University of Iowa

The Biggest Adventure: the Homestay

April 23rd, 2018

Hassan Sweet Hassan
Hassan Sweet Hassan 
 

Sorry, that’s the best “home sweet home” pun I could come up with but let me assure you: the homestay is much, much better than that pun.

The second week of the program, every student is assigned a family to live with. Most are inside the walls of the Old Medina itself, while a handful are close outside. I happened to be one of those students, residing in a lovely apartment in Hay Hassan, the next neighborhood south. Pros? I’m approximately three blocks from almost all my favorite cafes (if you’ve read my post about studying, you’ll know how big a pro that is), and a little distance from the gossip grapevine of the Medina mothers. Cons? I was really looking forward to staying in the Medina, and it’s a bit of a walk to and from class every day.

The homestay was one of two major reasons I chose this program and living with a local family definitely eased my way into a foreign culture. While it felt a little too much like high school, with a mother always checking in on me if I stayed out past sunset, it was so worth it to feel as though I belonged somewhere. One of my biggest fears at the beginning of the program was that I wouldn’t stray far outside my classmates, and only make American friends despite being in Morocco. The homestay helped to mitigate that, with my host sister introducing me to her friends, and with various host cousins and relatives in and out of the house all the time.

For me, I think the biggest surprise of the homestay was how fast my family adopted me into their lives. For better or worse, within a week I was just another one of the siblings, getting teased by my sister and acting as a jungle-gym for the 4-year-old to a constant stream of “Spiderman! Spiderman!! Batman! BATMAN!” followed almost immediately by “Youssef! Leave her alone!” yelled from the living room. I work with children at home, and I’d specifically asked to be housed with a family with kids; having a four-year-old around helped ease any tensions of adjusting to a new way of life. As it was, Youssef had four more years than I did in learning Moroccan mores and expectations, and often it was he who lacked the self-consciousness to tell me straight out whether I was unconsciously being rude or not doing as was expected. Having a kid around also meant that, often, the language spoken in the house was very simple and to the point – a godsend when you’ve only been learning the language for two weeks. Without a homestay, and especially without a four-year-old at that homestay, I likely would have relied entirely on my high school French to communicate, instead of learning little bits of the Darija Arabic dialect. On the other hand, having a sixteen-year-old sister meant that I didn’t need the ever-present soap operas on the TV for drama. I’ve had a sixteen-year-old sister before, and I had never planned to repeat that experience. For better or worse, there was never a boring moment at home.

Now that I’m in the last leg of the program, the ISP period, and living with classmates in an apartment rather than with my homestay, I have a little distance from the barely-controlled chaos of any young family. I can honestly say that the homestay and my homestay family will be one of my favorite memories of my time in Morocco. I already miss the impromptu dance parties, the wild nights of watching soccer, when my twelve-year-old host brother finally came out of his shy and studious shell, the nights celebrating birthdays with incredibly elaborate cakes, my host mother’s incredible cooking, and the sweet feeling of belonging when I came home for tea time. Getting a nickname almost immediately when my family couldn’t pronounce my name, and subsequently being Jiji for the next two months, late nights stumbling through French to talk to my sister about boys, and life, and her hopes for her future, and the consternation of my host grandmother when I forgot to wear slippers around the apartment.

While the homestay definitely had its ups and downs, as any family time does, whether it’s my family at home or my new, briefly adopted family here, I’m so incredibly grateful that I was able to experience Morocco both as a member of a family, and as one student in a class of other American students. I honestly can’t imagine what my experience would have been like had we been in student housing -- while it might have been fun to be around friends all the time, I would have missed out on so many amazing times and adventures with my homestay family, and I doubt I would love Rabat quite so much.

Dderb (alleyway) in the Old Medina
Dderb (alleyway) in the Old Medina

90% of the time home
90% of the time home

My family takes birthdays very seriously
My family takes birthdays very seriously

Picnic day in the countryside
Picnic day in the countryside

Picnic day in the countryside
 
jillian

 

Jillian Swanson is an English and anthropology major at the University of Iowa. She will be spending her semester in Rabat, Morocco, as part of the SIT Morocco Multiculturalism and Human Rights program.

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