To be honest, I don’t think I’m the blogging type. I prefer not to share the goings-on of my life with people, especially with a medium the whole internet can see. But since I’m going abroad this summer and I don’t want my family to think I’m in a constant state of peril, starting a travel blog seems like the right thing to do. So if you want to follow my shenanigans abroad, stick around. I’ll try to keep things interesting.
THE HARD FACTS:
So here’s the deal: I’ve been awarded a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, which will allow me spend the next eight weeks in Tangier, Morocco. This scholarship gives American college students the chance to study one of 14 “critical languages” —i.e. non-Western European languages valuable to U.S. security,—in a fully-funded, overseas immersion program. The program includes intensive language classes, home-stay accommodations with a local family, and various excursions around Morocco.
Now, if you know me, you might be aware that my long-term career goal is to work as a foreign correspondent. My majors at Northwestern University are Journalism and International Studies with a focus on Middle Eastern culture and society. For a little over two years, I’ve studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). In fact, after graduating high school I received a scholarship to participate in a nearly-identical program to CLS, although that time I stayed in Rabat, Morocco. By studying Arabic in Morocco again, I hope to increase my fluency in MSA and the Moroccan dialect.
Full disclosure: No one actually speaks MSA, also known as al-fusha. You might hear news anchors using it, but spoken colloquial Arabic dialects seem like completely different languages compared to MSA. Speaking MSA to a dialect speaker would be like speaking Old English to a Modern American; they might understand you, but you’ll sound like a lunatic. I’ve studied a little Levantine dialect, and I know some Moroccan darija phrases, but overall I’d put my spoken-Arabic skills in the category of “Actual Garbage.” So that’s pretty neat.
WHAT EVEN IS TANGIER?
I’m so glad you’ve asked!
Tangier is major port city in north Morocco, on the cusp of the Strait of Gibraltar. Nearly a million people live there, so it’s a far cry my hometown of Pueblo, CO, but not quite as monstrous as Chicago, where I spend a lot of my time these days. (I really didn’t even want to mention Evanston, IL because I don’t claim Evanston. That’s right, I said it.)
I actually don’t know a lot about Tangier myself, except that the medieval traveler Ibn Battuta, who ventured across Asia and Africa, was from Tangier. I’ve always thought he was pretty dope, so maybe I can capture some of his adventurer’s spirit during my stay.
I actually visited Tangier on my last trip to Morocco. I was only able to spend a few hours in the city so I don’t have any strong opinions about it, but I do remember being a little disappointed by its strong “European” vibes. Given the history of colonialism in Morocco, I wasn’t at all surprised, but I still preferred Rabat, which I felt more authentic to me.
For reference, here is a picture of me, the last time I was in Tangier. Apparently I’m pointing to Spain, and as always, I am overflowing with joy and excitement.
WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN TO YOU, KALI???
The tragic part about studying abroad is that actual studying is required. I love learning, but as I’m sure many of you are aware, I find going to school abhorrent. My language classes will require me to go to school five days a week for a whole four hours a day. (Feel free to gasp, faint, clutch your pearls, etc. I understand that this fact is quite disturbing.) I don’t even have classes that frequently at Northwestern, and it’s well known that my class attendance is….sufficient, to say the least. But I want to keep my scholarship, and I truly enjoy Arabic, so you can be sure to catch me in class every. single. day.
I’m also living with a host family, as well as another student from my program. I really hope the family doesn’t hate me, and I’ll do my best to suppress my only-child instincts so my roommate doesn’t want to throttle me. My last host family was very kind, but we were never particularly close, and I hope that changes this time around.
If nothing else, my one goal is to improve my Arabic so that my speaking and writing skills reached the esteemed level of “Barely Embarrassing.” Is such a feat possible? Perhaps. Only time will tell.
*All content here is my own and does not reflect the views or positions of the U.S. Department of State, the American Councils for International Education, or the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco.