Although, not as popular as some other countries, many students in the UK indeed undertake study or work abroad placements every year through university connections or other programmes such as Erasmus.
Of those who choose to incorporate time abroad into their degree, at least one-third of them study languages, as did I. As a BA Arabic and French student, going on a year abroad to Morocco is something I had always known would be in my future. Despite having received lectures on what to expect and how to get ready, no one could have prepared me for just how quickly it would creep up on me. The Gryphon tells of a student’s study abroad experience in Morocco and the advice for others.
Once the pain of exams was over, there began a classic student summer. What was mine like? Primarily it was occupied by part-time work while everyone else was off having fun and dedicating any free moment to comedy central’s F.R.I.E.N.D.S marathon. Regardless, the last thing that came to mind was returning to university, let alone moving country for a year. Add a holiday abroad and a festival to the mix and the chances of using “I’ll do it tomorrow” as an excuse to avoid making travel arrangements swiftly became few and far between.
Ultimately the time came to bite the bullet and complete the long to-do list that comes with getting ready to study abroad. In the space of a week, trains, flights, temporary accommodation and foreign currency cards were all booked; travel and gadget insurance were arranged, suitcases were weighed and packed, and lots of tearful goodbyes were made. With hindsight, had I made it my goal to pack one or two items a day over the course of the month, the whole process would probably have been a lot smoother and less frantic. My advice, you can never prepare too thoroughly! Do as much research as possible in order to grasp what to pack and what to buy there, because no matter how much you love it, you will not need your favourite fluffy dressing gown in Morocco. Trust me.
“My advice, you can never prepare too thoroughly!”
Nevertheless, once on the way to the airport, all of the built-up angst and apprehension about leaving home was replaced by the sudden realisation that this could well be the adventure of a lifetime. I walked into the airport to greet my course mates with an enhanced excitement and newfound eagerness. The anticipation only grew stronger as, miles below, the Spanish coast disappeared and minutes later a mountainous and sandy landscape unravelled as far as the eye could see – dotted with the occasional patch of vegetation.
Being the first time out of Europe for many among us, the moment we stepped off the plane and were greeted by the heat of a foreign country was even sweeter than usual.
Up until those final hours in the UK, I had spent my entire summer refusing to even acknowledge that I would be leaving the country in less than two months. I dreaded the moment that I would have to say goodbye to those I love, something that can only be described as a completely normal reaction. However, the importance of facing the reality of the situation and doing so with positivity and an open mind has proven instrumental in adapting to such a big change, even if I did do so much later than I perhaps should have. In the hours that followed Fes, the second biggest city in Morocco, located northeast of the Atlas Mountains, proved itself to be a lively and highly diverse area with much to see and much to do.
All that was left was the minor task of finding a permanent place to live once we arrived, something Leeds students did there every year and thus it was assumed that it would not be too difficult a task. One month into this year abroad I can confidently say that Morocco is a beautiful country with a strong sense of community not just among those who reside there, but with the students sent there by Leeds every year. However, it turned out that finding a house to suit everyone in our group of six’ needs was not an easy undertaking and as such there were many times during the past four weeks that some pretty humbling but valuable life lessons had to be learned.
The first being that mature, proactive discussion and listening to each other is absolutely vital when overcoming conflict or disagreement. Raised voices and throwing insults around achieves nothing when trying to find an amicable solution for everyone. Secondly, there will be times, no matter how close you are as friends, where you must simply do what is best for your own happiness and safety regardless of other people’s opinions. Thirdly, teach your family how to use FaceTime and WhatsApp because when calls cost £2 per minute, it will save your sanity and your bank account.
The final lesson of this first month brought about advice that can be applied not only to those on years abroad but in everyday life. This lesson is that it is ok to ask for help. Conceivably the biggest thing I have personally realised in the short time I have been in Fes is that, far too often, we as humans carry weight on our shoulders that can often be easily resolved by simply confiding in others. It has been incredibly heart-warming to find so many people who are genuinely selfless beings, happy to help with any questions or troubles you may face. In my experience, it only took thirty seconds of conversation out at lunch to be offered help with finding a new home after the loss of our first by a young café owner who meets Leeds students every year and genuinely asks for nothing in return. Within half an hour he had organised three house viewings and accompanied us on all the others in the weeks to come to ensure we were receiving a fair price. Without admitting our defeat and reaching out for help we would still be jumping from hostel to hostel and living out of suitcases whilst attempting to take on board everything that we learn during lectures as well. Not easy right?
Therefore, as simple as it may be to assume everyone is as stony-faced and cold as the man on his way to work at 8am on the tube, in the right places, do not be afraid to reach out to those around you – as you may well be surprised by the amount of generosity and warmth you are met with.