As Georgia Rock thought back across her time as a UChicago undergraduate, one experience that stood out to her from the rest was her time studying Middle Eastern Civilizations in the winter of her third year. What made this experience unique? The fact that she got to wake up every morning in Rabat, Morocco. Georgia, like many of her peers, chose to fulfill her Civilizations Core requirement by studying abroad. Having watched her brother study abroad in Europe, she knew she wanted to make her college experience a global one. After a little research, Morocco quickly became her top choice. “Travelling to a country where both Arabic and French are spoken widely was a dream for me,” she recounts. “I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to a different Moroccan city almost every weekend.” Read more
One such trip involved a camping trip departing from the desert city of Merzouga. “After a delicious dinner and a few hours of music by the fire, my friends and I wandered for about ten minutes until we settled on a place to put our blankets down and stargaze. It was an absolutely breathtaking night. And when we returned the next day a bit sandy and exhausted, the hammam down the street from my homestay came in handy!”
While Georgia loved many parts of her experience, one of her fondest memories is studying with her language partner Afaf. “We met every week to speak in Arabic and English. In the homestay, as well as in restaurants, taxis, and pretty much everywhere in between, my roommate and I mainly spoke French with our host parents (but sometimes they insisted on switching to Arabic to help us practice!) Our dinner conversations revolved around cultural exchange, asking a million questions about French and Arabic vocabulary, and bombarding our host parents with funny stories about our weekend travel adventures.” By the end of the trip, the group was so close that it was difficult to say goodbye – she even struggled to say goodbye to her newfound friends, the neighborhood cats. “We weren't really supposed to pet them, but I snuck a careful pet here and there anyway,” she fondly remembers.
Help from her academic advisers and program directors was an instrumental part of making the experience as smooth as possible. “My major requires 2 full years of a Near Eastern Language. I was worried my Arabic teacher would not accept me into the spring quarter Arabic level if I did not take advanced Arabic in Morocco, which was not initially offered.” Fortunately, the program directors went out of their way to make sure there was an advanced level; an Arabic teacher even provided Georgia and her peers a crash course on the few lessons they missed before their return in the spring. Her academic adviser also made sure the travel fit smoothly into her schedule, and the university provided her with a scholarship to cover airfare and travel expenses. With this support, Georgia was all set and ready to go.
Georgia chose not to leave the experience behind her, but instead to carry it through the rest of her college experience by letting it influence her thesis the following year. Her work focused on Abraham Serfaty, a Moroccan Jewish activist who spent his life devoted to Morocco, even after being imprisoned there for 17 years. The topic occurred to her during her trip as she learned more about the Moroccan Jewish community, which has dwindled over the past century. The research borne out of her study abroad experience helped her understand the importance of fighting for one’s value and maintaining one’s identity in the face of struggle, a lesson that instilled confidence as she marched towards graduation.
Studying abroad isn’t always a piece of cake, but Georgia encourages students to go for it anyway. “Language barriers come up often, even if you have studied French and Arabic, and there are a lot of cultural differences. By the time I left after 10 weeks in Morocco, I came out feeling so confident in my abilities to adapt, learn from mistakes, and not shy away from a challenge! Not only was it one of the most memorable experiences of my life, but it taught me that I really can handle whatever comes my way, which is an incredibly useful lesson that I did not take for granted as I headed towards graduation.”