Before leaving the States, I expected the intricate artistic expressions in the medinas (Islamic cities), ancient history and unique government system in Morocco to fascinate me. However, as far as my first impressions of Morocco are concerned, I have discovered noteworthy signs of growth and development in Morocco that I was not expecting prior to my study abroad.
Morocco’s effort to progress is evident from the projects for growth and development. While driving out of Beni Melal, I noticed billboards and construction sites advertising the building of resort hotels and restaurants. Capitalizing on the proximity to Ouzoud Falls, the largest waterfall in Morocco, and beautiful surrounding landscapes, the city of Beni Melal has the potential to be a tourist magnet and economic booster. Additionally, the youth culture in Morocco is just as obsessed with technology as the youth culture in the United States. The openness of technology and globalized connections doesn’t stop at the medina gates either. Even within the old medinas, homes and riads are stocked with wifi routers and satellites receiving thousands of channels. Finally, there is a push for a better education system in Morocco, specifically a system like the United States that is based on critical thinking rather than memorization.
I will never forget the conversation my two friends and I had with our service learning director in the taxi on our way to a scheduling meeting with our service learning site supervisor. As the three of us were trying to plan events and projects at our site weeks in advanced, he turned around from the passenger seat and said: “Remember you are in Africa, and we (Morocco) are still a third world country. Our organizations and businesses are not up to the standards that you are used to in the States yet.” Plans aren’t set in stone and can easily fall through. Resources that are readily available in the United States might be harder to find in Morocco. Lastly, meetings rarely start on time or on task, but these meetings are foundational starting points for progress. We aren’t living in New York City minutes; we are living in Moroccan time.
The Meknesi people are not afraid to make foreign friends feel as if they are at home. Within a few hours of moving into my apartment, I was warmly invited to a wedding reception for a couple whom I had never met. The students at the local Meknesi universities have become some of the ISA participants’ best friends and are always up for laughs and conversation. One of my professors welcomed my whole class into his family home for mint tea and an academic discussion on life inside of the medina. Moroccan hospitality is a huge testament to the generosity of Arab culture and Morocco’s desire to welcome the international community into the country. Only three weeks into my study abroad, I can comfortably call Meknes my home.
All of these first impressions of a developing Morocco could be taken as the first culture shocks I experienced during my study abroad. However, I am living in a crucial progressive age for Morocco, an age that I believe will catapult the country into having a more established and respected stake within the international community in the near future.
The world awaits…discover it.