James Harrington, Arabic Language & Culture, Rabat, Morroco (Global Studies)


1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

My biggest fear was contracting a deadly virus or being entirely unable to drink any of the tap water or eat any of the food I wanted. I quickly realized that these were all issues greatly overblown by both online forums and tourists who had warned me prior to my departure. After several weeks I was eating food from street carts without a single negative experience. As long as I ate where many locals were eating, I was completely safe.

2. What do you wish you had done to better prepare before going abroad?

I wish I had researched global current events and history more fully. I often came into conversations with Moroccans who knew far more about the world than I did, sometimes even knowing more about events in the United States. It was embarrassing when I had to tell them that I was not as well informed on the matters as they would expect. This pushed me to always stay on top of major global issues and to learn more about my home country in the process.

3. What were your favorite classes abroad? How did they compare to UCSB?

The language classes that I took abroad were possibly the greatest classes I have ever taken in my life. I have never had an experience where a class has been so immediately gratifying and applicable. I would leave class every day more capable of operating in the society around me and able to have deeper and more meaningful interactions with my host family and local friends. Classes abroad had a generally lighter courseload but were also so connected to the society and culture of the country that they were some of the best I have taken by far.

4. What is one of your best memories from abroad?

I took a trip with a group of students in my program to Merzouga, a city in the southeast of Morocco right on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We rode camels into the desert and spent the night there after staying up late into the evening laying on sand dunes and looking up at the stars.

5. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

It was very difficult for me to be as confident as I would have liked to have been talking to both strangers and my host family. I was so embarrassed by my accent and the way I stumbled over my words that I often closed up remained quiet rather than attempt to interact. As I became more comfortable in the environment and with the language, it became much easier to put myself out and practice more.

6. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

I love the hospitality of Moroccans. There is an “it takes a village” mentality that is not as present in American society, and it was mindblowing to observe. I would be in public places and there would be young children running around independently, and every adult would treat them like their own children, talking to them, picking them up, hugging, kissing, and feeding them. Neighbors would always be over to chat for hours and it seemed as if everyone knew everyone.

7. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.

I volunteered in a language exchange program where I met with a student from a local university for 6 hours a week. He would tutor me in Moroccan Arabic for half of it, and I would tutor him in English. By the end of the program, with our combined knowledge of each others’ languages, we could almost entirely communicate with each other, and we could translate what the other said whenever we spoke with a third party who did not understand one of us. Through this volunteering, I made an amazing friend and made advancements in my language studies quicker than I ever have before.

8. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

Towards the end of the program, nearly every day I would eat sandwiches from the food carts in the medina, the old part of Rabat. The sandwiches were made using a small loaf of bread (called a “khobza”) sliced down the middle and stuffed with fried potatoes, fried sardines, roasted green peppers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and hot sauce. Some carts had sausages instead of sardines, or poached eggs that could be added. Everyone had their own unique spin, and every sandwich was absolutely incredible. They were also only $.60.

9. How have you changed since your time abroad?

I believe I am much more understanding of what it is like to be an outsider. I have never felt so out of place as I did in some situations studying abroad. That experience made me a lot more aware of my own identity and opinions and made me a much more confident person overall. I have a much better understanding of global issues and am much better equipped to make comparisons and connections when discussing politics, history, or social issues.

10.What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

I recommend trying anything and everything you get an opportunity to try. I never thought that I would go to a public bath, but when I was invited it was amazing! There are so many foods that do not look or smell (or even taste) very appetizing, but if you give them a chance you may acquire a taste for them. I think that is representative of the entire study abroad experience: if you are open to the situations you are placed in, you have a much better chance of growing and enjoying yourself than if you are closed off.

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