Experiential Learning in Morocco

By Stacey Wheeler '13, Staff Writer

I was already chewing the gamey meat when my host father told me, “This is a sheep’s head. We eat it maybe once a year.” I walk past the bloody sheep heads every day on my way to class, and I gagged as I tried to suppress the image of bloody heads that rose, still fresh in my memory. I swallowed and smiled weakly. My host father noticed that I didn’t touch any more of the meat, but it was no problem—more for the rest of the family!

I had predicted that studying in Morocco would come with this type of culinary surprise. But I certainly didn’t predict all the surprises, including the weather.

Morocco is cold. I live with a host family in the center of Rabat’s old Medina. The architecture here has survived from the Middle Ages, and if you’ve ever romanticized living in a castle, I’m warning you now: it’s not cozy. Each room is open to the air, and since the temperature regularly drops below 40 degrees at night, I sleep in five shirts with a minimum of four blankets.

My host family is lower middle class by Moroccan standards, but even though I had prior warning, I was not prepared for my first tour of their home. The possessions in their living room—a TV, a shelf of photos and the odd knick knack, a Koran, some books and a bread bas- ket—would easily fit into just one of my suitcases. Every piece of electronics I bring out inspires awe, and it is humbling to realize that my college tuition for one year could sus- tain this family for six times as long.

My host father is unemployed, but he keeps active. One of his favorite activities is to discuss politics, so every evening he breaks out a cigarette and we discuss—in broken French—everything from student protests in Morocco to the Republican primary. My host mother speaks mainly Moroccan dialect and Arabic, so dinner is always a confusing trilingual conversation that leaves me exhausted and ready to fall asleep to the comforting drama of Turkish soap operas.

Most days, I have seven hours of class. In the mornings, I participate in a “Moroccan newsroom” where I, along with the 11 other journal- ism students, pitch story ideas, peer- edit articles and discuss the news in Morocco. In the afternoons, we have lectures where we practice interviewing local professors and journalists, including Driss Ksikes, who was taken to court and almost jailed for publishing a joke about the king.

The program is fast-paced, and practicing journalism as a student here is difficult. Morocco’s second language is French—not English— and the locals have an innate suspicion of journalists. But I chose to try SIT’s experiential learning approach because I hoped to see ex- citing things and become more inde- pendent, and Morocco has not disappointed. After only two weeks, I have watched police disband student protests and successfully navigated a computer crash. I’ve learned to barter in Moroccan dialect and eat with my hands. I’ve drunk my weight in mint tea and I’ve taken a two-hour shower in a local hammam. If I had to go home now, I would be satisfied. But my program director tells me I will be sad if I don’t wait for one more experience—a camel ride.