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Today I am sharing a guest post from Catherine, a high school junior that is spending the year studying in Rabat. I am in awe of her bravery and excitement at such a young age to embrace this challenge! I am equally impressed by her parents who have allowed her to undertake this adventure. I have to say she reminds me a lot of myself at this age! You can find a link at the end of this post to follow her blog and learn more about her experiences this far. (My apologies for publishing this a bit late – by now she’s spent nearly 5 weeks in Morocco!)
On August 31st, I will board a plane that will whisk me miles away from the familiarity of my hometown, to the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco—Rabat. For many months, I’ve looked forward to this day as a new beginning—the start of my junior year abroad. But as T.S. Elliot reminds me, it is also an ending. The way I view the world as of today will be left behind, and even when I return to the States after ten months, I will not approach my life here in the same way. One chapter closes, and thus, another opens, the pages of the books turned by time. However, this particular chapter in my life is not one that I would have anticipated to occur naturally. My year in Morocco is entirely unprecedented and unexpected. Without the generosity of the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad Scholarship (YES Abroad), this season of my life would have been like several before—a predictable return to the same school, the same friends, and same challenges and joys. Instead, August 31st marks the first day of a year-long exploration.
I’ve dreamed of living abroad since I knew there were countries to explore and airplanes that could take me there. When I discovered YES Abroad in the late months of my freshman year, I realized I had found a way to bring this dream to realization. “The YES Abroad program was initiated as a reciprocal extension of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program for international students from countries with significant Muslim populations.” (Source: yesprograms.org/yesabroad). The program took place for the first time during the 2009-2010 school year, sending high school students from the United States to predominantly Muslim countries to serve as youth ambassadors—living with host families, attending local schools, and integrating into the local community. The main goal of YES Abroad is to promote better understanding between communities in the host country and the United States through citizen diplomacy. Funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES Abroad program awards a full scholarship—covering all costs of a year abroad. This year, the YES Abroad program awarded 65 scholarships for study in Morocco, Oman, South Africa, Ghana, Bosnia, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. I am recipient of this scholarship, and my adventures in Morocco will be shared by seven other students.
What these adventures will entail remains largely unknown. What I do know is that I will attend a French high school, learn Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and French at the AMIDEAST office, and take trips around Morocco with AMIDEAST staff. AMIDEAST is the implementing organization for the YES Abroad program in Morocco, meaning that they will facilitate many aspects of my year there—from host family placement to on the ground support. I hope to become involved in volunteer work in Rabat community—possibly as an English teacher. In everything I do in during my year in Morocco, I will seek a synthesis of the two communities I belong to—my community in the States and my community in Rabat. In understanding the culture and religion of Morocco, I hope to build a balanced, multicultural identity, one that is grounded in awareness and appreciation of different religions and lifestyles. Misunderstandings of other cultures and religions exist both in the United States and in Morocco. I will work towards alleviating these tensions during and after my year in Morocco both through my volunteer work and my contribution to conversation.
When I step off the plane a year from now, I will experience another shift in the chapters of my life. I hope to embody the characteristics of a global citizen, and I hope I am prepared to share my experiences with my community back home. Again, it will be a beginning—a restart, if you will—of my life in the States, and an ending to my year in Morocco. As I read about Amanda’s experiences in Marrakesh, I am reminded that this year will be full of expected joys and challenges. It will be both difficult and beautiful in ways I cannot imagine right now.
Here’s to beginnings and endings and the moments in between. I’ll be reflecting on my moments in Morocco at Writings from Rabat, and I’d love to share them with you. Thanks for reading.