Location: University Park, PA, USA
It’s my first week back at classes. After traveling for about another month after leaving Morocco, I was finally home for a grand total of 3 days before moving back up for another year here at Penn State. In walking around campus and getting used to normal student life again, I’ve noticed some things that have changed in my perceptions of things. These are somewhat silly, but it already goes without saying that I’m experiencing the typical “my world is changed forever I long for more travel and culture” that study abroad programs flaunt and such. I’d prefer to write about the little, mundane things that have stuck out to me and my experience specifically instead.
You will never be able to accurately encompass your experience when describing it. The number of times I’ve just had to say “yeah it was incredible” when people tell me my summer looked great judging by Facebook pictures….incredible doesn’t even begin to cut it, but unless you’ve got 3 or 4 hours, “incredible” will have to do. How are you expected to describe living in a manner most will never experience, in a different culture so unlike our own that things that have become normal for you, like walking through fish blood on the streets and getting out of the way of donkeys and carts on your way home from school? Like the relief you feel when the muezzin finally calls time for iftar? Or the view of the desert dunes all around you and the stars above you in the desert? It almost hurts to just let “incredible” suffice to describe such an experience.
You never loose the feeling of haram. I still can’t get used to wearing tank tops and shorts again without feeling slightly exposed and rebellious. I have to check myself and remember that shoulders are okay in this country, and I instinctively think of cardigans or scarves I can wear with things without even noticing it. Similarly, I’ll still walk to class and gasp at the shortness of clothing on girls, even though that is perfectly normal for Penn State.
You get really annoyed when people complain that it’s hot. Please people, try North Africa. Sweat takes on a whole new meaning afterwards. Similarly, the concept of AC unless it’s above 85 seems ridiculous. I’m actually cold most of the time now it’s bizarre.
Introductions. So Moroccans don’t really do introductions. They wouldn’t bother to introduce you if there was someone you didn’t recognize in the house, or when with a Moroccan friend you met someone you didn’t know. I thought this was really strange, but now I’ve notice that here at college we do the same thing. It’s just a given that you only know a tiny sliver or people that mutual friends don’t introduce you at all. So not such a strange concept after all I guess…
No, I know my room is full of Moroccan and Arabic/Islamic decoration, but I don’t speak Arabic. Sorry.
But also those times when a word only in Moroccan Arabic will do. Trying to come up with an English word for a situation where I would normally use darija is very difficult. But more difficult is explaining the meaning of the darija word I want to use. There’s just no better way to convey “I will catch the bus, inshallah.” Then watch people’s faces when I try to explain “if God wills it”.
Internet patience. Reliable internet and existent 3G are wonderful things. So when they’re lagging and taking a while, I don’t mind so much. At least they’re there, and you don’t have to call Maroc Telecom a few times to ask why your router isn’t working randomly. Just knowing “yes I will have internet tonight to do my homework with” is a wonderful thing.
Food Cravings. I’m sure this happens to everyone coming back from abroad. You get random cravings for food from your study abroad country, and there’s just no way of getting that type of food here short of physically making it yourself. I woke up the other night really fancying some harira, the vegetable chickpea soup eaten at the start of iftar. It’ll be shebkia and honeycomb pancakes next.
Only those who went with you will understand some things and feelings. The other students on my program became my family for seven weeks, and it’s still very strange to be without them sometimes. Already I’ve been in a situation where I know the only person who could understand my feelings would be someone from my trip. I’m so used to relying on them for support in strange situations that I still would rather go to them than some of my oldest friends at home or my best friends at college. I suppose that goes for anyone you travel with. Either way, I met some truly excellent people and I’m proud to still be able to go to them. I’m ready for the next adventure whenever they are.
Location: University Park, PA