Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pre Departure Orientation

The past couple of days have been eye opening, exciting, exhausting, and informative! I returned home late last night from Pre-Departure Orientation in D.C., called the PDO. Once again, the YES Abroad staff put on an excellent event, starting on Wednesday evening and lasting until Saturday morning. My favorite day was Thursday, when we woke up early and headed out for a crazy day of running around D.C. We first stopped at the Amideast offices, along with the Oman group. Our books (called "Maximizing Study Abroad) were handed out and then the Morocco group video-chatted with our coordinator in Rabat. She seemed just as excited as we were and she helped to clear up some questions and introduced the basic structure of our year. While going to Moroccan high school will occupy much of our time, we'll also have Darija (Moroccan Arabic) classes, French lessons, a class about Moroccan life, and a class allowing us to reflect about our exchanges.

From the Amideast offices, we departed via taxi for the Moroccan Cultural Center, established to further Moroccan-U.S. trade and cultural exchange. Two men, one Moroccan and one American, addressed us and we were allowed to ask them questions as well. The whirlwind continued with a visit to the Moroccan embassy. They served us mint tea and Moroccan desserts, along with discussing the history of Morocco-U.S. relations, a partnership that the Moroccans we met are very proud of! We headed back to Amideast for a delicious lunch of Lebanese take-out and then made our way to the State Department!

After a few panic filled moments when I couldn't find my passport, I entered the State Department. I felt very cool and official with my visitor badge. Rick Ruth, Senior Advisor at the Bureau of Cultural and Education Affairs, spoke to us about the importance of our exchange and offered some words of wisdom. He has traveled to several YES Abroad countries and is a strong advocate for the YES Program. Following his speech, a panel with representatives of the Middle East, Eastern European, and Southeast Asian regions took our questions. The qualifications of these representatives were impeccable--many had advanced degrees from awesome universities! I asked for a description of how U.S.-Morocco relations are different from our relations to different countries in the region, and many of my peers had similar questions about politics. We then left the State Department and walked down to the Lincoln Memorial for picture taking!
Here is the Morocco group! 

YES Abroad 13-14 minus Bosnia (they went in the morning to the Lincoln Memorial). 

Our crazy day ended with a long bus trip back to Chevy Chase (D.C. traffic is insane). That night, our coordinator in the States announced our host families! The sheet she gave us had very basic information, but it made Morocco seem much more real. I have two sisters, one older and one my age, and a little brother! 

The next day, we woke up just as early for a day of workshops. From 8 A.M. to 10:00 P.M., except for lunch, dinner, and the occasional break, we sat at our country tables and discussed our years abroad. Our sessions included information on Islam, Health and Safety, Digital Storytelling, and much more country specific information. We had the BEST alumni ever and she kept us laughing while sharing tons of stories and tips with us. The Morocco group got along so well and I really can't wait to see them all again! 

Friday was goodbyes at the airport, which were sad because our class will never be together again as a whole. It was also exciting to say goodbye to the Morocco group, knowing that we'll be together again in 50-ish days! 

Now I'm home and Morocco is much more real. To use a cliche, it's an emotional roller coaster. I am very, very excited, and very, very nervous. I'll let you know as the ride continues! Thanks for reading! 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vlog #2

61 Days until Morocco: 
I made another vlog today with my friend Ellie! You can view it by clicking below! 

Thanks for watching! I'll blog as soon as I can after the Pre Departure Orientation! Can't wait! 

Friday, June 21, 2013


63 days 
Here we go.
A little over 8 weeks. 
That just makes Morocco sound so real. So close. 
I’m in the mindset of “I have so much time left to do x,y,& z.” And while I still do have time, it seems much much shorter than I had imagined. My year abroad has always been somewhere on the horizon, way in the distance. I could always see it but never touch it. Well, I still can’t touch it, but I’ve magically gotten closer to it. 
People keep saying to me “have fun in Morocco.” I assure them with a smile, that I will have fun. Because I know I will. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have fun (most) anywhere on the globe. But there’s so much more than fun to be had—there are lessons to be learned, languages to wrap my mouth around, relationships to be built, streets to walk, trams to ride, and miles of Morocco to explore. I get excited just thinking about it. I want to soak it all up, to take it all in and to make it all my own. 
Whenever someone says “have fun in Morocco,” I want to cry out “But…I’ll see you before then, right?” And of course, we’ll promise to hang out later in the summer or I’ll invite them to my (not yet planned) good bye party. But I realize that there are no guarantees that we’ll see each other again before I leave. 
When I get too sad about leaving behind everything and everyone, I try to remind myself that it’s not a forever goodbye. I tell myself that by this time next year, all the people and places I love will have been both separated and reunited. I wonder—how I will I feel then? Will this year fundamentally change me? What will my mindset be like, twelve months from today? Was it worth it?  There is a small part of me that looks forward to that day, when I can (figuratively) gaze over this whole year and know the answers to those questions. But there is a much larger part of me that is (in equal parts) excited and apprehensive about the twelve months that lie between here and there. 
I’m going to Morocco because it been my dream since I knew exchange was possible. Because YES Abroad made that dream possible and because my parents helped me along the way. Because I want to learn Arabic and French.  The desire to travel and learn a new language are very good answers to the question “Why?” Yet in a certain way, they don’t scratch the surface of why I will be getting on a plane in 63 days. There is a much bigger “why?” to be answered. Why do I want to leave behind everything I know for an altogether different life? What force is pulling me across the globe to a land I really don’t know much about? 
I am in the pursuit of something. I don’t really know what. Perhaps I am searching for the confirmation of the intuition that life can be wildly different across the globe, yet despite this, people are the same. Or the manifestation of good within all people, religions and cultures. Or a more multicultural identity. Perhaps I’m looking for all these things. It’s possible that I’m looking for none of them. I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll find what I’m searching for in Morocco, but I think I’ll be creating it. Day by day, the life I carve out myself in Morocco will become the answer to the very intimidating question of “why?” When I can walk down the street in Morocco and feel as at home as I do here, when I can point out my favorite cafe and give directions to a tourist, when the words of Moroccan Arabic roll off my tongue, when I have a family to hug and friends to laugh with, maybe then I will know why I came to Morocco. But until then, I will be searching through my efforts to make Morocco home. And when I do figure out “why” I’ll be sure to let you know. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

My First Vlog!

I made my first vlog today! View it here! I would love any comments or ideas for future vlogs. Summer has been off to a busy start and the highlight of my week was my first Moroccan Arabic lesson. I'm excited to learn more! Thanks for reading and watching! Until next time, I'll leave you with a picture of my current home and of my new home. 72 days until the adventure officially begins!

Home for the next 72 days. 

Home for the next 289 days after that, give or take some. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sweet Summer!

I've only been on summer break for an hour and half and I love it already. I've ordered an Arabic textbook, a Moroccan phrase book, and a couple of French children's books as summer reading and I'm looking forward to reading those! Now that summer has arrived, Morocco seems much closer. The next time I walk into school, I'll be 4,165-ish miles away. As my countdown reminds me, I have 81 days until departure, and just 21 days until Pre Departure Orientation.
I know this summer will fly by, with work, online pre-calc, and preparing for my big adventure, but I want to slow down and take it all in. I said "see you later" to one of my best friends yesterday, as she is moving, and as I went through our many pictures together, I realized how much I will miss all my friends next year. No matter what we've done--from our awesome study groups, to early morning car pool rides, to bonfires and sleepovers--it's been a blast. As I left school, many people wished me a happy summer and good luck in Morocco. And though I hope to see many of them this summer, there are no guarantees. The future is question mark. I believe that I can maintain these friendships and I'm already making some plans for this summer. I want to cram in as many get togethers as possible, because I won't have these people in my life next year.
It amazes me that an ocean will separate from everyone and everything familiar in 81 days. I will still be myself, but in the context of an entirely different place. Truly, the only person that will be with me this whole year is myself, and who I am is continually changing. I will be independent from my parents, my extended family, my friends, and almost everyone I currently know. I read this quote (by Frederick Buechner) from a current YES-ers blog:
"You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you." This quote reminds me that I will take everyone that I know with me, in some small way. Because who I am reflects who has been a part of my life, and I can never truly be separated from those I love. I just have to spend enough time with them to make up for all that we'll be missing next year. 
There is one group people who will be by my side throughout this journey--my fellow YES Abroaders. However, this seems to be a case of the blind leading the blind. None of us truly knows what this year will hold. We have the name of a country, and (for some of us) a town and a school. But we cannot really know what our homes will be like until we begin to create them. We do not know the challenges we will face, we only know that we will face them. Fortunately, we have the insights of our coordinators and those who have gone before us to reassure us that this experience will both challenge us and reward us in unimaginable ways. These voices assure me that I will be challenged in ways I cannot know or understand yet. As I prepare for my year abroad, I look beside me--to my 64 fellow finalists-- and in front of me--to those people who have already gone abroad-- for guidance, comfort, and wisdom. I am comforted by the realization that we are going through many of the same emotions--from homesickness before we've even left, to anxiety about our new homes, to overwhelming excitement and gratitude for the gift we have been given. 
Sunday, August 25 is 81 days away. That is a little more than two months. 81 days to appreciate all I have taken for granted in the past 16 years. 81 days to hug my family. 81 days to prepare for the hardest (but hopefully best) year of my life thus far. 81 days to learn how to say goodbye to all that is familiar, and 81 days to hope and dream about Morocco. I have 81 days to make the world inside of me as bright, vivid, and strong as possible, and 81 days to pack that world into a myself and one suitcase. I don't want to waste a single moment. Until next time, ma'a salaama!