Each semester, Anderson University students have the opportunity to explore other cultures, learn foreign languages, and expand their horizons through study abroad programs. While many travel to common destinations such as France, Spain, or England, one student recently journeyed far beyond her cultural boundaries by spending a semester in Morocco. Lisa Drake, a senior French education major, recalled her four months in Morocco and reflected on the challenges, triumphs, and inspiring moments of her journey.
Since high school, Drake knew she wanted to study abroad. As a foreign language major, she was required to spend a semester studying language in a foreign country.
“I was planning on studying abroad in France and had found a program with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) in Rennes,” said Drake. “While I was browsing through the site, I found a new program in Rabat, Morocco. I had always been interested in Northern Africa, so I looked into it, but did not intend to study abroad there.”
The next day in her French class, Drake’s professor mentioned an email from CIEE presenting a new program in Morocco.
“I took it as a sign from God,” said Drake. “I called my dad to get his opinion, and within 24 hours I changed my location of study to a city in a country I knew nothing about.”
Her first week in Morocco was initially intimidating. Going in, she only knew two things about Morocco: it has a king, and it’s an Islamic state. Not knowing what to expect, she felt a little unprepared. Upon landing in the strange, new country, she piled into the backseat of a tiny car with two other girls and traveled to the hotel. Her first weeks were filled with tourist attractions and getting to know her resident director. She stayed in a hotel for a few days with other students until she met her host family.
Drake immediately became familiar with the taxi system and learned which prices were fair and which were overpriced. It didn’t take long for Drake to discover the majesty around her and the splendor of her temporary home. She observed the tall minarets featured on Islamic mosques, and reflected on her own faith.
“It was weird to see minarets all over the city and hear the call to prayer five times a day, but I soon grew to hear the music and see the beauty of it all. Truly, the first week is a blur of disconnected memories. Perhaps it is the stress of a new place, but it’s probably due to the fact that the first week was a whirlwind of introductions, sightseeing, rules, schedules, and a newfound freedom I wasn’t sure what to do with,” said Drake. “As long as I kept an open mind, I could handle anything that came my way.”
Studying abroad brings many opportunities for learning, personal growth, meeting new people, and experiencing new sights, smells, and tastes. According to Willi Kant, director of international education at AU, study abroad experiences provide unique opportunities for students to learn other languages and cultures. Students also become aware of their own cultural assumptions.
“Living in another cultural context and dealing with cultural difference brings a greater awareness of one’s own culture,” said Kant. “Morocco provided a distinctively unique cultural context for Lisa’s study abroad.”
It was within this cultural context that Drake can recall a unique moment she encountered God while hiking with her roommate.
“We climbed to the top of a hill next to the city. We could see all of Azrou laid out before us. The clouds seemed close enough to touch. The sky was the bluest azure I had ever seen. We were talking in the quiet surroundings when, all of a sudden, the call to prayer started echoing throughout the valley,” said Drake. “At first, it was just a single voice carried out from a single minaret. Soon after, another joined in the song, then another, then another until the music ricocheted off the mountains to create a chorus of prayer. It was the most beautiful moment, and I felt so close to God sitting next to the sky, hearing the reminder to pray, and staring at the beautiful nature He had created just for us.”
Drake established relationships with many professors, other students, and locals who left a lasting impact on her life. She left Morocco with countless memories and an experience of a lifetime. She credits AU’s Department of Modern Foreign Languages for preparing her and bringing cultural misconceptions and stereotypes to light. The foreign language faculty taught her to be open-minded and warned of the impending culture shock she’d find in the journey. They also required her to keep a journal and write a reflection paper to help process her time abroad.
“Sometimes it seems like it was eons ago or that it was someone else who lived in Morocco for four months,” said Drake. “But it was me, and I love opportunities to share my experiences. It helps me educate other people and relive some of the memories that changed my life and my world forever.”
— Jonathon Hosea is a junior from New Castle, Ind., majoring in communication arts and minoring in peace and conflict transformation. Hosea is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.