Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

The truth is, now I am scared to go home. I am worried that all I have experienced and all of that I have grown to be will leave me as soon as I step back into my old life. I have never been away this long from home, but I am so comfortable being on my own now.

This semester has been the best four months of my life. I was forced out of my comfort zone and I adapted to life in Morocco. Though I was completely uncomfortable with the classes I was taking, I learned more than I ever had before. I was constantly being challenged since I was not in my usual science course that I grew so accustomed to back home. I learned about major events impacting the world today, and why they are happening. I was able to become a knowledgeable world citizen, that can work to prevent Orientalist views back at home, and can provide educated insight on the Israeli-Palestine issue, America's influence in the Middle East, and how religion plays into politics all around the globe. My favorite class, Gender and Politics in the Modern Middle East, allowed me to grow stronger in my beliefs as a feminist and to hopefully continue to advocate for the importance of equality between the sexes while still uplifting both men and women. My mind is not just focused on chemical formulas, theories, and equations, but now it is more well-rounded thanks to my social science classes.

This semester was not just about the classroom, though. This semester was also about traveling, exploring the world and different languages and cultures, meeting new people, learning more about myself, and finding out that wherever I am, I am home.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunities to go to Rabat, the Sahara Desert, Amsterdam, Fes, Casablanca, Marrakesh, Rome, and Chefchouen. What made these trips incredible was not destination, but the little things, like when Dakota and I bought 50 coconut cookies from a family in Marrakesh, or when Dakota, Kelsey, and I decided to run a half-marathon without any training, two days before the actual event. Even staying home for the weekend consisted of exploring Ifrane and finding my favorite restaurant, the ladies who make the best m'semn in town, the best smoothie place in the Marche, and hiking through the Source Vittel. Each place opened my eyes more to the world and opened my eyes to see where I fit in it. I am capable of much more than I ever imagined. Life is about taking chances and experiences the world without reservation. Most of the best trips or experiences happened on a whim, or were the result of a mistake. Adapting to situations quickly and always having a positive outlook on things is so important.

I have learned enough French and Darija (the Arabic dialect spoken in Morocco) to make my way around the country for four months. I have learned about unique cultural differences that make Morocco special. I think being thrown into a new country brings out the true character of someone. I have met so many amazing souls here that are all so different, but all compatible with one another as long as we respect each other. I think what I valued the most here is the friendship formed between Dakota, Kelsey, and me. Though we still are having trouble figuring out the exact moment we all "clicked" (it was sometime in Rabat, but we don't really remember each other during that trip), I have spent more time with them than without them here. It's crazy to think that in a couple days, I will be resting my head on my pillow in my house in Ohio and I won't be able to run upstairs and see Kelsey and Dakota watching reruns Grey's Anatomy on Kelso's bed. I won't wake up at 8am every morning to go running with them and then eat breakfast and drink coffee before class. We won't have our weekly homemade mac-and-cheese and a movie night, nor will we be able to have hours long conversations that usually end in us laughing uncontrollably, even if they started out as serious ones. These little things have made this experience amazing.

I am going to miss Kinder Bueno Whites, Tajine, Hrira soup, cheap living and cheap travelling, the community here of International students, the beautiful campus (even if we are not allowed to walk on the grass), the view outside my window, all the little cats and kittens that are everywhere, ordering a kilo of clementines for only 6 dirhams, m'semn, my small classes, and my friends. I am sure I will be missing so much more as soon as I board that plane Saturday.

So goodbye Morocco, and thank you for the amazing memories that will last me a lifetime. This world is more beautiful and more incredible than can be described and I want to see it all. Though my journey in Morocco has ended, my journey through life has just begun.

“The ideal is to feel at home anywhere, everywhere” Geoff Dye

Two weeks ago, Dakota, Kelsey, and I left Ifrane to go visit Chefchouen. We left early Friday morning and took the CTM to the "Blue City." It snowed in Ifrane that night, so we had a tough time finding a grand taxi to get to the CTM station in Fes. We finally got a taxi, and arrived at exactly 10:58 to the bus stop. The bus left at 11:00 so we ran in and bought our tickets and then boarded the bus! The bus ride was about five hours and we slept most of the way. We finally arrived to the town in the afternoon and found our hostel, Riad Baraka, inside the medina. The town really was covered in blue paint... it was so cool!

The first afternoon we walked around the medina. The shops were really cool and most of the shop owners were very hospitable and nice. To my surprise, everything there was extremely cheap when compared to Marrakesh and Fes. Chefchouen is known for their "drug rugs" and their wool products. I ended up buying three hoodies and a few other gifts for my family and friends since the cost of the products were just so cheap. We ate some hrira soup and played with some cats at dinner before heading back to the hostel. The weather the whole weekend was really rainy and Saturday has thunderstorm warnings.

We wanted to go take a hike at a place called "Gods Bridge" the next day, but the weather was too dismal for a hike. We decided to walk around the medina again and find a place for breakfast. Usually, we can find a m'semn stand and get a piece for only 5 dirhams, but the only places we could find breakfast were actual restaurants that had a full course breakfast for 25. We ended up having a huge breakfast and then walked around the medina for the rest of the day. Other than hiking, Chefchouen's medina is the big attraction. The shopping once again was really cheap so we spend all our time going from one stand to another. Dakota got really good at bartering and we always joke that when we head back to the U.S., we are going to be in Target trying to barter. We met a guy in the hostel from Perth, Australia, and hiked up a little to see the sunset on the town. The idea was really good, but we left too late so we missed the sunset part. Still... the view of Chefchouen was really beautiful.

The next day we woke up early to go out of the medina and hike up to the Spanish Mosque. It starting pouring rain and we were all freezing cold as we walked through a cemetery filled with goats and donkeys (yes, it was weird) to get up the hill. It got really muddy and wet but we finally made it to the top. The view was incredible, and we stayed up there for a little while. We joked around and pretended to push each other off the cliff. We also laughed, and talked, and each reflected on our time in Morocco. We are so comfortable here now and now it's time to go. We have become master travelers. We are able to pack a backpack in 5 minutes, and feel comfortable with deciding to go on a trip at the last minute, we are now able to connect with people quicker, we can navigate our way through cities, towns, and rural areas, and we understand that though everyplace might not be familiar, we are home. We have been thinking a lot about how far we have come since the first day off that plane in Morocco and sitting at the top of that hill just made us take a step back and think. After that we made our way to the CTM stop and headed home.

The weekend was great. I am so happy to have found people easy to travel with. We have different roles in traveling, Kelsey talks, I navigate, and Dakota barters, and we can make our way around each city with no problems. It was our last big trip as a trio and we spent a lot of time talking about how we are going to go crazy without each other. I would recommend Chefchouen and Marrakesh to those who just have a couple days in Morocco. These two cities offer a wide range of what Morocco has to offer and I felt comfortable in both of them. Just do not buy anything in Marrakesh because it is so overpriced, buy everything in Chefchouen!

The "Blue City" 

The view from the roof of our hostel

Everything in the medina was beautiful and I could not stop photographing!

A super cool door

Dakota and Kelsey!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"It's better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times"- Asian Proverb

My trip to Rome was awesome. Dakota, Kelsey, and I got to spend more time together, and we were able to explore a new city and see prominent historical monuments.

The weekend started early Sunday morning where we all met at 5:45 am to walk to the gates of the school for our taxi. We all were exhausted, but were super excited for our trip. My roommate called a grand taxi to take us to the airport the previous Friday, so we stood at the front waiting for it. For some reason, the taxi never came and we were left standing in the rain at 6 am with no way to get to the airport... We walked back to our dorms in hopes of finding someone who was out that early that could call a taxi for us and we happened to find a group of kids willing to help us out! We called seven grand taxi numbers and not one answered, and as the clock ticked by, Kels, Dakota, and I were convinced we would miss our flight and never get to Rome. We decided to call a petite taxi to take us to a grand taxi station instead, which ended up working and we were finally able to get on our way to the airport. It did not take too long once we got to Fes-Saiss to board our flight (which was delayed about 30 minutes anyways) because security in Morocco is almost non-existent. We slept on our three-hour flight to Rome and once we arrived we were hungry and ready to explore the city! We took a short bus ride from the airport to Termini Station and it was only a five-minute walk to get to our hostel, Alessandro Palace. We booked three beds in an eight-bed room which only cost us about 60 USD for three nights! The hostel was very nice and we quickly put our stuff in our room and headed out to a restaurant on the corner. I ordered a latte and a mushroom pizza. Dakota and Kelsey both ordered pasta and coffee, so I would say we all started the trip off on the right foot! We then bought a three-day metro pass and took a train downtown to explore for a little before heading back to the hostel. When we returned to the hostel, three new people were in our room; one was from Australia, and two were from America. We went downstairs with them to the bar and hung out for a little while before heading off to bed.

I would like to start this next paragraph with how we woke up the next morning at 8am ready to conquer the day, but unfortunately, before 8 we were woken up at 5am by the three people also in our room playing "Turn Down for What" with a strobe light. This is what I would consider a rude awakening. We were all peacefully asleep when about five people, completely drunk, came into our room yelling and playing that song over and over again. They woke us all up and invited us to go to the Colosseum to see the sunrise. When we said "no", they continued to stay in our room for the next hour being ridiculously obnoxious and annoying. Looking back, it was absolutely hilarious because now we are fully rested, but during that night, I am pretty sure we all wanted to kill them. Three hours later, we woke up...again...and got dressed and took the metro to the Colosseum. We walked around for about 45 minutes trying to find a place for breakfast, and after a crabby morning, we finally found a place that served eggs, toast, and bacon. Pork products are not available in Morocco since it is a Muslim country, so eating bacon while in Europe is a huge deal for the non-vegetarians. We were able to get some coffee into our systems and then bought tickets with a tour group for the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was breathtaking. It was so huge, and had so much history. I am really happy we decided to go with a tour group because we were able to learn about each important piece of history in the stadium and did not have to navigate it alone. I couldn't believe that I was actually seeing the Colosseum. I have heard about it thousands of times and never expected to be standing in it. We then tried to find this Virgin Temple in the area because Kelsey really wanted to see it since she loves Roman Mythology. It started pouring while we walked around so we tried to hurry and find the temple so we could get some lunch. We finally found it and then ran to the bus station to get on a bus to take us to our hostel. We ate sandwiches and took a short nap before waking up to explore the nightlife of Rome. We went to a nice restaurant where I got gnocchi and cheese before getting some much needed gelato. We found the Trevi Fountain, but it is under construction until 2016, so we could not really experience it fully, but we all still made a wish! I have been wanting to see the Trevi Fountain since seeing it on the "Lizzie McGuire Movie" when I was really young.

The next morning, this time at 6am, we were woken up AGAIN by the noisy guys sharing our room. Once again, they had a strobe light and played "Turn Down for What" while asking us to go see the sunrise at the Colosseum. We were not amused. I ended up getting up and taking a shower, then going back to bed after they left before waking up at 9am. Dakota, Kels, and I decided to go to the Vatican and then work our way back to Termini Station through the major shopping area and the Pantheon. The Vatican was split up into the museum and the Sistine Chapel and then the Basilica. We opted for the museum and the Sistine Chapel since it was too expensive to do both. The museum was really cool because it was full of artifacts and intricate statues and artwork. The ceilings were always ornate and we spent a couple hours walking around. The Sistine Chapel was really just one giant room and then they tell you not to take photos, but I took one anyways because I was so excited to see the famous Michelangelo ceiling. We then got some pie across the street (soooooo good) and then started walking to the shopping district. The shopping area had H&M, Cartier, Longchamp, Gucci, Prada, and so many more awesome stores. We say the Spanish Steps and we then tried to find the Pantheon. After a lot of back-alleys and walking in circles we finally found it. The Pantheon was cool, especially the ceiling, and we stayed in there for a little bit. We then went back to the hostel and took a nice nap before heading out to dinner. We got back at about 9pm and went to bed since we had to wake up at 3:30am to catch the bus back to Rome-Ciampo Airport. We returned to campus at 11am, and then went to Gender and Politics at 1:40 and we were exhausted but so happy.

The trip was really amazing. I know I didn't mention it, but we were laughing almost every second. I am so lucky to have found such awesome friends. We have spent more time together than apart, and I know leaving in three weeks will be absolutely heartbreaking, but we already found the halfway point between our houses and are looking forward to the summer. Today is Thanksgiving and I am so thankful for being able to study abroad. This is truly a life-changing experience and I am growing so much and experiencing life in a way I never thought possible. I am thankful for my family and their continuous support for my endeavors, I am thankful for my friends, and I am thankful for having the opportunity to experience life. This is my first Thanksgiving away from home and I am going to miss the food we order from Boston Market (just kidding Mom :) ) but on campus, we are having our own little Thanksgiving feast and I am looking forward to it! This weekend Kelsey, Dakota, and I are heading to Chefchouen (The Blue City) and then we have our last two weeks of classes and then finals begin!
You can't say you went to Rome without at least one photo of a fountain.

The outside of the Pantheon.

My illegal photo at the Sistine Chapel. Breathtaking.

Left to Right: Kelsey, Me, Dakota

The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine!

The inside of the Colosseum, it was so cool! I definitely could not see the Games though if I lived during those times.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru

This past weekend was spent in the gorgeous city of Marrakesh! Since we had Thursday off because of Green March, Dakota, Kelsey, and I wanted to make our way down to Marrakesh since it is a 9-hour bus ride away. Unfortunately, Kelsey ended up staying behind because she had three papers to write, so Dakota and I went with an international student who is fluent in both French and Darija named Martin. We left early Thursday morning on the CTM (the popular bus system in Morocco that is actually very nice!). The bus ride was extremely uneventful, but we were able to catch up on some much needed sleep. We arrived at about 5 to the city, where we walked an hour to the iconic square and historical souk. After navigating through the sketchy alleys and many twist and turns of the souk, we found the hostel we were staying at. We stayed at the Kif Kif Hostel, which was overall a good experience, but I am almost positive they never have ever changed the sheets, and I would never take a shower there. This was the first time we stayed at a hostel during our travels, and I really wish we stayed in them earlier! Almost everyone there was around our age, and we met really great people from Australia, Britain, Estonia, and the Netherlands. We traveled the next two days with a British guy named Matt.

We checked in to the hostel, and headed off to go see a sandwich maker Martin knew from his previous weekend in Marrakesh. The sandwich maker was so hospitable and made us tea and egg sandwiches as Martin practiced his Arabic. Dakota and I learned a few new words and practiced the little we knew as well. We then headed off to the square and grabbed 5 dirham hrira soup (my favorite) and then were off to bed. The next day we woke up to go explore the souk! The souk was so crowded and larger than the ones we visited in Rabat and Fes, so we got lost multiple times. We went to an old palace and walked around the grounds before entering the labyrinth of the souk once again. One of the skills that came out of our time in Marrakesh was my ability to barter improved significantly. I bought gifts for my family and friends this past weekend and I tried to get each item for 40-60% of the price the vendor told me it was. At first, that did not happen, but gradually, I was able to convince the vendors to go down in price more and more. We spent most of the day walking around, so we decided to grab some eggs, avocado, cheese, potatoes, and carrots to make omelets and mashed potatoes in the hostel. With the help of two Australians, a Canadian, and a Brit, we made a delicious dinner!

The next morning Dakota and I woke up and headed off to grab some m'semn and cheese at a nearby street vendor. We then decided to go walk around the Old Medina for a couple hours. We then went back to the hostel and watched "The Princess Diaries 2." What's nice is that we don't feel the need to be on the move constantly seeing new sights and exploring everywhere because we live in Morocco. We are not tourists, and because of that, travel is so much more laid back and fun. We spend more time learning about people and hearing stories, rather than seeing all the monuments and snapping photos. After watching the movie, we went out to dinner in the square again with Matt, Martin, and Matt's friend, Nate, who just flew in from England that day! At the square, dozens of guys who were promoters for restaurants swarmed us and grabbed us pulling us in every direction trying to get us to eat at their restaurant. It was so obnoxious and made me a little nervous when they started touching us. Eventually we just sat down somewhere and they went away. We ordered hrira soup... again, and then walked around the square. We tried these delicious coconut cookies for 1 dirham each (about 12 cents in USD) and then went up to a woman selling them with her young children close-by and bought all of her cookies she had for sale. It was really awesome seeing her face light up because since we bought all her cookies, she was able to go home for the night with her kids and I do not know if she would have sold all the cookies that night anyways. We walked around with a giant box full of 50 cookies and got smoothies before heading back to the hostel. Everyone was stopping and asking us if we were selling the cookies, and we actually traded a couple for some street toys. The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to walk the 1.5 hour walk to the CTM station and rode the bus back to Ifrane!

Overall, the trip to Marrakesh was amazing. So far, it tops the list as my favorite city in Morocco. I felt very safe there and I loved the colors, people, food, and the Old Medina. It is definitely the most tourist-filled city out of the ones I have visited, but it was so fun. Next stop is Rome! Dakota, Kelsey, and I planned a girl's trip and we are leaving on Sunday!

The old palace grounds

A silver and jewelry shop in the souk

Spices and Grains!

Monday, November 3, 2014

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

The last couple weeks have been really busy since we had midterms and I had to register for class for next semester back at Kent. I am finally getting around to writing about my birthday, my trip to Casablanca, and volunteering with refugees!

On the 23rd, I turned 19! I am the youngest study abroad student here, so I was really happy to turn 19 so I did not have to be the only 18-year-old anymore. After a day full of classes, a group of my friends went out to a restaurant downtown and head milkshakes, smoothies, and dinner! They all surprised me at the end when a cake with candles was brought out and they all sang "Happy Birthday"! I am so grateful to be here at AUI with so many awesome people.

I wanted to do something for the weekend after my birthday, but with so many different groups heading out and a virus heading around campus, Dakota, Kelsey, and I weren't sure where to go. On Friday, we decided to head out to Casablanca with a group to go run a half-marathon! We left that afternoon. I want to make it clear that us three have not trained for this and I have never ran more than a 5K in my life, but we still decided to go to Casablanca and run the marathon. We took a train from Meknes to Casa and arrived late at night. We finally got to the hostel at about 11pm and that was when we realized that Dakota forgot her passport. For some reason, someone decided to tell the concierge that it was stolen, and so the guy at the desk told her she needed to go to the police station and fill out a report in order to stay in the hostel. Another person in the group decided to call the US Embassy to see if they could talk to the concierge and let her stay without going to the police station, but they told her that she needed to go anyways to get another copy notarized. Dakota is really scared of guns and police so she was just dreading going to the police department. While I went off to grab pizzas for the group with two friends, she headed off to get a copy of her passport with some of the French people in our group. Unfortunately, once they got to the station, the police told Dakota that she could not bring a translator into the office, so she was stuck alone. She finally returned at about 1am, and was able to sleep in our room. The next day, we registered for the half-marathon. Then, we went to the Morocco Mall, which is the largest mall in Morocco and then went to the Hassan II Mosque, which is the largest mosque in North Africa. At the mall, we got Starbucks and delicious falafel and walked around. When we were at the Mosque, we watched the ocean for a little while and explored the grounds. We got back to the hostel and rested before heading out to dinner. After dinner was when the nerves started to kick in that we were actually running the half-marathon without any training... We weren't going to back out so we headed off to sleep and woke up early to run. The next morning, the first thing Dakota and I hear is Kelsey coming out of the bathroom saying, "Guys, I don't think I can run the marathon because I lost a contact." We immediately just start cracking up and roll out of bed. Once we arrived at the starting line, we were swarmed by people trying to get photos of us and with us. It was pretty funny because we felt like celebrities. We then found a couple from Oregon on their 8-month honeymoon. The girl was running the half-marathon, because she found out she was pregnant and she could not run the full marathon. They were so adorable and she finished way before us. The marathon started and we started running! I ran all the way up to kilometer 7 without stopping, which I was really surprised about. I was upset though, because I thought the markers were in miles so when I got to km 7, I thought I was more than halfway done...but I was not. I ended up finishing at exactly 3 hours, and one by one, each of my friends crossed the finish line! We were so happy to finish and we got t-shirts and medals, which may or may not have been our motivation for running in the first place. We left for the train station and then stunk up a first-class cabin on the way home. It was such an awesome weekend and I cannot believe I accomplished a half-marathon!

This past weekend Dakota, Kelsey, and I went to Fes with a Church group on campus to volunteer with refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa. Boys all around our age travelled from Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Congo, etc. to go the Spain-Morocco border and hopefully get to Europe. Unfortunately, at the border, they were beaten and forced to stay in Morocco. We talked to them as they received medical attention for their wounds and made lunch for them, and played soccer and hung out. It was crazy to think that they were our age, and their lives were so different than ours. It was really great to spend time with them. I was proposed to four times and was called "Hannah Montana" by most of the guys I talked to so I laughing the whole time. We returned home and the three of us watched a movie and then went to sleep.

Periodically, the thought of returning home crosses my mind. I think it started when I signed up for classes back in Ohio, and I realized I have to go back. I am really nervous about returning home, because being here is just so amazing and I have met such amazing people that will make leaving really difficult. I can't wait to see my family, but I feel like I am really coming into my own here, and I just wish I could stay here longer. Traveling is such a wonderful gift, but everywhere you go, a little piece of you stays once you have to leave.
Before the marathon!

After the marathon!

The beach that the mosque is on.

Hassan II Mosque!

With my medal! I could not walk the day afterwards because I was so sore.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

“People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Amsterdam. As I start writing this, I am still in awe that I was able to go to Amsterdam for a weekend. It feels so surreal that I was there. Derek, Nate, Dakota, and I left Friday morning to board a 3-hour flight to Eindhoven. We flew with Ryanair, a discount airline, and overall the experience was good. We arrived in Eindhoven at night and then took a bus to Amsterdam. We were dropped off in the city center and then proceeded to walk to the apartment we rented through Air B&B. We walked for about an hour-and-a-half with no luck, so we hailed down a taxi to take us literally around the block to our apartment. We rented a two-bedroom and it was so nice. We had a lot of space, a great kitchen, and an awesome view. We went to sleep after the long day of travel, and the next morning we woke up early to go explore the city! Before the trip, we all discussed what we wanted to see in Amsterdam. The only major sight we wanted to experience was the Anne Frank House, and since it was Yom Kippur on Saturday, we were going to go on Sunday.

As we walked to town, I was just so infatuated with the architecture of the city, and the feeling I got while being there. It also did not hurt to see so many happy, active people there. Everyone was riding bikes, and there were barely any cars on the streets, even though it is a city. I also felt very safe and comfortable there. We walked to the city center and visited the Apple store, since half our group needed to have our laptops checked out (there's no Apple store in Morocco). While waiting for our laptops to be checked out, we walked around the shops and the Tulip Market. The city center was pretty crowded, but surprisingly enough, I did not care. Since Nate and I were fasting, we tried to explore as much non-food related sights as possible but there were cheese shops on every corner that teased us! Since we got to the apartment pretty late the night before, we all took an early evening nap before we got all dressed up to go out to a fancy dinner. Dakota and I bought dresses at the mall a couple weeks earlier that we put on, and the boys brought their suits. There are not many opportunities to get dressed up in college, so we all wanted to just have fun and do something that we usually do not get the chance to do. We started walking downtown, which is about a 3-mile walk and it started to drizzle. At first, we were fine in the rain, but then it started pouring. Derek and Nate freaked out about their suits and we were all drenched so we started running back to the apartment. By the time we got back, it looked like we all just got out of the shower. The grocery store around the corner closed at ten and it was 9:30 so we ran around the corner and grabbed a bunch of groceries to make dinner inside. I volunteered to make omelets and quinoa so we grabbed ingredients and ran back. We turned on some music once we got in the apartment and started singing, dancing, and cooking together. It was so much fun. We also Skyped our friends from AUI who traveled to Barcelona and Geneva. Finally, dinner was ready at 10:30 and we were able to eat. We ended up eating in our pajamas, so "fancy night" was technically not a success, but I would not of had it any other way. We stayed up playing cards and laughing and then went to sleep so we could wake up early to go to the Anne Frank House!

The next morning we got up, had coffee, and then went on our way to downtown. We got to the Anne Frank House and realized that there was a line that spanned more that two blocks of people waiting to see the museum! After waiting in line for more two-and-a-half hours, we finally got in. The museum was beautiful and it meant a lot to see it the day after a very important Jewish Holiday. I started thinking that I did not think it was fair for one girl to be the face of the Holocaust. There were six million Jews and other minorities that were murdered in the Holocaust and I do not like that one girl's name is the one we remember. I wish that everyone had a museum, or something to be remembered by, because we all have a story. That evening we roamed around the city and ate dinner at a delicious burger place, where I got the best portobello mushroom burger I have ever had. We then walked for two hours in search of the Red Light District, and even after asking six different people and taking a taxi, we could not find it! The taxi actually broke down and Nate and Derek had to push the taxi to the nearest corner, but the driver said the Red Light District was just a straight two minute walk, but we still couldn't find it! We ended up heading back to apartment and watched "The Conjuring" and then went to bed. The next day was our departure day and we left to go to the train station at 9, but ended up getting there closer to 11, because once again, we got lost. We missed our first train but ended up getting on another one 15 minutes later. We got to the airport 7 minutes before our flight took off and then got back to Fes.

The weekend was amazing and I definitely want to go back to Amsterdam in the future. I am so tired, but it was all worth it. Next week I have midterms, so I am glad I got to have an incredible weekend before I have to study nonstop for the next week!

This was the back of a shop at the Tulip Market!

After we got caught in the rain! (Left to right: Derek, Me, Nate)

Tulips and Sunflowers!

The best Gouda in the whole world was here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard

From stargazing to riding camels, this past weekend was one for the books. The weekend started at 7 am on Saturday where I and eleven other people boarded a bus to Merzouga, Morocco. The bus ride was about six hours and on the way we stopped in Erfoud and had delicious tajine and Moroccan salad. The group I went with was really fun and since we were all exchange students, aside from the student who put the group together, we all knew each other really well. We arrived at the desert in the afternoon and were transported from one hotel to another so we could get closer to the Sahara. At the second hotel, we were served mint tea and nuts and saw the camels that we were about to ride into the Sahara to our campsite! I did not know that we were actually staying in the desert, so that was an awesome surprise. We all got on the camels and started our trip into the desert! The camel ride was about 1.5 hours. For the first fifteen minutes, riding the camels was cool, but then it got kind of boring and uncomfortable. I named my camel Wednesday, and he was the biggest and tallest camel in our group (and probably the ugliest too). Our tour guide was absolutely hilarious, he learned all his English from the tourists and kept repeating, "Oh my G-d, I love it!" and "Fabulous" with a stereotypical female American accent throughout the tour.

When we arrived at the camp, we immediately hiked up a nearby sand dune to watch the sunset. I was not expecting our hike to be as difficult as it was. Halfway up the dune, everyone was gasping for breath. We finally made it up the hill, but unfortunately, the sunset was blocked by clouds. The view, however, was still phenomenal. For dinner we had more tajine and ate pomegranates and orange slices for dessert. Afterwards, we all sat around a fire and told jokes, stories, and had a blast. Then, we hiked up another dune and stargazed. I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful the stars were. You know those photos of what New York City, or Hong Kong, would look like at night without light pollution? That's how the stars looked. I saw five or six shooting stars and we could see the Milky Way. Just that view alone was worth a million dollars. Looking up at the stars at night makes me feel so small. There's this whole world around us but yet we are this tiny dot in the universe. It is mind-boggling to think about. The next morning we woke up early so we could see the sunrise on the camels. The sunrise was breathtaking and we actually saw the border to Algeria too! We arrived back at the second hotel to a warm breakfast to end our stay. We then drove back in 4-wheel drive vehicles to the first hotel. We ended up hanging outside the windows as the truck was going a good 80 km/hr and even though that is an obviously dangerous thing to do, it was so much fun (sorry mom and dad!). We got to the hotel and hung out by the pool for a couple of hours before getting back into the bus to go home.

On the way back we saw a fossil factory where they excavate and prepare fossils to be sold. The process was pretty cool and so were the polished tables and sinks they make out of the fossils. After a couple hours of driving, we stopped at a gas station to use the restroom. As we were leaving, there was a flash flood! We were stuck on the side of the road for about an hour while officials tried to figure out how to deal with the water. AUI actually has a curfew on school nights, and we will get reprimanded if we return past midnight, so we were nervous that we would not make it to campus on time. Luckily enough we arrived fifteen minutes before midnight and we ran into our dorms to clean off all the sand that managed to find its way all over our bodies and in our bags.

All in all, our trip was amazing. I can now cross off "visit the Sahara Desert" off my bucket list and I definitely want to return to see the stars again. Life here is one adventure after another, and each day is a day to be thankful for.

Wednesday and the Sahara!

I still cannot get over that view.

Hiking up the sand dune! (this is already about halfway up)

Obligatory camel shadow photo

The group!

Friday, September 26, 2014

"For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us." -Donald Williams

Today is the one-month anniversary of me being in Morocco. As soon as I arrived I knew that I would have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The past couple weeks have been nothing short of amazing. After some paperwork, I am now a Moroccan resident and that is pretty insane. I never would have expected to feel so at home here after only a month. I think that studying abroad is a great way to see a country because being a student here makes life a lot more normal. I live in the dorms, I attend classes, and campus life at AUI is not that different than Kent so the transition of being in a new country is less intense than if I was on my own. The classes I am taking here are drastically different than the classes I took at Kent. As a science major, I was taking Chemistry, Biology and Math courses galore, and here I am taking all Social Sciences. I am definitely out of my element, but discussing the connection between religion and politics, or studying gender in the Middle East while I am in Morocco, is such an amazing opportunity.

Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Before flying to Morocco, I was not planning on celebrating the New Year, but there are actually two more Jewish International students here! The festivities started Wednesday evening by us attending an Interfaith ceremony where we talked about the High Holy Days and heard a Muslim Professor talk about Eid Kabir. We ate apples and honey, and lamb was served for Eid. I loved how we were able to share our faith and we were able to learn about Islam. It was such a wonderful experience for us all to get together to celebrate and share our stories. Yesterday, we got excused absences from our classes for the day and decided to run our own mini services. We walked down to a stream near campus and read some stories, said some of our favorite prayers, tossed bread into the stream, and talked about how we celebrate Rosh Hashanah at home, and how the past year went for us. Being able to celebrate this holiday, especially with my new friends in Morocco, was really special for me.

This weekend I am headed to the Sahara Desert and next weekend I am flying out of Morocco to..... Amsterdam! The adventures keep on coming, and even if I am not traveling during the weekend, spending time with my friends on campus is equally exciting. Forming friendships and meeting new people have been the main goals during the past month. Everyone here is open and interesting, and I am so happy to be surrounded by such great students. I am also happy to have found a few students that I immediately connected with. Meeting people from all around the world and sharing stories and experiences, as well as making new stories and experiencing new things together, is awesome.

Dakota, Kelsey, and me! 

Hiking near campus at the Source Vittel

We had to go into a rug shop in Fes.

The Medina in Fes! I am pretty sure Kelsey, Dakota, and I were the only group of International students that did not get lost.

Intricate patterns are everywhere here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

“Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.” ― Shannon L. Alder

This past weekend in Rabat was full of sunburns and laughter. I was able to get to know a great group of people and see more of Morocco.

At three o'clock on Friday eight of the exchange students met to take a taxi to Meknes to board the train to Rabat. The grand taxi ride was cramped and hot. Here, the "grand" taxis are sedan Mercedes, and somehow, they are expected to fit seven people total. Needless to say, the each group got pretty comfortable with each other for the hour long ride. We drove past vast expanses of sandy hills and fruit farms before reaching the crowded train station. For 65 dirhams, you could get a second class ticket, so we went with it. Little did we know, second class would be like a scene out of Slumdog Millionaire. We had to push our way onto the train as soon as the doors opened, and when we got onboard, there were no cabins open in our car, so we had split up and cross over makeshift bridges from one car to another to find seats. The cabins looked similar to the ones shown in Harry Potter. After getting situated, we all started to read our homework for the weekend. After about two hours, the four guys in the car with us three girls asked us if we wanted to be "Whatsapp friends", to which Kiki--the only person who knew more French than the simple "hello" and "how are you"--replied, "Americans don't make friends on trains". We arrived at the station soon after, and began our journey to the apartment we were renting. Traveling in large groups makes things very stressful when trying to find enough petit taxis. Each petit taxi holds three guests, so we had to get four cars, and since someone brought his surfboards, the taxi also had to accommodate the large piece of luggage. Fortunately, we were able to find taxis to take us to the apartment. Unfortunately, once they dropped us off, we realized we were lost. After enlisting the help of a couple shop owners, we were able to track down the number of the owners and find the place. For a while, I thought that we were not going to find our apartment and we would be homeless for the evening. Thank goodness that was not the case! The apartment was amazing, it was full of lavish Moroccan-themed decor, but also had a lot of Japanese artworks, which I thought was interesting. We were given tea and some pastries before heading to sleep. Thankfully, the apartment was large enough to accommodate the eleven people who ended up coming.

The next day, we were invited to go to the beach with the owners of the apartment. They had a daughter, who was 15, and two sons, ages 14 and 6. I was so happy to play with the six-year old at the beach so that brightened my day up as we all got into taxis. The beach was so cool. It was right near the Old Medina of Rabat, and was very clean. The surf shop where the 14-year old boy goes was able to store our bags in their office and invited us to jet ski and kayak with them. After playing in the sand, and swimming in the ocean, we found some cliffs and decided to cliff jump! It was crazy and I had pretty much two anxiety attacks before finally taking the plunge off the 30-foot cliff. Then, it was time to take the kayaks and jet skis out! That was so amazing, and the workers at the surf shop were so wonderful. We ran into a man snorkeling and trying to find octopi, and we ended up holding them! That was something I never thought I would do. After a while out in the ocean, we were starving and the family showed us the Old Medina and we got some lunch. Being a vegetarian can be difficult here, so I usually go for cheese pizza when traveling around. It's usually pretty good, and I do not have to be picky with my order.

After showering and putting lotion all over our ridiculous sunburns (even after putting on copious amounts of sunscreen at the beach), we got ready to go to dinner in the New Medina. We split up into groups of three for the taxis, and my group ended up getting dropped off at the wrong Dar Naji. After waiting for a while, we finally realized that we were in the wrong restaurant and tried to wave down a taxi. Finally we got to the right place. It is really important here to know basic French or Arabic. I am really trying to pick up the languages quickly! Dinner was delicious, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was great. We went to a bar afterwards and then played some card games in the apartment.

Sunday was the day of our departure. After a first class train ride home, the weekend came to a close. I am so thankful for getting to spend time with such great people this weekend and make memories that will last me forever!

Last week in class, a major theme was "Orientalism". I think it is important to say that Morocco is not some exotic and faraway place, full of veiled woman and controlling men. "Exotic" is just a mindset; it is vital to realize that aside from some cultural differences, people everywhere are not that different from yourself. Though I have been traveling with other exchange students, the people we have met in each city have been overwhelmingly nice and welcoming. Families here are usually close, and both the mothers and fathers are active participants in the child's upbringing. Women here have rights and freedom, and most men here are respectful. Being here is opening my eyes to the destructive stereotypes towards the Middle East stemming from colonialism from the West. If I strip off my "tourist goggles" and see Morocco for what it truly is, I am able to connect with the people and adapt to the lifestyle here. Judging other cultures by your own perpetuates stereotypes and if I did that, I would never be able to feel comfortable anywhere but in the house I grew up in.
This is the view from the street near our apartment! It was gorgeous to see every morning.

Jumping off the cliff! 

The beach was crowded, but so much fun.

Jet skiing! 
Exploring the rocks on the beach!

Monday, September 1, 2014

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

Today is my last day before the academic semester begins at AUI. After four long days of orientation, I have learned more about Moroccan culture, academic policies at the University, dos and don'ts in Morocco, and I signed my residency papers!

I have been in total observation mode since I arrived here, and I have been noticing some really interesting things. For the most part, Moroccan students are just like American students. The society here is not that different than in America, except for a few parts. First off, there is an interesting law in Morocco stating that if a woman consents to be alone in a room (or car, etc) with a man, then anything that happens afterwards, is done with consent... even if the woman says "no". I am very thankful for learning about this, because in America, it is completely different. At school, however, the President and faculty that are part of a program called the No Violence Alliance (NoVA), are able to take action against sexual assault and violence in regards to "Date Rape", even if legally, the offender cannot be prosecuted. Al Akhawayn University is extremely safe and I feel so comfortable here. Morocco as a whole is also safe, but knowing the customs and laws is vital to creating a safer environment for foreigners.

Another difference is the fact that Morocco is a Muslim country. Many women in Islam are becoming more progressive and choosing what they want to do, and what they don't want to do within their religion. My roommate, for example, chooses not to wear a hijab. She told me that even though Muslim women are usually identified by wearing a head covering, a lot of girls are choosing not to wear one. Wearing a hijab is much more than just covering one's head. Many conservative rules are applied to a woman once she chooses to wear one. As a teenager or college student, it is less appealing to wear one because strict rules regarding interaction with the opposite sex apply, and some activities that teens and students take part in, like partying, will no longer be allowed.

I really appreciate the time my roommate takes out of her day to pray. She is Muslim and prays five times a day. At night, when we are both settling in for the evening, she takes out her prayer rug and prays for about five minutes. During this time, I reflect on my own day, and I use this time to center myself as well. It is a great way to end a long day. Even if I am not part of her faith, I use the time of silence to reflect and think.

I am surprised when I see what clothes people are wearing here, particularly females. When I was packing, I made sure to bring long skirts, dresses, and pants, as well as long-sleeved shirts and cardigans to cover up. In towns, the style is much more conservative, but on campus the girls wear crop tops, short shorts, low cut shirts and tank tops, as well as tight and revealing clothing. I only brought one pair of shorts, but I wish I brought more because the campus culture is much more like Kent than I anticipated.

I am so happy to have been given the opportunity to study abroad. I have noticed that the other international students have very similar personalities, because it takes a certain kind of person to study abroad... and choose Morocco. I am meeting so many amazing Moroccans and international students from all over the globe.

This weekend, the plan is to go to Rabat and surf! My IPhone actually broke three days ago--which is terrible in regards to staying in contact with my family, but awesome because I don't have my phone 24/7--so I will be getting it fixed in Rabat and a bunch of students are making a trip out of it! I will be learning how to surf as well as navigating through a new city! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

I have now been in Morocco for two days and I am experiencing so many new and exciting things. I arrived to Ifrane with eight other American exchange students. We were the first to arrive on campus and we have travelled together since arriving. I could not see much of the campus because we arrived at two a.m., so when I woke up I was in awe of the gorgeous architecture and views around me. My dorm is huge and we get a bathroom in the room; which is something I am very excited about. In Morocco, the lights are always off in the hallways to conserve energy and to refrain from creating too much heat since there is no air conditioning in the dorms. When I first arrived, having the lights off in the hallways was scary and nerve-wracking, but I am really starting to appreciate the conservation technique as well as the cool halls.

The first day we arrived, the group I flew in with decided to wake up early and explore the town of Ifrane. We were told that at the Marche there would be shops where we can purchase toiletries, cell phones, and supplies. After walking to the town—which is only a mile from the University—we thought we arrived. After exchanging money and looking through some stores, we ate lunch at a busy restaurant. For an 8-inch pizza and a cappuccino, the total was only 55 MAD, which is only $6.51. I am thrilled about the cheap prices and the low cost of living here, getting a 1.5 L water bottle was only $0.75! We could not find any stores with supplies that we needed so we all walked back to campus to enjoy a late afternoon nap and some time to unpack. We all met for dinner that evening on campus and then were invited by three Moroccan students to go down to the actual Marche, and then to a bar near campus. The Marche was absolutely amazing. It reminded me at first of Chinatown in NYC, but as we walked deeper into the commune of shops and street venders, it realized that I have never been anywhere like it. One of our Moroccan friends, Kenza, took us to a shop to buy clothes hangers and cell phones, and then we were led to a little restaurant where we ate M’semn (I’m not sure how to spell that) and drank mint tea. M’semn is a bread that kind of tastes like a flakey roll that can be eaten plain, with cheese, or honey. We ate ours with honey and it was absolutely delicious. We then took a cab to the bar where we sat and talked to the Moroccans about their culture and life here. Apparently the cops in Ifrane have no control because the students at AUI come from rich and powerful fathers and the police are afraid that they will arrest someone who has connections and can get the police in trouble. We also learned that if someone gets arrested before 18 years of age, the parents or guardians pay the price of the child’s crime. After a couple hours, we walked back to the University and finally got to settle in for the night.

Today we met up to go to a famous tree called Cedre Gouro. We woke up and had some pastries for breakfast and then went outside the campus gates to wait for a taxi. We were waiting for a while before one drove past and we were able to arrange for more to come. Only three people are allowed to go in a taxi at one time, so we waited for two more to come after three people from our group went off in the first one. A nice couple that was leaving the University, offered to take three of us to the place where we would transfer taxis to get a bigger one. They were so nice and made sure that the taxi drivers were giving us a fair price and would take us to the tree. After about a fifteen-minute ride, we all arrived at the tree. Immediately after arriving, we were swarmed by men who wanted us to get on their horses to ride around on a trail. They ended up pulling one of the girls and forced her onto a horse, so we decided to go with it, and all got on a horse. We were led around a circular path for about one hour. I hated the way the animals were being treated, since they were not in good shape, nor were they being properly fed or hydrated, but I had to just sit on my horse and make the most of it. One girl’s horse actually fell during the ride, which was so scary and sad. We convinced the owners of the horses to let us off so we could look around and the animals could get a break. We saw a lot of monkeys, which was so cool, and we got to get really close to them. After exploring, we finished our ride and took the taxi home.

Orientation starts tomorrow and I am happy to learn more about the University and Morocco as well as meet new people. I am so thankful that I arrived with a great group, but I am also excited to get to know others.

Unfortunately, my adapter does not work for my computer, so I am borrowing a friend’s, so I have limited computer use until I find a three-pronged adapter for my Mac. Hopefully, I will find one soon!

The past two days have been full of adventures and activities. I am so excited to be here and am getting ready for classes to begin and looking forward to more adventures.
This is a water fountain in downtown Ifrane. 
Getting on the horse was easy, trying to find out where we were going was the hard part. My horse was decorated with Kent State colors too! 

We were all waiting for all eight of us to get in one place before heading off into the woods.

I saw a monkey attack a person right before this photo, so I definitely wanted to keep my distance.

This tree is the tallest, largest, and oldest in the region.