The first lesson I learned as a student abroad is that no amount of preparation is ever going to be enough. There will still be stress, confusion, and absolute surprise. It’s like that unavoidable cannonball into the pool; The water is always warmer after you just jump in. As it turns out, one of the best places to “throw yourself in” to the culture of Morocco is the street.
The day I arrived, it hit me hard on the streets of Casablanca that studying abroad really is a big adventure. It’s a little scary to realize how far you really are from home and family, and how little you know about the world or how to make your way through it. In Casa, I felt very small as I struggled to communicate and navigate. I didn’t expect a lot of the emotions that overcame me, but after the obligatory freakout and a cool shower to clear my head, I remembered that fear is a good thing. If I came to Morocco and nothing struck me as new or scary, I would leave myself pigeonholed with no room to grow. Stretching your comfort zone leaves you feeling a little stretched out and a little unsure of yourself, or maybe more than a little. Discomfort and fear exist for a reason, so I was proud of myself for embracing those emotions along with all the really exciting ones.
I also quickly learned a lot about Moroccan culture by way of taxi. My first time in a taxi was here in Meknes and it was interesting. The director of my ELAP placement, Nadia, offered to take a taxi home with me and another woman from the center, Soukaina, came with us. The three of us walked toward a taxi, but two others got to it first, so I backed away assuming we would have to wait for another. Nope. Nadia got in the front seat, Soukaina followed the two strangers into the back seat, and I went to get in with her and Nadia said “No, here.” I was very confused and it must have been obvious because she scooted way over in the front seat and pointed. So, I squished in next to her. Mind you, this is a tiny car and not a bench seat. Then, another man got in the back seat. So we drove off with seven people in this tiny car, and the people started paying the driver as we went. He was counting change and money was going back and forth all over the place. To top off the scene, I have to mention that driving in Morocco is basically a live action mash-up of Mario Kart and Frogger. There really aren’t street lights or turn signals or lanes or rules. You just drive wherever and turn whenever you want. If you’re a pedestrian, you just walk out in front of cars and hope for the best. No, really, the rule of thumb here is “just go.” The cars will stop for you, most of the time. Buses, on the other hand, do not stop; This is an important note for pedestrian survival.
Eventually, you’ll make it back to your apartment alive and significantly more cultured.