Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

Salaam, Farewell, I Hate to Say Goodbye

Madeleine Thompson
January 6, 2014

Before Morocco, I was pretty Type A. I liked knowing what I would probably be doing next week on any given day, I liked plans, I liked staying inside the lines. I hated being late, I wasn’t a fan of change, and I didn’t go out of my way to try new things. Morocco forced a lot of that rigidity out of me (although I remain very punctual) by introducing me to “Moroccan time,” which basically means that if you tell someone to meet you at 6:00 they’ll come at 7:30 and act like they’re five minutes late. It’s a slow-but-not-lazy lifestyle that shrugs its shoulders at everything. Meshi mushkila, no problem.

Buses get missed, passports get stolen, groups get separated, you get ripped off. What once made me panic and sweat and worry is now less of an issue, and thank goodness for it. Who likes panicking and sweating? Some of the best people I met in Morocco were fellow travelers staying in the same somewhat seedy and extremely cheap hostel in Chefchaouen that I’d decided to just try out instead of paying more to be a little safer. We stayed up playing cards and talking about where we’d been, and it was great. A lot of them had no immediate plans for the future, hadn’t finished school, or were taking some time off from life in general, which is something I’d never even considered. It was comforting, in a way, to know that you don’t have to know what you’re doing every second of every day.

During my week-long stay with a family in a rural village, there were several times where I was supposed to meet up with my group for an outing. If we were supposed to meet up at noon, the family would sit me down for a snack at noon. “Why are you in such a hurry?” they would ask. “You have plenty of time!” In Fnideq my friends’ hotel room was robbed, and they lost a laptop, a camera, and a passport among other things. In Tangier my friends and I got into separate taxis to go to our hostel, but my friends had the wrong directions. None of our phones worked and we had no way to reach each other, so it was a matter of waiting and hoping the others would make it.

For me, studying abroad was worth it just for that. Just for the ability to take a deep breath and move on if something isn’t going exactly as planned. It’ll be a while before I can process my whole experience, but I think the bigger picture lessons you learn about yourself while abroad are absolutely reason enough to do it. Besides the things you’ll know about the place you live for your semester or year outside of the nest, you’ll know you can survive and thrive in a foreign ecosystem. It’s one thing to make friends and do homework in the comfort of the Kenyon atmosphere. It’s entirely different to get waylaid by a herd of sheep in the road on your way to class and spend a weekend partying in the desert. Want to share a car with some Slovaks who are driving to Fes tonight? Want to volunteer at a roadside cleanup day with some Moroccan students? Sure, why not. Meshi mushkila.

Figure 1 Me (the floating head second from the left) and most of the girls in my program in the Sahara.