Name: Kathleen Brown
Location of Study: Meknes, Morocco
Program of Study: Arab American Language Institute
A brief personal bio:
I am a rising senior at Notre Dame and I’m a Political Science and Arabic major. I am from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I have five brothers and a sister. Currently, I am studying abroad in Spain, and I will go directly to Morocco after my Spain program is over. I am very interested in international political issues, especially those that relate to the Arab World and Latin America.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA grant will not only allow me to fulfill my academic goals, but it will also prepare me for my intended careers. As I am studying abroad in Spain, my current Arabic class does not exactly correlate to the correct class at Notre Dame. This SLA grant will permit me to satisfy necessary Arabic major requirements so that when I return, I will be more than prepared to test in the appropriate class and graduate on time. SLA will ensure that there are no discrepancies in learning Arabic while I am not at Notre Dame. Additionally, experiences through SLA will give me interesting perspectives on Islam and Middle Eastern History. I hope to have total appreciation of different cultures, and I wish to promote acceptance of all cultures throughout the world.
Moreover, SLA will be conducive to my career path as I intend to work in international affairs. I hope to use my language skills and understanding of Arab culture to better Arab-American relations. SLA will give me ample chances to master Arabic and fully understand the culture, which will elevate me to better career opportunities.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
After this short but intensive study abroad experience, I hope all areas of my language acquisition will improve dramatically. I hope to make major gains in writing, reading, listening and speaking Arabic. I intend to challenge myself everyday and improve little by little so that by the end, I look like a total different student from when I first started the program. Additionally, I hope to develop a special relationship with my host family. I hope to be included in daily activities and fully understand and appreciate their culture including their lifestyle, food, music, language and relations in society. I hope to understand some of the intricacies of the Moroccan dialect, although this will not be my main course of study. Developing an understanding of the dialect will help me to better interact and relate with the Moroccan people. Lastly, I hope this summer will continue to spark and ignite my interest in Arabic and the Arab culture so that I will have a desire to pursue opportunities that will build upon my learning after the summer is over.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to hold a conversation in Arabic with Moroccan natives on a variety of daily life topics.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to fully understand and appreciate the Arab culture, which will allow me to promote better understanding to others and put an end to misleading and negative stereotypes.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to return to Notre Dame without discrepancies in my Arabic studies and test into the appropriate language class so that I can graduate on time with an Arabic major.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to comprehend the complexities of the Moroccan dialect, which will prepare me to learn and master many more Arabic dialects.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to understand Arab history, in particular with regard to Islam history and relations between Islam and the state.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I plan to participate in many community and cultural activities outside of the classroom. Organized through AALIM are two excursions within Meknes, a trip to Volubilis, and a trip to Rabat or Chefchaouen. I also plan to voyage through Morocco on the weekends with fellow classmates. I am greatly fascinated to observe the different activity within Morocco’s souks, mosques, villages and array of cities. Additionally, I look forward to AALIM’s organized cultural activities such as: music performances, calligraphy workshop, Arabic movies, and cooking and belly-dancing classes. All of these activities will help me to fully grasp Moroccan culture and thinking. I hope to involve myself in family life as I assist preparing food in the kitchen, buying foods at the souk, or joining in a night-long celebration of a neighbor’s wedding.
I also intend to supplement my learning in the classroom and participate in volunteer opportunities. I will further my classroom instruction by attending office hours to improve my language comprehension. I also intend to volunteer with the Meknes swim club or tennis club, which have affiliations with AALIM. Through these outlets, I will expand my interaction with Moroccans while also encouraging a healthy lifestyle for children.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
June 2, 2014
I just arrived in Morocco yesterday, and so far it has been a huge whirlwind. There was a shuttle at the Casablanca airport that drove us to Meknes where I will be studying Arabic for 6 weeks at the Arab American Language Institute of Morocco (AALIM). I have met all of the students who are in our program, and so far, everyone seems very nice and very enthusiastic to learn Arabic. Everyone is at very different levels of Arabic, so it will be very interesting what types of classes people are placed in. We just took our placement exam today, and it was a little challenging, considering I haven’t reviewed Arabic in a while. But, I hope that I will be placed in the class I need to excel and make up for the lost time of Arabic studies while I was in Spain.
Yesterday, I also met my host family and roommate. My roommate’s name is Caroline Tooker and she is from Chicago and goes to the University of Loyola. She has had about three semesters of Arabic as well. My host family seems very sweet and nice. I have a host mother, Noura, and sister, Rita. My host mom has three daughters total, but the oldest was just married in December, and the second daughter is finishing up her exams at a university in Marrakech. Hopefully I will get to meet them soon.
I am excited to start my studies tomorrow and begin my travels in the beautiful country!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
June 9, 2014
The first week of travelling and studies are over. After the placement exam, I was placed in the highest-level class so that when I return to Notre Dame, I will be more than prepared to continue my studies and graduate on time with an Arabic Major. There is only one other student in the class, and he is much more advanced than me as he has already completed and intensive summer language program through Middlebury College last summer. Although his vocabulary is much more extensive than mine, he is being very helpful in translating words and helping me understand discussions in class.
The professors here are very enthusiastic, as well. My main professor’s name is Younes, and he spends three hours a day teaching vocabulary and grammar to us. Then, we either have an hour of discussion about any topic in the world or an hour of listening. The professors are very patient in assuring that each student understands what is going on in class. Everyone is so nice and approachable at the institute. Everyone offers their help when I am working on homework and they are all willing to just sit and have a conversation whenever.
This weekend, the institute organized a trip to Volubilis, which contains Roman ruins. We had a tour guide that explained much of the history behind the ruins. There were so many different rooms that still had beautiful mosaics that represented daily life during the time of the Roman Empire. It was pretty unbelievable to see first hand the extent of Roman Rule. I guess I understood that the Romans controlled land around the Mediterranean, but it is very different to see first hand the ruins they left in a country so far from Rome.
In addition, there was a major dispute with our Moroccan tour guide and a foreigner at the ruins. The Moroccan tour guide was sitting on one of the ruins while he was explaining the function of it during the time. A foreigner saw him sitting on the ruins and was appalled that he was not taking good care of the ruins. The foreigner demanded that someone explain to him in Daraja, the Moroccan dialect, that what he was doing wasn’t right. Our tour guide understood everything that the foreigner was saying because he is fluent in French, English and obviously Arabic. Then, a huge argument broke out in French. We found out later, that our tour guide was very offended that this foreigner tried to tell him how to handle ruins in his own country. He thought the way he approached him was very unprofessional and he even accused this of being modern colonization. Everyone in my tour group was shocked at this argument. However, I think it was a good lesson to be culturally sensitive when travelling in another country.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
June 16, 2014
This week, my host mom’s daughter, Miriam, returned home after finishing her exams at her university in Marrakech. Miriam is about my age and she speaks very good English, so when I have trouble understanding my host mom, she is very helpful in explaining things. She loves spending hours at the hammam with her friends. Normally, for social activity, the men spend their time drinking coffee or smoking hookah in the cafes. These cafes are literally full with men on the streets, but there are hardly any women. Apparently, hammams are the place for social activity for women like the cafes are for men. Hopefully, I will be able to experience the hammam in the next couple weeks.
This past weekend, we went to Asilah, which is a small beach town in the north. In the old medina, all the buildings were white and the doors were very colorful. The architecture was absolutely beautiful. All the streets or walkways are very narrow so that it is cooler with more shade. It seems that many Moroccan cities have similar architecture design. After walking around the city and taking amazing photos by the beach, we went shopping in the souk. There weren’t too many shops, but we definitely found several Moroccan gems. I bought some shoes and ceramics and took my first shot at bargaining. Hopefully, as my Arabic improves, I will get better at getting the price down. In the next coming weeks, we plan to go to Marrakech, the Sahara, Rabat and Fes. I’m very excited for the next coming weeks.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
June 23, 2014
This past week, my class of 2 people got a new student, thankfully. Her name is Kate Maffey and she just is coming off of a 4-month study abroad program in Jordan. So, needless to say, her Arabic is very, very advanced. It is nice to have another student in class because she helps me out and translates things when I don’t understand what is going on. However, it is still difficult at times because several times during class my teacher and the two other students will go off having conversations that I don’t understand simply because my vocabulary is not as developed. That being said, I know for a fact that my Arabic speaking skills have improved dramatically, but it is hard to keep my progress in perspective when the only other students in my class are so advanced.
Moving on to fun activities, the AALIM organized many fun activities this week. First, all the girls had an opportunity to go to a hammam. It was very interesting to experience a hammam, but I don’t think that I will ever do it again. After the hammam, all the girls participated in a henna party. One of the ladies from the center did henna for everyone. She was amazing as she gave each girl a unique design whether it was on her foot or hand. I kept the henna on as long as possible so it could last for hopefully two weeks. I was a little surprised that the henna had a burning sensation. But hey, no pain no game. The next day, all the girls had an opportunity to attend a belly dancing class. A professional instructor came to teach the class, and it was definitely a little hard. I’ve never moved my hips or body in that way or style, so it definitely took a while to get used too. It is amazing seeing Moroccan women dance. They definitely have a different dancing style than American women.
We also went to Marrakech this past weekend. It was a very long train ride as it took 7 hours to get there from Meknes, but I think it was definitely worth it. Marrakech is so big and the streets are so narrow and confusing. But, the main square is absolutely amazing. There are snake charmers and monkeys all over the square. I tried to sneak a picture, but when you take a picture they force your to pay. I didn’t mind paying because I really wanted a picture of everything. However, I didn’t really like the way they treated the animals. In addition to the main plaza, the souk was absolutely massive. It felt like it was never-ending. My bargaining from the past week definitely improved, and I definitely found some great cheap finds. I even bought a “magic box” which requires many maneuverings to find the key and the lock to open the box. Every wood shop has a magic box because it is one of the things these wood shops are known for. I’m still savoring every moment in Morocco, and it’s sad to think I don’t have much time left.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
During this week, my friends and I organized a trip down to the Sahara. It was absolutely unbelievable. I never thought in my life I would be able to visit the Sahara. We took a very long bus all the way down to Merzouga, which is just west of Algeria. During Saturday evening, we rode camels out to a little camp in the middle of the Sahara. The camel ride was very fun at first, but then it felt like we were in a mini sandstorm as the winds were gusting sand all over us. Each of us had a turban on for fun, but it turned out the turbans were unbelievably useful as they kept much of the sand out of our faces. Additionally, the camel rides were rather uncomfortable. I kept thinking my camel was going down as it was trying to catch its step going up and down the dunes. When we arrived to the camp, we immediately climbed the biggest dune around us, which was massive, and we watched the sunset. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy, so there wasn’t much of a sunset, but it was still very pretty to see all of the dunes in the horizon. After that, our guides cooked up typical Moroccan food, a delicious Tajine with various meat and vegetables. Then, our guides did a musical performance where they sang and played bongos and other various drums. It was quite amazing to listen to the different types of music and rhythms. Then we laid under the stars till the wee hours of the night and even slept on mattresses directly under the sky without any tents. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life, the sky was so clear.
I think I can say that this trip was definitely my favorite because I don’t think I will be able to experience anything like it.
Ramadan also started this past weekend. During Ramadan, Muslims don’t eat or drink anything while the sun is up. They roughly fast from 4:30 AM to 7:30 PM. They also abstain from drinking, smoking, and sex. It has been interesting observing my host family and friends at AALIM fast. They appear very tired, hungry, and thirsty during the day, but I’ve never heard them complain. They truly believe that Allah will help them get through the day and fasting is good for the soul and the body. Every family has a big meal, or Iftar, when they break the fast. Iftar literally means “breaking the fast” in Arabic. At Iftar, my host family normally breaks the fast with a date and then prays. After that, they drink milk and eat lots of sweets, and follow that up with traditional soup, harira. Then during the middle of the night, families will eat again to prepare for the day. Also, during Ramadan, nightlife in Meknes is much more lively. It seems like during the day people just try to rest or take it easy because they don’t have very much energy. However, during the night, people stay out till 3 AM on a typical weeknight. My host mom even took us to a café to listen to music and watch belly dancing very late at night.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
July 7, 2014
During this week, my class has definitely gotten much harder. Now, for the first hour of class, we have a discussion on any topic, whether it is cultural, political or economic. Sometimes, I think it is difficult to participate when I am not as educated on certain topics. Also, for some economic topics, I just simply don’t know enough Arabic vocab that pertains to that topic in order to participate. However, it is great to see how I’ve improved in expressing my ideas and opinions.
Additionally, the reading part of my class has gotten much harder as well. We’ve moved on to Al-kitaab part 3, and the articles that are in this book are much more difficult to understand than in Al-kitaab part 2. When we read the articles in class, I get frustrated because I need more time to focus on the sentences and paragraphs in order to understand the main idea. However, I know that I have come a long way and if I just take time after class to focus on the article, I can really understand the majority of what is being said. Although it takes a lot of hard work and time, I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish a 3-page article and understand the main ideas. At the beginning of the program, reading a 3-page article would have seemed impossible. Now, it seems manageable, which is awesome.
Also, my speaking skills have developed so much that I was able to give a 5-minute presentation on the problems that Moroccans have when trying to immigrate to Spain. It was a great feeling to express complicated ideas about a topic that I truly am interested in, which my study abroad background in Spain. I knew when I was talking that I was making grammatical errors, but I was happy to be able to speak fluidly and quicker than I have before.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: