A Semester in Morocco
From January to May 2015, I lived in Rabat, Morocco's capital city, studying Arabic and journalism at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning.
Part 1: If it could go wrong, it did.
When you're someone who's idea of getting to the airport on time is arriving to the gate three hours before the scheduled boarding time, the concept of catching a connecting flight just before the doors are slated to close is pretty high on the list of things that you wish to never happen. But it did for me, and I am that 'someone.'
Not only did the plane arrive late to Boston from Paris, a badly timed snowstorm meant the plane's wings needed to be defrosted before take-off to Rabat. The roadblock was just enough to add a little stress on to the travels, but not enough to really worry about missing my connecting flight to Rabat. After all was said and done, I'd arrive to Paris just about an hour late. No big deal, right?
Wrong. When we landed in Paris, something in one of cabins caused a delay in deplaning, and the shuttle I was eventually herded onto broke down shortly after we boarded it. Note: This was approximately the time I began to lose my cool: The 45 minutes I had guaranteed myself to get through security and navigate my way through CDG suddenly turned into a panicked, 15 minute run (and I mean it - I ran) from one side of the airport to the other. Boarding ended at 10:15 and the doors would close with no exceptions, according to my ticket. I made it to terminal L31 at 10:12.
But the joke was on me; apparently, boarding for the flight to Rabat was also behind schedule. I made it with plenty of time to spare. Finally, a chance to breath.
Part 2: Things are looking better
But I'm here. Difficulties aside, I made it to Rabat, Morocco -- a city on the coast of North Africa -- with an hour to spare before the designated pick-up time of 2 p.m., when the assistant program directors would retrieve the 60+ American students gathered in the hot waiting/pick-up area of the Rabat-Sale airport. A sea of backpacks, suitcases and exhausted 20-somethings crowded around the small tables and chairs of an empty cafe by the sliding glass doors that led to the outside, and the otherwise would be silent corner of the airport was filled with brief introductions and uncomfortable small talk. Two employees of the small cafe counter stared at the group of us, laughing and -- from what I could tell -- making fun of the disoriented group of Americans that sat in front of them.
A 10 minute bus ride along the Atlantic coast brought us to Hotel Darna, where we are staying for the first few days as we get ourselves orientated. At the end of the week, we'll be introduced to the Moroccan family that we'll live with for the next two months before we move out for the independent reporting assignment part of the program (more on that later). We've been given no details whatsoever on the family we've been paired with, and we won't until we meet them for the first time on Thursday. I think it's safe to say that as of right now, that's the number one thing on everyone's minds.
After a few hours of rest (but not nearly enough), we walked to the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning, where we were introduced to our program directors and given the grand tour of the historical building that we would soon be attending classes in. To finish up the evening, we were treated to a fresh, home cooked dinner at the CCCL, complete with lamb, carrots, pees, cauliflower and rice. For the first time, we were among just the journalism program students, so again, we exchanged introductions and started the process of breaking the ice. We ate until we were full, and then ate some more... It'd been a long day with very little food for most of us. By this point, full-fledged exhaustion set in and what began as a small talk turned into ridiculous conversations and fits of laughter.
It's all still a little surreal, but the semester is just beginning.