Intercultural

West Coast, Meet North Africa: Learning a Moroccan Context

Peter Wachsmith is a student at Seattle University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is currently studying abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.

Transitioning into your new life abroad is something of its own adventure. In Morocco, that takes place in the beautiful flux of people, languages, and food that collide in the streets, forming the underlying stories we often don’t realize are happening as we make a new culture our home for a period of time.

Encounters take on a new mix of excitement and fear, such as approaching a stranger to ask direction or timidly flexing my languages skills as a crawl towards fluency. There is no greater act of bravery than crossing Meknes traffic. I can tell the periods of the day now based on the call to prayer. Before leaving home, I was well briefed about these cultural differences I would encounter in Morocco.

Medina Center in Fez

Medina Center in Fez

However, I want to talk about something I wasn’t really prepared for. I want to shed some light on coming from a Western context. Settling into Morocco, I was stretched to understand the new and let go of what was familiar. Lamenting the absence of my iPhone I’d left at home, not being able to access Netflix, and comparing Morocco to America made me blind and unwilling to learn.

I’m a westerner enamored with the privilege and culture that my part of the world gives. Morocco is a completely different world. I see now that culture goes so much deeper than two weeks vacation, a class, or a lecture can teach you. Honestly, I expected an experience more like Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love” than Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America.” Morocco is a great place to visit, but being here for more than a few days opens you up to a life without the Kardashians, political circuses and the ideals of material success you were so passively and cleverly indoctrinated into at home.

In a Cab in Casa

In a Cab in Casa

Instead, what I found when I landed were tall, alabaster-hued buildings, a cacophony of traffic and people, and air thick with life and heat. The cars were strange like the ones in European films, and the people dressed much better than me. The whole time on the plane I’d been thinking how would Morocco accept me instead of how would I accept Morocco. Life in Morocco is slower and presents more time for meaning. The people in Meknes value getting their daily business done as much as converging over tea in the afternoon and catching up with their community each and everyday.

Moroccan Mall in Casablanca

Moroccan Mall in Casablanca

Morocco has provided me the time to reflect and think about the role I hope to play in the world and what it really means to understand a culture. At the halfway mark of my experience, I am open in a way no book can teach to the humble beauty of a world that contains some familiarities, but I think will always be a little bit foreign. Although I miss home, I hope I go back a little less western.

The world awaits…discover it.