My job in study abroad and international education entails multiple tasks and responsibilities; every day is exciting and different from the rest. One of the things I love most is to be a part of –a travel companion if you may – the students’ discoveries and amazement when they decide to step out of their comfort zone.
During spring break, the Arcadia Granada group traveled to North Morocco as part of the cornerstone course they are taking in Granada. Our crew is very adventurous, and they sure love traveling; they were of course excited to cross the Mediterranean Sea and travel to a new continent (I guess Europe already feels like their neighborhood), but I don’t think they were prepared for the cascade of emotions, feelings, discoveries, and knowledge they experienced in barely a few days. Things get really authentic and meaningful when you interact with real people when traveling, and this is what this experience was really about.
On the first day we had quite an early morning; we left Granada at 4:00am to be sure to be at the Tarifa port in time for our 9:00am ferry ride. Once everyone got their coffee fix at the port and boarded the ferry, we could enjoy the stunning view of two continents at once, and the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea clashing in an endless dance with the wind. Some of us sure had “quite a ride” (sea sickness…), though the water was “quiet.”
As soon as we cleared Customs, we started an unforgettable, non-stop, 4-day tour of Northern Morocco where we all experienced a wide range of emotions. Upon arrival, our students were introduced to local students who acted as their guides and translators during most of the day: lunch was an excellent opportunity to learn about Morocco and its people, their customs, religion, politics, and many other topics of great interest. We discovered Tangier is an amazing city full of history in a walking tour with our hosts, which included a visit to the American Legation, some stunning views, and delicious churros. We also had a chance to converse with several undocumented immigrants who told us about their lives and hardships making their way to Morocco from different places in Africa in an attempt to reach Europe.
One of the highlights of this trip is always the camel ride. It is hard to underestimate how much fun it is to see a group of young people getting on and off camels. Just when we were starting to get the hang of it, we left for Asilah, a beautiful city on the coast. There, we met a Catholic nun who told us about her experiences in a Muslim country. Her faith and humility were impressive.
Ah, Rabat! After a bus ride we reached the capital city of Morocco. Students had a very authentic, empowering experience going to the Hammam (public baths) with members of their host family, and afterwards they all got beautiful henna tattoos. The experience with the host family is always highly valued by our students: they realize what a welcoming country this is. Oh, and the food!
We also had a chance to visit the mausoleum of Mohamed V. This place is a display of mighty architecture intertwined with majesty and deep respect for royalty and tradition. I am sure everyone made connections with the major representations of Islamic art in the Iberian Peninsula: the Alhambra in Granada, the cathedral in Seville, and the Mosque in Córdoba. Small world.
After two days in the urban areas of the country, our third day took us to rural Morocco, a complete change of perspective. After a rainy, tricky hike over a muddy hill, we had lunch at a farm, where the family that lives and works there explained what their normal life is like; they explained the family traditions, and their hopes and projects for the future. Meeting the farm animals was a great way to finish this day.
We spent our last evening in and around Chefchaouen, the blue city in the Riff Mountains. In our short time there, we saw it in the sun, the rain, (rainbow included), and then lit up at night. It is hard to say which view was more beautiful. Students had some free time at last to buy gifts and souvenirs, after being conveniently instructed on the art of bargaining. They did great! After dinner, we had a short closing reflection on the trip, as they were taking in all these experiences in barely a few days.
We had an early start on our last day as well. Some of us dared to take a walk through the Medina in the wee hours and outside the city gate to get to the hill opposite the city. It was completely worth it, as we were able to see the blue city awakening.
With everyone packed and fed, we started our way back to Granada: a bus ride through the mountains, a wearisome process to go through the Ceuta border (one of the toughest borders in the world), a taxi through the city, a ferry ride back to the Peninsula, and another bus ride to Granada.
Our main goal for this trip is to give our students a meaningful experience, and our partner in Morocco, Allen Hoppes (I, like you, tours), sure knows how to get this done. It is the perfect mix of fun and education. Students often describe this trip as “eye-opening” and a “life-changing experience,” which I hope they will take with them once the trip (and the semester) ends. Insha'Allah!