knowledge of Darijia. Tiffany accidentally mixed up wahed (one) and juj (two) so she was trying to communicate that she only wanted one bottle, but the store owner thought she wanted two. It took us some time and a little bit of French and English to finally say that she only wanted one bottle and we were able to complete the purchase*. Once I got back to the apartment, I started packing for our big trip this weekend to Meknes, Volubilis, and Fez.
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A typical Moroccan breakfast. Hobs (bread) is the main food group here a long with mint tea.
*Only now have I realized how much I have been switching between languages when talking to the local people. There are a total of 4 languages that I have been speaking here. The first is English and the second is French, which almost everyone knows. The other two I have been learning while I am here. One of them is Fusha, or traditional Arabic, which we are learning at the language center and what we use at school. In Morocco, the only time Fusha is used is for formal writing (newspapers, books, etc.) and in schools where some classes are taught using Fusha. Almost everyone here speaks Fusha but it is rarely used in everyday conversation. It’s as if someone came up to you on the street speaking Shakesperian English. The final, and most popular language, is Darjia which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. It is a mixture of Arabic with a heavy French influence. It is very unique to this part of the Arab-speaking world and if you were to speak it anywhere else, no one would be able to understand you. It is very hard to learn both because they are so different but I love seeing how the history of Morocco has had a heavy influence on it’s language. So I guess I technically speak 4 languages now?

Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak!

Luckily, we arrived in Morocco at the very end of Ramadan so all of us got to experience the holy month first hand with our host families. Yesterday (June 25) was an orientation day to help familiarize all of us with everything Moroccan. I woke up around 10:15, took a much needed shower, got changed and ate breakfast which consisted of an egg omelette, mint tea (a staple of Moroccan cuisine) as well as two different types of bread, one was the typical loaf and the other one was especially for Ramadan. I didn’t really have an appetite but I tried everything and it was all so good. After eating, Carleon, my temporary? host dad and I left and walked to the language center which was about 10 minutes away. Once we got there, we were served mint tea and started our information session on Morocco. After around 3 hours, we broke for lunch. Lunch consisted of chicken with dates and apricots, fresh vegetables, and some mashed eggplant that was really good. We were able to eat outside along with around 10 cats. If there’s one thing you should know about Rabat, it is that there are cats everywhere. They are on the sidewalk, in buildings, in the middle of the street, in the top of buildings, on top of a wall, hiding in a box. Literally go to any street in Rabat and I’m sure you will be able to find at least 4 stray cats. However at the center, there were some really adorable kittens that I wanted to pet but 1. I’m allergic and 2. I don’t want to get fleas or rabies so I just admired their cuteness from a distance.

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Our lunch from the Language center.
Once we finished eating, we said thank you to all the chefs because they were all fasting for Ramadan. We then began our language session where we were taught important phrases in Darija (Morocco’s dialect of Arabic). After about 3 hours, Carleon and I returned home, I picked up my wallet, and we and a bunch of other kids headed up town towards the Medina via a petit taxi. The ride was about 10 minutes and I was able to get us to the right place (using French) but nonetheless, it was a fun experience.
So remember how I mentioned how I thought the streets were on the first day I got there. I did not know how crazy the Medina would actually be. The roads are maybe 10 feet wide, with little shops on both sides and also filled with hundreds of people walking in all directions down the street. Because it was Ramadan, people were rushing to buy whatever they needed and then were rushing to get be home before Iftar or the breaking of the fast. To be honest, I loved it. I loved seeing all of the different things that people were selling from traditional clothes, to door knockers, and everything in between. Food was everywhere. There were breads, there was fish, there was pastries, there was fresh produce, there was meat and all of those smells somehow entwined into an amazing aroma that covered the whole Medina. After spending about an hour there, we then headed home via taxi. On our way home, we heard the call to prayer which announced the end of the fasting period for the day. We rushed home as quickly as we could and then began to eat. The food was so good. There was this one thing in particular, imagine like a beef and vegetable mixture that was put inside a crispy pita and the flavors just bake inside it for 30 minutes. That was my favorite thing to eat. After dinner, I journaled a little bit and was able to talk with my family back home, who I miss a lot.
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A quiet street in the Medina. . .
Today (June 26) is Eid-al-Fitr or the end of Ramadan. This morning I woke up around 11 (it was so nice to sleep in) and then ate breakfast. Because it was Eid, there are a lot of sweets that are served throughout the day. The first sweet that I had was like a cinnamon roll kind of thing that was lightly coated with honey, it was so good. In addition to the sweets, we also had bread and mint tea, both of which I will never get tired of. At around noon, my host family left to visit some of their friends to celebrate Eid. That left me and Carleon alone in the house for a few hours. I was able to take another shower and then I changed and Carleon and I headed out to walk around the town a little bit. Because it was Eid, most of the shops and restaurants that we saw were closed. We walked down a lot of different blocks and got to see more of the part that we live in. We returned around 3 and began to work on some Arabic practice. At around 5, our host dad returned with food and we got to eat a really good meal. Lucky, my appetite is back to normal so I was able to eat some turkey (bibi in Darija), some green beans, some zucchini and a peach. To finish off the meal, our host dad made us some mint tea which again, was amazing. After dinner, I basically just worked on writing blog posts from the past few days. Sorry if it’s like 3 posts all one after another but this is the first day that I’ve had a lot of time to work on them. School starts tomorrow so I’m very excited for that and finally be able to start to learn the Arabic language. I probably will update this blog on Friday so it won’t be too many posts and I can tell you all how and life is going. See you then.
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Some sweets for Eid. My favorite one was the one on the bottom!

 

Hectic, Crazy, Beautiful, Morocco

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Waiting to board the flight to Casablanca.
The flight from NYC to was not the best flight of my life. I was trying to be proactive and try and sleep on the plane but for someone who’s 6’3″, planes and comfort just do not go along. According to Meher, I looked like I was “folded in half” trying to sleep on the plane. I tried every sleeping position, vertical, vertical with head up, vertical with head down, vertical with a $30 neck pillow that I bought in New York, using the tray table, using the try table with a pillow, using a tray table with my neck pillow and the Air France pillow, face into the two pillows, side of my head on the neck pillow, trying to make one of those face like things in the massage chair, nothing worked. We finally arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and we had about a 3 hour layover. I had just been in the same terminal in April so I got to bring people to some of my favorite places and buy some of my favorite foods. While we were there, A$AP Rocky (a famous rapper for those who don’t know) was just casually walking through the airport, looking for something to eat. Some girls in the group completely freaked out and walked around for about 20 minutes trying to get a picture with him. After the craziness of seeing him, the group reconvened and we all had a little Arabic study session before getting on the plane. We boarded the plane and were off to Morocco!

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Our first view of Morocco.
Once we landed in Casablanca, got through customs, collected our bags, and got on a bus to Rabat, my trip was already not going exactly how I had planed. On the drive there, our in country coordinator informed me that there had been a very recent death in my original host family and that I would have stay at the local language center for the night. After about a 2 hour drive from Casablanca to Rabat, we finally arrived to the language center and were brought to a back room to fill out a lot of paper work. Once we had finished and had a quick break, it was time for everyone to leave and meet their host families. One by one, people were called and eventually, I was the only kid left. A woman who worked at the center showed me my dorm which was upstairs and I brought my bags up and I discovered that I would be sharing the room with a college kid from Georgia. I must admit that I was disappointed because I not yet have a host family. Frieda, our Resident Director, was also going to be staying at the center so she offered to take me on a walk around the neighborhood. Seeing the streets from a car was one thing, walking through them was completely different. Everything was different, the sounds I was hearing, the sights I was seeing, the scents I was smelling, talk about culture shock. While we were walking, we heard the call to prayer which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful things in the world. After we got back to the center, I ate some of the food that I had bought at CDG (Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris). After eating, I went to bed thinking that it would be a normal night of sleep.

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On the bus to Rabat!
At around 10:30 pm, I heard a knock on the door and in comes our in country director as well as Carleon. He told me that I would be staying with Carleon’s family while they tried to find me a host family. Shocked would be an understatement. I’m not sure if it was being in a completely new country, waking up after not sleeping for about 30 hours, just me slightly going crazy, or a mixture of all of those feelings. I started to pack but I began to think “Did that really just happen?” and “Wait, maybe I’m dreaming. Yeah I’m definitely dreaming. Wait, but maybe it’s real”. I finally decided that it was real so I finished packing, said goodbye to my roommate, and proceded to head down stairs. At the ground level, I got to meet my temporary host dad. He, Carleon, and I then headed out and walked to his apartment which was about 10 minutes away from the language center. This whole walk I felt like I was in a dream and I was floating. My host father was weaving through the crazy traffic and I did my best to stay behind him while not getting hit by a car. That’s another thing that’s new, the cars don’t stop for you, you stop for the cars. We finally made it to the apartment safely but I didn’t realize that they lived on the 6th floor. There I was, half asleep, in 90 degree weather, lugging my 50 pound bags up 6 flights of stairs with maybe 2 hours of sleep, I was a mess to say the least. After making surviving the walk, we finally made it to my temporary home. I was introduced to the family and then shown the room that I would be sharing with Carleon. After putting my bags away and putting on some shorts, I was finally able to go to sleep.

Pre Departure Orientation

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Goodbye Boston!
Pre Departure Orientation. . . a time of awkward silence and starting to know complete strangers who I’m sure will quickly become some of my best friends. Despite the horrifying turbulence, the flight from Boston to Laguardia was nice. I got the whole row to myself which was something completely new for me. Once we landed, I headed to baggage claim where my bag was literally the second one on the belt. After I collected my luggage, I headed to the Welcome Center and told them that I had a shuttle reservation. I got my ticket and then the waiting started. I swear that was the longest 20 minutes of my life, just sitting alone, waiting for the representative to call my reservation number and bring me to the shuttle. Eventually my number was called and I followed the driver to the shuttle. I then noticed that two people were waving to me in the shuttle and it turns out that it was two girls on my program. I loaded up my bags and then started talking to Yukeria (Yuki) and Sally who were both on the same flight and had waited about 20 minutes already. We began talking and waiting, a cycle that would go on for the next hour. The driver began to drive away from the airport and we were like “Yes, finally we get to go to the dorms” but that was us being too optimistic. We soon realized that we were just making a giant loop and ended back up in the arrivals pick up lane. After about 20 minutes, we noticed another teenager walking towards the shuttle and we realized that it was another girl in our group. Tiffany got on the bus and we talked and waited until Mollie, another girl in the group, joined us. Everyone was being super friendly and we began talking about everything from sports teams, to what we did right before we left and a lot of other small talk things. A few minutes after Mollie came on the bus, Meher, another girl in our group messaged all of us on Facebook saying that she was having a bit of trouble finding the shuttle. We soon realized that she was at a completely different area so we told the driver where he could pick her up. Once everyone was in the car, we headed to Columbia University where we would be staying for the next few days. Little did we know that our shuttle driver was Evil Kenevil and so began our parlous drive into New York City. This man was going very very fast and getting through the smallest spaces in traffic where we had maybe an inch of clearance.
Despite his driving “style”, we made it to Columbia safely and were quickly greeted by the iEarn Staff, our RD, Nick, who was an alumnus of the NSLI-Y program. Michael, who arrived at around noon was also there to help with bringing bags up. We had some free time after everyone got settled and we explored the streets around Columbia a bit. After a few hours, everyone had made it from the airport and we had a pizza party and some get to know you activities. Luckily, we were also celebrating three people’s birthdays so we learned how to sing Happy Birthday in Arabic. One activity that I really enjoyed is that we had our RD film us in groups of 4 trying to have converstations in Arabic so we can look back on it at the end of the trip. My group included Sally, Michael, and Seena and I could hardly follow the conversation. I’m excited to see the video once we get back from Morocco. After dinner, I walked around and talked with Tiffany because we were both feeling tired. I went to bed around 9:00 pm which is very early from someone who was used to going to bed at 1:30am before the trip.

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Our view from the dorm. . . not too shabby!
After some much needed rest, today was the big important day of our PDO. We were out the door by 8 and went to a food court and had breakfast. After breakfast we went to a conference room where we would have information sessions all about Morocco. I was able to learn a lot about the culture and more importantly, I learned about the customs. After a few hours, we had a visit from a representative from the State Department. She was super nice and hilarious and it seems like she really loves her job. We were all expecting some random suit and tie person who would give us a speech on the importance of cross-cultural exchanges but we were all delighted by the representative’s presence. After she left, we wen back to the food court for lunch. After lunch, we had a few more hours of instruction followed by some activities. Once the orientation had finished, we went back to Columbia and then got to go get dinner. On the way to dinner I was able to pick up some last minute toiletries that were recommended by Nick. During dinner we all got to learn more about each other and everyone has such interesting back stories and how they became a part of this amazing program.

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The NSLI-Y Squad
The second day we had breakfast at the Columbia dining hall and after breakfast we had to pack our bags and check out of the dorms. Before we left however, we were able to play a scavenger hunt around New York City with tasks a related to language. For example, one of the tasks we had to complete was teaching someone some Arabic and another one was to find a student at Columbia and ask them the names of two famous alumni (Obama and Warren Buffett were the ones that she named). My group was made up of me, Sally, Nick, and Seena. It was really hot and muggy out so we decided to take things slowly and not be running around from place to place. The whole experience was a lot of fun but my favorite part by far was when we had to teach someone how to speak Arabic. We were around Ulysses Grant’s tomb when we asked someone if she’d be willing to learn some Arabic. She replied in Spanish and before I even began to leave to find someone else, Seena starts talking to this woman in Spanish and she was understanding him. Seena then told her what we were wanting to do and she completely understood. We were teaching her Arabic through Spanish and English, something I’m sure NSLI-Y would be proud of us for doing. We ended up losing the scavenger hunt but it was a lot of fun just talking to complete strangers and asking them questions about languages and New York City. After that, we grabbed lunch back at Columbia and then we were on our way to the airport. I’m exited for the flight and finally going to this place that I’ve been anticipating for years!

Some things…

I haven’t been able to update this blog for a long time, whoops. I have been super busy with school (graduated!) and Arabic language preparation. We learned some basic phrases as well as the alphabet (still trying to memorize it completely). I’m writing this at Logan Airport, where I am about 30 minutes away from boarding my flight to Laguardia where I will meet all of the other kids on the trip. It’s finally starting to feel real, like wow, I’m going to Morocco for 6 weeks and I’m going to be learning Arabic and staying with a host family, like WHAT? I am so excited to meet everyone and then depart on our journey together.
We’re going to have our Pre Departure Orientation (PDO) at Columbia University in New York City. From what I understand, it will be full of information sessions about all things Moroccan. There will also be alumni from past years who can tell us all about their experiences from past years. After the PDO, we are on our way to Rabat via Paris and then via Casablanca. It’s gonna be a crazy few days full of jet lag, awkward get to know you games, and me forgetting almost everyone’s name! But seriously I’m so exited that I can be part of this experience and get to know these amazing people. I’ll check back in a few days.

The Infamous Packet

The packet arrived last week (April 18th to be exact). I was out of the country at the time so today was the first time I was able to look through it. I’m going to give a complete run through of all the things that came with it.

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(left to right) The Folder, the Student Handbook, and The Arabic Alphabet
The Folder: It’s like a basic yellow folder that held everything. It does have a cool NSLI for Youth logo on the front and a sleek business card holder. It held pieces of paper and the packet.
The Student Handbook: This handbook contains information about information about everything from Heath and Safety to information about the iEARN NSLI-Y Staff. The first section is about Program Policies and Guidelines and establishes rules that were outlined in the contract and policies that are supported by NSLI-Y and iEARN. The next section is about Health and Safety which talks about personal safety, information on sexual abuse and harassment, special notes for women, gender roles and stereotypes, and information for LGBTQ students. Next is the pre-departure checklist for stuff like make sure you have a passport that will be valid and make sure your luggage isn’t too heavy for the airline. It starts to immediately and goes to one month ahead of departure to one week, then 1-3 days ahead to departure day and what to expect from iEARN. After that is information about Morocco including a brief history, geography and fast facts. There is also information about everyday life like food, transportation and even etiquette (NEVER EAT FOOD WITH YOUR LEFT HAND). Additionally, there is information about Rabat like things to see (the Medina looks super cool). After that is preparations, both with language and packing. There is a diagram of the alphabet, how consonants change in different positions, and common phrases. For packing, they provide a packing list with information on what men and women should pack, toilettes, misc. items, and ideas for stuff to bring for host families. Next is information on home and school life and an introduction from iEARN NSLI-Y Staff and an introduction to Moroccan Education and Resource Network (MEARN). Lastly is Health information with recommendations from the Center fro Disease Control (CDC), the vaccinations that are listed are not required by iEARN. The CDC recommends to get vaccinations against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, and Rabies. The book is full of useful information as well as pictures that highlight the beauty of Morocco.
Additional Papers: There are also additional papers that are provided. The first one is a LGBTQI Resource Guide which gives information about being LGBTQI abroad and additional resources with links to websites with more information. They also have information on Internet Safety Tips. The last sheet of paper gives tips for language learning which I will definitely use.
The Arabic Alphabet (book): This book contains about the Arabic alphabet (surprising, I know). Arabic looks like such a confusing but beautiful language, I am excited to learn how to write!
What Parents Need to Know (booklet): A booklet that contains information for parents to an education abroad. It’s not specifically for iEARN or NSLI-Y and just gives a basic understanding and information for parents whose kids will be studying abroad. 
I think that’s pretty much it for now. There was a conference call for parents on Tuesday, April 25th (I think). I’m not too sure what it was about but I think it was an opportunity for parents to ask questions about the trip. In the packet, iEARN said to expect weekly emails starting 6 weeks before departure. 5 weeks before we should expect to get our pre-program language course. 1-2 weeks before departure, we will receive information about our host family. Around 1 month before, we will received flight information. We will also continue to receive information about virtual with iEARN and/or in-country staff. I will update the next time anything big happens.