COLUMN: Shukrán, Morocco (Thank you, Morocco)


Alongside their Moroccan host student, Yousra Alami, columnist Lauren Saxe and fellow study abroad student Michelle Dunham say goodbye during their last breakfast in Chefchaouen. Five Moroccan students hosted trios and pairs of study abroad students from Seville, Spain. Lauren Saxe and Lauren Saxe

As my weeks abroad tick by faster and faster, this weekend I killed two birds with one stone as I crossed both a new country and continent off my travel checklist.

My study-abroad group explored a total of three Moroccan cities. We began with Tangier and ended in Tétouan, but our main stay was in the city of Chefchaouen in the mountains. Our guide, Abdeslam, who had enough energy for our entire group, provided us with all the details and history of each city.

Upon our arrival in Chefchaouen, we were matched with Moroccan host students in groups of two or three. I always prefer this to staying in a hotel or hostel, partly for a more authentic experience, but mostly 
because it as an opportunity to make international friends and get to know people of a different culture.

My friend and I were paired with the youngest of the host students, a 16-year-old high school girl named Yousra, who studies economics. As soon as I entered her room, which we stayed in, I noticed inspirational quotes on her wall, much like I might find in mine — granted, hers were written in three languages, while all of mine are merely in English.

That was one of the things I found most impressive — the number of languages many people in Morocco could speak. The students we spent time with could all speak Arabic, French and English, and several were learning a fourth language.

In the morning of our full day in Chefchaouen, we took a short hike through the mountains to see one of the mosques at the top and to experience a view of the entire city. Chefchaouen primarily consists of blue buildings, and therefore is often referred to as “The Blue City.”

Halfway through Saturday, we visited the foundation the mother of our main host student, Akram, started: The Alawite Organization for the Care of Blind People. It is a foundation that offers work for blind citizens, where they are able to use their other senses to create garments and home goods to sell in its shop and support their families in the process.

A mental snapshot I will remember forever was the lunch we enjoyed. Our meal consisted of several courses, ranging from a beautiful veggie platter to a full chicken doused in rich sauce to endless pomegranates. As we finished our meal, there was a quartet from the music conservatory in Chefchaouen that played in the living room of our host, Akram’s aunt, and the merriment that filled the room was immeasurable. Amidst the music and cheer we enjoyed mint tea, henna tattooing and overall good company.

I think a lot of times, when people travel, they focus too much on cultural differences and not enough on the things that bring people together. Perhaps the most rewarding part of traveling is that, although at first things might seem extremely foreign, and many certainly are, you can always find a common ground or something that connects two cultures or two people.

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