Signing Out of Morocco

Spending the summer in Morocco has been one of the best decisions I made this year. it not only afforded me the opportunity to improve my Arabic language skills, but also helped me to experience North Africa and bask in the experience of identifying similarities and differences between West Africa, where I am from, and North Africa.

I arrived in Morocco with a lot of assumptions I thought it would be no different from home (Nigeria) since it is within the same continent. Alas, I was in for a big surprise as it is a remarkably different country, with different culture, history, language, dressing, and food, but nonetheless beautiful. The experience taught me how we can be so similar, yet different, and I left Morocco with a better understanding of the history, culture, politics, and even food of the North African country. While there, I missed having access to food that I am used to, but surprisingly, shortly after my return, I am already missing the Moroccan chicken tagine (tagine bi dajajah).

Morocco is a popular tourist destination, and it is in fact the most visited country in Africa. I utilized the opportunity of my Summer Language Abroad program to also visit some notable tourist sites in cities like Tangier, Chefcheouan (the blue city), the economic capital of Casablanca as well as the Sahara Desert. Traversing the Sahara desert is indeed an unforgettable experience that I will forever cherish. I do have a camel souvenir to serve as a reminder of that beautiful experience, and I look forward to taking my kids there someday. 

Haleemah on a camel ride through the Sahara Desert thanks to the SLA Award

A language immersion program like the SLA gives the opportunity of immersing in a culture and getting to practice the language on a daily basis, thus improving one’s speaking and comprehension skills. As I am obviously black and African, a lot of the locals spoke French to me automatically, which was quite a surprise for me in the beginning. I later understood that because of Morocco’s history with the French, a lot of Moroccans speak French, which makes it a suitable destination for many Africans from Francophone countries. As such, a lot of Black Africans in Morocco are French-speaking, and locals just usually assume that I speak french too, and would therefore try to communicate with me in French. This was however not the same as the experience of my White colleagues from Europe or America. Thus, while I would surely recommend Morocco for white people seeking to learn Arabic, I would rather suggest that Black people seeking to learn Arabic consider other countries in the Middle East in order to achieve better immersion.

For anyone considering applying for the SLA program, I would highly recommend it. While I still have a long way to go in perfecting my Arabic language skills, I do know that I am way better than I used to be. I have also made friends and built connections that I hope would last a lifetime. Thus, for me, it is not goodbye to Morocco, but see you again sometime soon!     


Maximo Nivel

Flying through the night to Lima, and then to Cusco left me a little hazy when getting off the plane and finding my bags at the Cusco Airport. But the city is BEAUTIFUL. In the cool morning air, I caught a ride to my host family’s residence. A cute little apartment on the 5th floor of an apartment building where Nora, a middle aged Peruvian woman, lives with her husband and 3 sons. They own apartments on floors 4 and 6 as well, which they rent out to students like me who come to stay with them. I guess that I will be meeting multiple roommates during my time in Cusco.

The other students have not yet come down to breakfast yet, so I use to time to try and practice my Spanish with my new host mother. She has a calming presence and a welcoming smile. She is preparing tea and toast for breakfast. Along with the toast, she cuts “palta,” or the Peruvian word for avocado. I have not heard it called this in any other Spanish speaking country that I have visited, but will be quick to incorporate it into my speaking as “aguacate” is one of my favorite foods. Even though they are in winter, the fruit and local produce already looks incredible.

After meeting Nora’s sons and the other 10 students staying with her, I have to hurry off to the Spanish school, Maximo Nivel, for orientation and my first class. We are moving so fast that I do not get an opportunity to shower. Que roche!.. another Peruvian word that I never heard before visiting… and yet, one that I will again use often as it means embarrassing.

Carla, my Spanish teacher, is smily and as great energy, a necessary trait for teaching a foreign language. There are plenty of students at higher levels of Spanish, and other at lower levels. But because no one is at my exact understanding, I will be working with her privately for the first week. For now it is all about getting to know each other and showing the degree at which I can communicate and comprehend. With many hours with Carla every day, I’m excited to see how much I can learn in this short time; my own maximum level. Must make some time to play on those mountains as well. But first, sleeeeep.

Listo….Más o menos.

Accidentally missing my original flight, only 24 hours prior, did give me the opportunity to spend unexpected time with my friends Alberto and Emily, my two primary sources of Spanish practice over 2021-22 academic year. I look forward to showing off my improved language skills after they get back from their fall internship in Columbia.

As I sit here in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I cannot wait to board my upcoming flight to Lima, Peru. I am excited, though not necessarily prepared. The previous week of final exams, research papers and moving out of my apartment offered little opportunity to ready myself mentally for what I will be experiencing over the next 3 months. The good news is that I am used to “winging it” at this point of my academic and professional career.

While I have taken my fair share of formal Spanish classes, the bulk of my learning has come from studying in Spain and living 2 years in Ecuador. Still, I would consider myself very much in the middle of the learning process. I hope to feel comfortable navigating my way from Lima to Cusco, where I will be staying with a host family for the next month. I hope that when I leave, I will be more prepared for the field portion of the Global Partnership Experience that I will be spending in Lima.

It is that professional vocabulary that I wish to acquire over the next couple of weeks. Greater confidence and some new words regarding construction would be particularly helpful, as I will be working with Habitat for Humanity and researching low-income housing for the majority of the summer.

Six hours of classes each day sounds exhausting right now, but I know that I will become addicted once we get going. Latin American is fascinating to me, a part of the world that I would love to live and work in again. I do not understand much, but I am ready to for that to change. Listo.

Reflections on Georgia


This summer was an incredible opportunity to not only develop my Russian language skills, but also engage with the beautiful language and culture of Georgia. I arrived in Georgia with very minimal knowledge about the country’s culture and history, and I left with a deep appreciation for Georgian people and their hospitality. I engaged with Georgian culture, especially through my host family, who welcomed us into their home, talked with us about Georgian history, culture, and politics, made excellent Georgian dishes, taught us how to cook khachapuri, and asked us about American culture. I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to get to know them, and I am already planning to visit them again.

While I still have a long way to go in my study of Russian, being exposed to native Russian speakers was invaluable. I learned a lot about how to use Russian in everyday life, and I was reminded that language acquisition does not always happen linearly. Some days I felt like I was not improving at all, while other days I would find myself naturally incorporating new vocabulary or phrases into my daily conversations.  

Overall, my experience in Georgia has widened my worldview and given me unique insight into current events. I have formed friendships with people from a variety of backgrounds that I hope will last a lifetime, and I am excited to continue to practice and develop my proficiency in the future.


Outside Cusco: Hiking and Exploring Peru

One incredible thing about Peru is that it has beaches, a desert, snowcapped mountains, massive canyons, an enormous lake, and dense jungle all within driving distance of one another. While I haven’t had time to see the entire country, I’ve been able to see many of these natural wonders, usually through guided weekend trips with some of my friends I’ve made here or day trips that usually start with a 3 hour bus ride at around 4:00 AM.

The most famous mountain near Cusco is Rainbow Mountain (Montaña de Siete Colores in Spanish, Vinicunca in Quechua), which has layers of colored sediment that give it the famous rainbow. We summited at a staggering 17,060 feet, which is more than three times the altitude of Boulder, Colorado and about 3,000 feet higher than Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. The altitude made it difficult to breath and even think straight, but by chewing coca leaves, a natural stimulant that natives have used to stave off hunger and exhaustion for thousands of years, we were able to make it up the steep hike.

My tour group with Rainbow Mountain in the background.

Some other hikes that I’ve done the Cusco and Sacred Valley included the Seven Lagoons of Mt. Ausangate, the hike to the Huamantay Glacier, and a hike to Waqrapukara, an ancient site that overlooks the Apurimac canyon. I also took tours of the Sacred Valley and South Valley to see dozens of Inca and pre-Inca sites. On the full moon on July 13, my friends and I even took a midnight horseback tour of the Inca moon temple! The cool thing about being here for 10 weeks is that as I complete all the popular tours and move on to the less touristy ones, my tour groups have fewer Americans and Europeans and many more locals, allowing me to make new friends and practice my Spanish even more.

In addition to these hikes around Cusco, I’ve done two longer trips to explore Peru. My friend Elisa, a student volunteer from the University of Florida, and I went to the famous Lake Titicaca for two days by taking an overnight bus. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, covering a massive 3,232 square miles between Peru and Bolivia. It is the site of the oldest native ruins in Peru and was inhabited more than 2,000 years before the Incas came to power. We visited floating islands made out of taro roots that have been built by hand and inhabited by natives for hundred of years. The communities on these islands survive by fishing for Titicaca’s famous rainbow trout and selling handmade crafts and boat rides to visitors, but they have poor access to proper healthcare and education, especially during the recent pandemic. We then visited Taquile Island, an island with lots of ancient temples and a very Catholic community with traditions that blend native and colonial practices into one. Elissa and I stayed with a host family there for one very cold night and enjoyed the picturesque night sky.

Floating island in the Bay of Puño, Lake Titicaca
Elissa and I try on the attire of the people of Taquile for a celebration with the help of Juana, a 15-year old girl in our host family.

One other adventure I’ve had the opportunity to go on is a trip to the Tambopata Rainforest Preserve in the Amazon Rainforest. By taking another overnight bus to the town of Puerto Maldonado and a riverboat down the massive Madre de Dios River, I delved deep into the jungle with my friends Elisa and Clayton Glasgow, whose page you can also visit on this site! We fed bananas to monkeys, saw piranhas and caymans while canoeing in an oxbow lake, and evesn swam in the river, which is at tributary of the Amazon (don’t worry, nobody was attacked by a piranha). On a nightlife tour in the jungle, we saw plenty of jungle creepy crawlies, including lots of frogs, snakes and more tarantulas than I ever cared to see in my lifetime.

Our tour group standing by the buttress roots of a massive ceiba tree.
Aboard the riverboat approaching Puerto Maldonado with the Billinghurst Bridge, the largest bridge in Peru, towering in the background.
View of the inlet of an oxbow lake from our canoe in Tambopata Rainforest Preserve.

That’s almost all the experiences I have space to recount from my trip, but stay tuned to hear a little more about what I’ve learned along the way!

Cusco Part 3: History and Tradition

The Inca makes his exit from the Saqsawaman ceremonial site above Cusco at the end of the Inti Raymi celebration on June 24.

The history of Cusco is one full of conquest and tragedy. Some 700 years ago, Cusco was the capital of the largest empire in the world, named by the Spanish for the title of its emperor, the Inca. Despite Spanish efforts to expunge all evidence of native culture, Cusco has preserved its language and traditions remarkably well. Many Cusqueños speak the native Quechua language and respect Inca deities like Pachamama (Mother Earth). This respect for native history constantly surprises me because native culture suffers from such lack of recognition in the United States.

June is Cusqueño history month. That means that the iconic rainbow flag of Cusco, which I mistook for a Pride flag until I saw one hanging in the Cathedral, hangs from every building. All the students and teachers in the elementary schools wear traditional Cusqueño rainbow ponchos. University graduates parade through the Plaza De Armas in full traditional dress from their native regions of Peru, performing traditional Inca dances as they finish their education in a packed public ceremony. Street artists play pan pipes and indigenous instruments along with acoustic guitars. The appreciation and celebration of native heritage is everywhere.

Students on their way to parade through the Plaza de Armas for their graduation ceremony.

At the end of June is Inti Raymi, the Inca celebration of the sun. Originally celebrated on June 21, the winter solstice, this massive ceremony takes the whole day on June 24. Cusqueños dressed in full traditional attire reenact the original process of the Inti Raymi celebration. They start with a blessing and short ceremony at the Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun) and move on to the Plaza, where they perform a dance and bless the mayor of the city with all of Cusco watching. After that, the performers climb to Saqsaywaman, the ancient ceremonial site overlooking the city, and reenact the ceremony and dance that has been performed there for over a thousand years. I watched this ceremony with hundreds of people from all over the world, reading translations of Quechua as I watched. Before the ceremony, I was interviewed in Spanish for the Peruvian national news and asked why I came to Inti Raymi and what I thought of Cusco! Practicing my quickly improving Spanish, I told the reporter that I was stunned by the level of respect Peruvians have for their native history, as this is not the case in my country.

The Inti Raymi celebration at Saqsaywaman is about three hours long. First, representatives from the four regions of the empire enter with servants and offerings for the Inca and the head priest. The head priest asks the gods to protect Cusco and ensure its success, and predicts the fortune of the Quechua people. Servants capture and sacrifice a llama (a fake llama is used now) and burn it in offering. Other sacrifices to Inti, the sun god, include grain and chicha morada, a sweet drink made from fermented purple corn. After all of the official proceedings were over, people crowd in the Plaza for concerts, traditional dancing, drinks and fireworks.

Inti Raymi ceremony at Saqsaywaman. The large stage that they are performing the ceremony on is a recreation of the original; but all of the ruins in the background are real.

That’s all for now, but I’ll update soon with some pictures of my adventures around Peru!

Some Reflections

It’s already been over a month since I left France… it’s crazy how fast time passes! I find myself often thinking back to my time there fondly, even now. I’m so grateful to the SLA program for allowing me this experience!

I wanted to wait to make my final post until after my classes started, so I could write about how big of a change I felt in my ability to understand and speak French. And boy, what a difference did my experience in France! Being immersed in the beautiful language and culture of French did wonders for my comprehension skills–I feel so much more confident in my speaking, listening, and writing abilities. The difference was incredibly apparent compared to where I was last semester, even though I’ve only had two class sessions so far. I think I advanced furthest in my vocabulary and grammar knowledge; I feel like I’m struggling a lot less with forming sentences on the spot and feel better about adjusting my sentence structures from English to French, not just the words.

I brought back many insights and lessons from my time there, but one that I want to talk about is that there’s so much more to learn than just translating things from English to French (and vice versa) in your head. It’s not just changes in grammar, though those are definitely important! The way you greet people is different. The way you send emails and texts is different. Even the way you walk through cities can be different. There’s so much to learn, and it comes much easier than you’d think when you’re really immersed in another country. For me, my experience in France was one giant lesson, and one that I enjoyed learning every second I was there. Being abroad is a time to realize that your way of living and thinking about things is fundamentally different from other people. That’s something that’s easy to say but can really surprise you when you’re there, even if you know it logically.

If anyone reading this is considering applying for a travel grant to France or elsewhere, I’d strongly encourage you to do so. You can see pictures of places like Paris and learn French in a classroom, but I truly think that the full experience is so much more than the highlights. Some of my favorite memories–riding an electric scooter on the busy streets of Paris, taking a spontaneous trip to a neighboring village with my friends, enjoying a peaceful walk along the Loire, laughing with my host family at dinner–were things that you don’t hear advertised as big tourist attractions or activities. They’re the moments that you create yourself, while you’re there, and they’re infinitely more special because of that. The world is there for you to explore, and I really hope that you can get out there and make treasured memories through new experiences out there.

I’d like to once again reiterate my gratitude to the SLA Program and the wonderful people at the CSLC for making this dream of mine come true. Merci, et au revoir!

The streets of Tours lit up for Bastille Day, my second to last day there.
A small but beautiful garden I found on my walk back to the Carcassonne train station. I couldn’t stay there for long, but I really enjoyed finding this tranquil place!
Place Jean Jaurès at night, lit up in support of Ukraine. The lights really highlighted the beauty of the architecture in the main area of Tours.

Спасибо, Грузия!

And a Big Thank You to the Center for the Study of Languages & Cultures and its Summer Language Abroad Grant Program!

I had such an amazing time in Batumi and all of the other places I was able to visit in Georgia. My program was provided by the School of Russian and Asian Studies, and having never been to another country before, this experience was invaluable and I really hope to be able to visit Georgia again someday. Having studied French and Italian previously, I have always loved learning other languages and about other cultures, but my summer abroad in Batumi with so many different nationalities present really gave me a new appreciation for the human race and all of our different lived experiences.

My SRAS class during our certificate receiving ceremony in Batumi.

Regarding language acquisition, as my first time being a foreigner and trying to speak a language other than my native English, it also helped me learn what it is like trying to communicate in a foreign language. I have never been impatient with people who came to the United States and who were just starting to speak English or didn’t know it very well, but before being in their position myself, trying to speak Russian, I will admit I never gave much thought to just how difficult or stressful it might be for new English speakers when they come to America. My 94-year-old great grandmother is from Germany, and immigrated to the U.S. without knowing any English, learning it on her own by reading newspapers and watching TV, but I had never pressed her about how hard that must have been. Especially as I have been taking formal Russian classes and many new immigrants to the United States do not have the opportunity to take formal English classes, having to take what I learned from the classroom and put it into practice was very difficult for me at first, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be to try and go to another country without the teaching that I have received. 

My SRAS class in Batumi, Georgia.

One insight I have brought back as a result of this experience is that the world is really such a huge place, and that there are so many different kinds of people, and yet, in some ways, we are not all that different. I think my culture shock started when I first reached the international wing of the San Francisco airport, and increased as I walked through the Istanbul airport, but I would describe the shock as positive and exciting: the beginning of my getting to see another part of the world. When I arrived in Tbilisi, met my first host family in Batumi, and explored the city a little bit the first night I was there, my eyes were opened even more, but again, in a favorable way. There were moments when I missed home and some of the normal things that aren’t as common in Georgia as in the U.S. (like a basic bowl of cereal in the morning), but these were also moments where I got to be even more thankful for the experiences I was getting to have abroad! And as much as I missed home (especially my dogs and cats), by the time I had to leave Georgia I was feeling sad as it felt that I had just gotten comfortable in that beautiful country and with my amazing host family and the rest of the wonderful people I met while in Georgia.

During a Georgian dance class in Batumi.

Overall, I would definitely recommend study abroad to anyone considering applying for an SLA grant because it is truly a life changing experience! While in Georgia and speaking Russian, I couldn’t always say exactly what I wanted to, but just as I enjoyed helping people I have met who had only learned a little bit of English by the time they reached the United States, everyone in Georgia was very friendly and excited that I was trying to speak a language they knew very well. It wasn’t easy, but my summer abroad has really made me feel much more comfortable doing my best to speak Russian, even when I was stumbling through all of the special grammar rules and knew I was making mistakes. It has been so nice to feel some improvement in my Russian speaking skills and a to gain a greater knowledge of the language, as well as learning some more colloquial phrases. It has showed me just how important being able to practice a language in a country where many people are fluent in it is to improvement in the language! I would also like to thank my Russian Professor Tom Marullo for encouraging me to study abroad and apply for the SLA grant, as well as Professor Melissa Miller for all of her help navigating the process and providing me with information about what an experience like this may have to offer. If you ever have the chance to go abroad, learn a new language and about another culture, take it!

Спасибо, Грузия. Я уже скучаю по тебе и надеюсь когда-нибудь увидеть тебя снова!

Current Events Through a Georgian Lens

As I was originally supposed to study in St. Petersburg, Russia this summer, the Russo-Ukrainian war remained on my mind during my time in Georgia. My host family was Georgian, but I had started the first few days of my time in Batumi with a host family consisting of a Belorussian woman, Nana, and her mother. They spoke only Russian, and were excited that I was learning Russian, especially as they watched Russian news channels and viewed Putin favorably (in comparison to my Georgian family who watched Georgian news and were glad that Georgia is no longer a part of the now-collapsed Soviet Union). As my first hosts didn’t speak Georgian and hadn’t really made any effort to learn much, I felt this reflected their cultural values as Belorussians who viewed Russia and Putin’s actions positively. As well, both women were older, Nana is 65, and so, as an outsider, I also perceived their cultural values as a reflection of their age, cultural values possible received from being born into and growing up in the Soviet Union. And again, as an outsider, I perceived the difference in opinion of my peer tutor, Oleg, who is middle-aged, to be partly due to age. 

Ukrainian Flag in Europe Square in Batumi, Georgia.

            I inadvertently got into a limited discussion about the war with Oleg, who is from Moscow, but recently moved to Batumi. I had told him about my original plan to study in St. Petersburg, and to keep the conversation going I simply asked him if he liked living in Russia, not meaning to bring up the war at all (as we were discouraged from discussing sensitive situations or engaging in any political activities during our time in Georgia). His response was, “это сложно” — “it’s complicated.” I tried to steer the conversation away from the complex situation but he continued and said that he and his family don’t support the war and it influenced his move outside of Russia, although the rest his family still lives in Moscow.

A mural in support of Ukraine in Batumi, Georgia.

Overall, the feeling I got while in Georgia was that most people did not support the Russo-Ukrainian war. During my last day in Tbilisi, there was a speaker who said, “Twenty percent of my country is occupied by Russia, Russia is an occupier who wants to conquer and create an empire once again, don’t let that happen.” There are Ukrainian flags and images and phrases supportive of Ukraine displayed all over Batumi. One evening, I visited the market in Europe Square, and there was a group making a speech about how no one should continue to buy Russian products because it would essentially be helping to fund the Russian war effort. Batumi is a resort town, with over 100 nationalities present at any one time, so there exists a tolerance of all different kinds of people and cultures. Therefore, there are many different opinions and views present in Batumi as well, but most that I encountered leaned toward being against the war.

Painting in Batumi, Georgia.

What they say is true…

…Living somewhere really is the best way to learn a language.

After spending just five weeks living in Sorrento, I have noticed a drastic difference in my ability to speak Italian. I am much more confident thanks to all the practice and I am now able to use more complex grammar in my speech with better fluency.

Before arriving in Sorrento, I imagined that I would eat lots of pizza, take pictures of stunning views, make friends with locals and improve my linguistic and cultural competencies by continuously using Italian inside and outside the classroom. And I was right. I ate lots of delicious pizzas, the diavola being my favorite. I saw incredible views, made Italian friends around Italy and spoke Italian at every given opportunity – it was amazing!

Whilst going out in the evenings with classmates, I met locals who taught me about the Napolitano dialect. For example, I learnt that instead of saying ‘salve,’ to say hello, they often just say ‘ve.’ Learning such specific features of the Italian language helped my confidence even more! It was so much fun casually saying phrases and seeing shocked Italian faces. Finally, as I said I would, I went on as many adventures as possible. The coolest of these was a weekend trip to Verona where I watched the Italian opera ‘Aida,’ in an ancient Roman arena!

This trip has solidified my love of communication and my desire to be able to communicate with more people through foreign languages. To others with the same goal, my best advice would be to not be shy. When studying abroad, try and start conversations with shopkeepers at the local market, ask for recommendations from your professors of where they like to eat or activities they enjoy doing. By really engaging with the community you can learn so much more about them and have incredible experiences that you otherwise couldn’t imagine!