After Abroad | ISA Service-Learning in Morocco

An interview with Tabitha Hardy, a student at Central Washington University and an ISA Service-Learning alumna. Tabitha participated on a full-time ISA Service-Learning program in Meknes, Morocco in Fall 2015.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Tabitha and I am a Musical Theater turned Global Affairs major. I love to perform and I love international work. I’d like to fuse the two into a unique career. I’m also an outdoor enthusiast on the side.

What inspired you to apply for an ISA Service-Learning program?

I wanted to complete some sort of an experiential learning or internship for my degree at my university. I felt this would give me the real-world experience that would solidify my vocational goals and launch me in the right direction.

How did you choose to participate in service-learning in Morocco?

Almost two years ago, I worked on an organic farm in Belize and my world-wise Nigerian host told me that I needed to visit Morocco. I never forgot that. Morocco was alluring for me from the start. I had a background in French and an interest in the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa). I’m fascinated with Arab culture and the Arabic language. I saw Morocco as a crossroads- a meeting of diverse languages, ethnicities, and influences and thought it reflected my personality pretty well.

How would you describe what service-learning is?

Selflessness. I look back on my experience as being very humbling.

What organization did you work with?

I taught English at a Community Language Learning Center and worked at an At-Risk Youth Foundation in Meknes.

What did a typical day look like at the At-Risk Youth Foundation?

Hectic. I usually went to the orphanage in the early afternoon, when most of the children were coming back from school. We would practice English and Darija, and some days we would play sports, but we consistently practiced dance. During my time at the At-Risk Youth Foundation, I was able to utilize my background in theater and dance. I pieced together a dance/drama project with the youth and was able to choreograph a variety of songs and have them perform in a show for the local community. They loved it.

Were there any big ‘aha’ moments that you had during your time in Meknes?

Yes! More than one. Morocco affected me a lot more personally than I expected it would. I have never been a big fan of children, but working at the orphanage softened me in many ways. I felt so embraced. I think service really sums up our purpose in life. The more you travel, the more you start to see an interconnectedness between humans. You start to shed labels. You start to see people as people.

What is your favorite story during your time abroad that you find yourself telling over and over again now that you are back in the States?

I always attempt to barter while abroad, and usually it’s in the form of musical performances. In the Meknes medina, I asked a shopkeeper if I could sing for a discount on a rug. He actually agreed. I thought it was even more entertaining when he started singing the Rolling Stones after I busted out “Can you Feel the Love Tonight.”

Reflecting on your international service-learning experience, What lessons did you take with you?

I think Martin Luther King, Jr. was spot on when he asked, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are we doing for others?” I feel that every person I’ve met has become a part of myself. I learned a lot about sincerity in Morocco. Everyone there is so genuine.

Did this experience change your career path?

Actually, it did. At the start, I had an interest in North Africa, but I didn’t realize how serious I would be about returning to Morocco after I participated on a service-learning program there. I want to do more development work in the region. I would also love to build a music or theater program there.

After Abroad Interview with Tabitha Hardy

What has travel taught you?

My first decision to study abroad changed my major, my expected vocation, and my mindset. It challenged me to think for myself. It taught me about identity. It taught me about risk. It taught me to be present with people. It has increased my commitment to combating ignorance and injustices everywhere.

It has gone beyond that. There was a lot of humility gained from living in the rainforest with wild bush women for a month. The impeccable timing of a kind stranger in Belize who picked me up as a lonely hitchhiker caught in the rain, and whose name happened to be Angel has proved once again: there’s no coincidences.

The sweeping emotion I felt boarding the plane to leave Morocco, overwhelmed by a sense of sincerity and belonging, of a place that has yet been paralleled. I’ll never forget singing for Kristos, the taxi driver in Cyprus, who said that “it was beautiful because you feel it, you don’t have to understand it”, who reminded me of the way in which humanity is intertwined despite our differences and the intrinsic power of music to bring people together.

There’s a quote along the lines of, “I met a lot of people in my travels. I even encountered myself.” This was my latest experience. There’s a power in knowing oneself and one’s worth. There’s an even greater power in learning not only to love, but also to let love in.

As Rumi says, “He who cannot discover himself, cannot discover the world.”

Now that you’ve returned from abroad, what’s next for you?

I am happy to say that I will be returning to Morocco this fall 2016 to teach English and continue with the performing arts. For me, going back to Morocco is going back home.

The World Awaits…Discover it.

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