Author Archives: Gilman Scholarship

About Gilman Scholarship

The Gilman International Scholarship provides grants for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. The Gilman Scholarship Program seeks to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad & the countries and regions where they go. Such international study is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world. The program aims to encourage students to choose non-traditional study abroad destinations, especially those outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to support students who have been traditionally under-represented in study abroad, including but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in under-represented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities. The program seeks to assist students from a diverse range of public and private institutions from all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.

It’s About the Journey, not the Destination

After so much uncertainty and anticipation — I am in Morocco. This semester, I will be studying in Al Akhawayn University, AUI, a school tucked away in the Middle Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

My journey began on January 14th at 5 a.m. in Miami, Florida. After 4 or 5 hours of sleep (I am a habitual late packer) I was both nervous and excited for what laid ahead. My mom came to check on me to make sure I was awake and kindly made me two sandwiches: one for breakfast and one for lunch for when I landed in New York. Without delay, we drove 40 minutes to Fort Lauderdale to catch my 8 a.m. flight to JFK Airport. I embarked on the plane and slept from take-off to landing.

(Travel tip: Whenever you are traveling to or from Miami, fly from Fort Lauderdale Airport. Not only are prices a lot cheaper, but the airport is usually on time, and if you are from South Florida, you know that is a blessing).

I had a 7 hour layover at JFK so I reread ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite books that coincidentally takes place in Tangier, Morocco. While I waited for the Moroccan booth to open, 104 Peace Corps volunteers showed up and were all in the same flight as me to Casablanca!

And so, our plane took off at 6 p.m.– a 7 hour flight across 5 time zones and one Atlantic ocean. As faith would have it, the two people sitting next to me were also headed to AUI. Thomas, a graduate student was returning for his second semester and Sasha was doing her first study abroad semester.

When we arrived at Casablanca at around 6 a.m. (1 a.m. Eastern Time) Sasha and I decided to stick together since we both had the same flight to Fes at 10:35 p.m. later that night. We bought a train ticket for 40 dirhams (around $5) to get closer to the center of Casablanca which conveniently departed from within the airport.  We planned on booking a hotel for the afternoon so that we could do some quick sight-seeing before heading back to the airport.

The train station at the airport.

Most people here speak Moroccan Darija, which is a combination of Arabic and French with some words in Berber, Spanish and English. Surprisingly I managed to communicate with our taxi driver– he spoke French and I spoke Spanish but I added ‘eh’ at the end of every word to make it sound a little more French.

Once at the hotel, we had a complementary breakfast of bread, yogurt, and my first delicious encounter with a staple of Moroccan cuisine — Moroccan Mint tea.  Up until this point, I can’t say I had experienced culture shock, but as Sasha and I waited for the elevator to head back to our room, I had my first experience of culture shock. Culture shock in the sense that my core, the foundation that I felt was stable enough to endure anything, was literally shaken and crumbled underneath my weight.

A dark, ghastly figured appeared from the corner of my eyes as she walked down the stairs behind her husband. She was completely covered in black cloth– not a square inch of skin exposed. I thought I was prepared– the streets, the crowd, the traffic, was nothing unlike what you would find in any major city in a developing country. But nothing in my life could have prepared me for that moment: the first time I saw a woman in a burqa. It was right then and there that it finally hit me — I am in Morocco.

We went back to our room with a newly discovered perspective and took a quick nap before going out to see the city. We grabbed lunch at a local café and headed to the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and the 7th largest in the world.

The Hassan II

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We toured around the mosque, took our touristy pictures and head back to the hotel before sunset to make our way back to the airport for our final flight to Fes, the Spiritual Capital of Morocco.

The Mosque borders the Atlantic Ocean.

Back at the Casablanca Airport, we met with three other students that were also studying abroad at AUI: Paloma, Toz, and Ayla. With our newly formed crew, all five of us embarked on a 40 minute flight to Fes.  Once at Fes, we were greeted by two student ambassadors from AUI — Ijlal and Sofia, two incredibly friendly Moroccan girls that would soon enough become two of my best friends here.  However, the journey wasn’t over, not yet. We still had an hour car ride to get to Ifrane. We had to wait for the AUI van to pick up a sixth exchange student that had decided to take the train from Fes to Ifrane. After some fact checking, Ijlal realized that we were waiting for me! We all laughed it off and the van eventually came to pick us up.

As we arrived, the gates of AUI opened in front of us — around 1 a.m. GMT at this point — and I had absolutely no idea of what lay ahead. I looked out the window, a full moon illuminating the road, the stars, brighter than I ever seen them before, and I thought to myself: this is only the beginning.

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Writing Prompt #6: Culture Shock & Reverse Culture Shock

Below is a graph describing culture shock and reverse culture shock. Have you identified with any of these stages? Describe certain situations or stages of your study abroad experience and how they relate to the graph.

Diagram of Culture Shock

Diagram of Culture Shock

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Writing Prompt #5: Conservation in the Region

Have you discovered or relished in the natural beauty of your host country?

How environmentally conscious are the inhabitants of your host country? Does the level of consciousness have an effect on the surrounding environment?

Are there any habits that promote a healthy environment in your study abroad country that you would like to take back to the United States?

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Writing Prompt # 4: Politics Abroad

Have you been following politics in your host country? What is the system/form of government practiced in your study abroad country? (i.e. democracy, parliamentary monarchy, republic).

How does the political system or environment differ from the U.S.?

Have the trending political opinions of local citizens caused you to reflect on policies and political discourse in the U.S.? If so, how?

What kinds of pressing policy debates are occurring in your host country, and do you have an opinion on them?

Describe the level of political or engagement of local undergraduate students you have encountered.

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Writing Prompt #3 – Leaving the Comforts of Home – Brutality or Invigorating?

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things ¡V air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky ¡V all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

-Cesare Pavese

As a study abroad student living in a foreign host country, can you identify with this statement? Why or why not?

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Writing Prompt # 2 : Food and Culture

“The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” (PBS, The Meaning of Food, 2005)

Have you tried any food abroad that you never thought you would?  What has been your favorite food in your host destination (a food that you normally do not eat back in the states).  How does the host culture you live in approach meals and food?  How is that different from American culture?

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Writing Prompt #1: Departure and Initial Adjustments

Bloggers can answer all or just one of the following questions:

• Did you feel anxious before leaving for your study abroad program? If so, what were you nervous about?
• What kinds of preparations did you make before leaving the United States?
• What were your immediate thoughts when you arrived in your host country, and have those initial judgments changed at all?
• Thus far, what is the biggest difference that you notice between your host country and the United States?
• Name one thing that you miss from the U.S. and why, along with one thing (activity, food, cultural norm) that you have discovered in your host country that you would like to incorporate in your life when you return to the states.

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