My name is Esther Macharia. Besides volunteering with the Marketing and Communications team for the City of Bhangra Festival, I am a fourth year communication and anthropology student at Simon Fraser University (SFU). I had always wanted to experience a semester abroad, and the place I was most interested in going to was Morocco, ever since I learned that SFU has a partner university there (Al Akhawayn University).
I was filled with ideas and thoughts of what Morocco would look like from images I had seen on the internet, from travel blogs, and to an extent in the media (in this case movies). I was not sure what to expect, having only the views and ideas that I had borrowed from people who had been there or were promoting Morocco as an ideal tourist destination. Fortunately, I was able to travel to Morocco as an exchange student for four months in 2015, and so was able to form some of my own ideas about the country, which I am happy to share with you here.
I was interested in going on exchange because I wanted to experience something beyond university life in Vancouver and my life in Kenya (my country of origin), and connect what I was studying in communication and anthropology classes with a global context. I wanted more: to break from my comfortable lifestyle in Vancouver, and to challenge myself to explore a way of life that I was not familiar with. Morocco was a place I felt would be different from anywhere else I have lived in for more than a month.
When I arrived there, my first thought was that it looks and feels very much like Kenya, my home country. Some things like sheep crossing the road, the crazy driving, the organized chaos (where everything happens when it will; the lack of limited time and time being limitless), all felt like Kenya in some way. Maybe I had chosen wrong, if I wanted a place that was different to any other place that had been to before. However, during my first trip within Morocco with Simon Fraser University’s Explorers’ Club to Chefchaouen (blue city) and Akchour (waterfalls), I began to see to Morocco’s distinctive features.
First, I noted how open most of the Moroccans were in inviting visitors to their homes. This stood out because Eid (a big holiday) was coming up. Many of the Moroccan students at Al Akhawayn University (SFU exchange partner university), offered invitations to most exchange students, to go visit their families during the Eid holiday.
Second, I noted the amazing cuisine. The main Moroccan dishes are couscous, tagine, msemen, harsha, and mint tea. I enjoyed exploring how the food tasted compared to anything I’d had before. Being able to experiment by tasting the various food of Morocco, I was able to acknowledge that yes – there were many things about country that reminded me of Kenya, but there were also many features that were distinctly Moroccan.
Looking back at my first few days as an exchange student, I must say that I was pretty naïve about the country, and what I would find once I was there. But of course one of the benefits of travelling to different countries is to be able to compare the familiar with the unfamiliar, and gain new perspectives on the wider world. All the while I was in Morocco, I kept my eyes and my heart open to new experiences, and gained so much during my time there. I cherish my experiences of the country, and the opportunity to test many of my own and others’ assumptions about it.
Besides meeting and learning about Moroccan culture from the many warm and wonderful people I net there, I enjoyed the chance to meet other students from all over the world (except for South America and Australia), as well as students at Al Akhawayn University (SFU exchange partner university), with whom I shared cultural experiences and ideas of who we are.
It was a privilege for me to spend time in Morocco and experience ways of life in some ways familiar to me and in some ways so foreign. I believe cross-cultural awareness can lead to better understanding between people around the globe, and hope other students like me have the opportunity to spend time away from home, gaining knowledge and appreciation of other ways of life.
Blog by Esther Macharia
Photo courtesy: Esther Macharia