I still can’t decipher whether anxiety or excitement took center stage last Monday as I took the tram to the CIEE study center in Rabat for the first time in over a month. CIEE Rabat has always been like a family to me, and I knew I would have to face the reality that some members had left and moved on as well as welcome those who will be my new brothers and sisters in this coming semester. Empathy ran through my body as I thought of the new students who must have been feeling the same way I was, only without the familiarity and comfort of knowing the city they were in.
Just a week and a half later, that day feels like a lifetime ago.
Through the two days of orientation, all of the students and I began to learn how we fit into this giant, rewarding puzzle. We started practicing the limited Arabic we had learned with each other, cracked jokes as we introduced ourselves to the group, performed grand musical numbers and modern Irish hymns, shared facts about ancient Islamic art, learned how to use squat toilets, and laughed politely until the laughs turned real. It was a beautiful thing to watch the new students get excited about each new discovery in the nooks and crannies of Rabat as I did last year.
After orientation, we dove immediately into the Intensive Colloquial Arabic (Darija) course, a two-week class that will give us the skills to get around the city and communicate with our host families and newfound friends. We quickly learned heaps of daily vocabulary, verb tenses, and how to build different types of sentences. Though digesting all of that new information was hard, we had activities throughout to make the process more interactive, such as speaking with locals, and, my favorite session, making a Moroccan tagine! We gathered all of the ingredients from hanouts surrounding the office, thereby learning the names of various meats, vegetables, and spices. Then, we received instructions on how to prepare the tagine in Darija. Nothing beats the sense of pride and accomplishment of enjoying a dish you’ve created while using an entirely new language.
While attending daily language classes, we’ve also been participating in cultural activities with CIEE’s language and culture peers. One of these was an intense scavenger hunt aimed at helping us locate different landmarks around the city. We split into four teams and, for an afternoon, raced around Rabat taking pictures with bookstores, searching up train schedules, and spelling out CIEE with random objects, just to name a couple of the criteria. Activities like this one give us opportunities to bond with each other as well as get to know the cultural peers (or buddies, as we affectionately call them).
As our new classes, internships, volunteering opportunities, and language tutoring begins next week, I hope we’ll grow closer together and discover more of Rabat and Morocco day by day, week by week. I'm also looking forward to see how each of us finds our own version of Rabat. For now, I’ll just say “bslaama!” and see you next time!