The University of Iowa

First Impressions: An American in Morocco

March 6th, 2018
First Impressions: An American in Morocco
Coming from January in Iowa, my first two impressions of Morocco were “Wow, all the colors are so bright!” and “Wow, it’s so warm!” The rich orange dirt contrasting with greenery and palms is stunning. I arrived a day before most of the program, so I had to find and pay for my own cab to the hotel. This experience turned out to be surprisingly typical: a large group of men were milling around the taxi lot, chatting and petting a cat. When I walked up and started asking for a cab into Rabat in (rather broken) French, the men conferred and called to another man in the next lot over. It turned out that he was The One Who Speaks English, which every establishment seems to have, and was to be my cabbie, so we could communicate. This experience was repeated at the hotel, at cafes, even at tiny shops in the souk: as soon as the Arabic- or French-speaking employee determined we spoke English, there would be some shuffling until The One Who Speaks English was able to help us with whatever we needed, and seemed quite proud of their skill at language. If there isn’t anyone who speaks English, and my rather rusty French isn’t enough, pointing out menu items or directions and haggling prices on a phone calculator makes do.
First Impressions: City of Rabat
Rabat is the administrative and political capital of Morocco, but is not really a popular tourist destination. While this means that our very large, very loud, very American group gets more than our share of open stares, it also means that the locals aren’t fed up with tourists. As I said, I got here early. The hotel roomed me with two other girls who also got here early, and emboldened as a group, we wandered the city before the program started. While Rabat doesn’t have a plethora of tourist attractions, it really is a beautiful city: palms against white-washed stucco, medieval walls built of local red-orange clay lit from below at night, sea cliffs and sand beaches on the Atlantic, the bustling mosaic of the souk, and the quiet awareness of the medina.
First Impressions: SIT
Although my first impressions of Rabat have been wonderful, my first impressions of SIT have been mixed. While the local directors, assistants, and teachers at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning (CCCL), our host institution, seem knowledgeable, friendly, and generally on-top-of-things from my first few encounters, I’m not incredibly impressed with the administrative side of things. I don’t say this to tarnish the program, but rather to say: if you think you’re missing something before you leave, ask someone. Before arriving, I thought that my lack of preparation was an individual problem, stemming from several communication issues during the application period and after. After asking around, though, I discovered that I was not the only one who hadn’t received a library login, or the lists of pre-departure readings and required texts, or the itinerary, or the initial meeting information. However, I was the only one missing all of these things. As far as I can tell now, it’s pretty normal to feel unprepared, but not as unprepared as I felt. I had all the required paperwork, a plane ticket, a hotel name and address, and all the information available through the SIT website without a login. I wish that before the program started, I had been insistent and prepared more thoroughly.
First Impressions: Overall
The more I see of Rabat, the more I talk to my fellow students and the people at the CCCL, the more comfortable I become navigating the streets, the more excited I become. Let’s do this thing.

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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