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The Great Impact

Since returning home, I have been experiencing some stages of reverse culture shock. I was initially very excited to return home, however, since returning home I have found it a bit difficult to adjust back to the lifestyle here. It has been particularly difficult because my experience abroad has impacted me so profoundly. While my friends and family have continued to move along through their everyday routine, I am still adjusting to life here and reflecting on my time away. I feel as though I must not quickly forget what I took away from this experience. It is so completely different here in the United States. I had not noticed how accustomed I had gotten to the Moroccan way and culture until returning. It was hard to see then the little things that had made such a difference in Morocco. It is shocking to me how different the culture here is and I was not anticipating that. Things have been very different than I expected them to be once I returned. They have been more sad than exciting, unfortunately. Adjusting back as an athlete has been somewhat difficult. The amount of  new teammates unintroduced to me has been shocking and incredibly overwhelming. School started so quickly and I felt as though it was a very quick turnaround and that I did not have much time to spend with my family and adjust. Although it has been difficult, I believe that I am slowly adjusting back to the ordinary here. Things are definitely different from the way they were to me before leaving. Nonetheless, I hope that they stay that way.

 

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A photo taken on my departing plane at the Mohammed V International Airport located in Casablanca, Morocco prior to our departure from the country after two months.

 

I very much miss the familiarity of Morocco. It was great being able to go to one restaurant or grocery store where you know people. I also miss being so close with the group of people I was living in Morocco with, as well as adventuring to different places in Morocco. Lastly, I greatly miss the laid-back and happy culture. On the other hand, I am happy to be reunited with my friends and family in the US, as well as the pool and my sport. I have noticed a lot of differences between the US and Morocco. It is mainly the little things, such as the way people interact, the way of life, the conveniences, the food, the regulations, etc. These are things that I didn’t know were so important to my life before leaving America. But while away, I came to realize that all of the little things lacking were actually all very important to my way of living, which greatly affected me.

After having this experience, I will continue on with my schooling, however I will not forget how I have been impacted. I hope to share my experience with as many people as possible, while also becoming a more involved individual. My experience abroad has only made me more grateful and more motivated to make a large impact for the good of others. I know that I will definitely be better about prioritizing my time to put the things that matter most first, and put others before myself. I know that this experience has made me love life and want to live each day to its fullest.

 

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A photo taken from a high point in one of the four mountainous regions of Morocco.

 

During my study abroad, I definitely came out of my shell. I became more open to unexpected situations and more adventurous and courageous. This was mainly a result of unanticipated conflicts experienced throughout the completion of my project, as well as trying to acclimate to the everyday lifestyle of the Moroccan people. It was also due to various weekend trips spent traveling and exploring the country in a very short amount of time. I definitely improved my communication skills, solely as a result of the high level of interaction with others. I definitely developed myself as an individual throughout my time in Morocco. It has become more clear to me the type of person that I want to be. I believe that this was a result of being in a foreign country disconnected from American society. It gave me a lot of time for reflection, all the while having such an amazing experience. It put things in perspective and allowed me to become more in touch with my inner self. Lastly, my experience abroad has made me more appreciative of everything that I have in my life. Just walking on the streets and seeing how the Moroccan people live was enough to evoke this change. They live the simplest lives and find the simplest jobs, just to get by in life. They also set aside time for the one thing that matters most to them, which is family. But the one part of my experience that made appreciation so much more prominent in my life was hearing the personal stories from families with autistic children that I interviewed for my project. They struggle so much to obtain decent lives for themselves and their children, not to mention proper education, treatment, and diagnoses. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories, all the while eye-opening to see how happy and grateful they still are for what they do have.

 

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A photo of the Ksour, a famous clay building depicted on the 50 dirham bill (Moroccan currency). The techniques used by the Moroccan people when creating such a structure allowed them to develop highly efficient architecture.

 

In addition, I definitely grew professionally while abroad. It was a new experience for me to complete this project while working with a sponsor. It was enriching to work with a group of students to complete a report, database, and present all of our information collected to our classmates, advisors, and sponsor. I learned how to deal with difficult team dynamics throughout the project and gained a lot of experience presenting my material in a professional manner.

One piece of advice that I would give to scholars interested in studying or interning abroad in Morocco would be to not set expectations, but rather to just enjoy the experience for all that it is and take the most from it. I can guarantee that any person studying abroad will get more out of the experience if they are able to avoid spending time worrying about how things should be. Whatever happens, they should be able to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience and not set their sights on the things that are not going perfectly as planned. I would encourage them to enjoy every moment of such an amazing opportunity while they have the chance, because it will be over in the blink of an eye.

 

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A photo taken at a village depicting the sun setting over the mountains in Morocco.

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Gilman Scholar Allysa Grant’s Favorite Things About Moroccan Culture

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Gilman Scholar Allysa Grant Shares Her Moroccan Routine

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Meet Gilman Scholar Allysa Grant

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Adapting as a Student Athlete in Morocco

My experience studying abroad as a student athlete has required a good amount of self-motivation. So far, I have been able to incorporate my swimming training into my daily schedule. The most challenging part has been holding myself accountable for my workouts. There are many other athletes joining me abroad in Morocco, however I find it difficult to coordinate both our schedules and workout needs most times. For instance, a good number of the athletes here have been spending time at the local gym, while I have been primarily working out in my own apartment (without equipment) since my project that I am completing here requires that I spend time in other cities such as Casablanca and Ouarzazate.

My fitness routine here in Morocco is pretty different from my fitness routine when attending school at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. While at WPI, I have the opportunity to swim in a pool and utilize the Recreation Center’s equipment, weights, and machines. In the bulk of the season there, I swim between 12-17 hours a week, lift either 3 or 5 days a week, elliptical/bike about twice a week, and complete other dry land and ab exercises 6 hours a week. In Morocco, I have been doing body and ab circuits once a day. Although I have been walking at least 6 miles a day, these circuits only last from a half hour to an hour each time.

I also have shoulder injuries and trying to maintain those in a foreign country has been a bit difficult. Over the past few years, I have been receiving physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and treatments from the athletic trainers at our school. At home I am also instructed to complete a set of stretches every day using certain pieces of equipment. Here, my only methods of therapy have been stretching (at times with resistance bands), applying pain relieving herbal patches, and rolling out knots and tight muscles with a muscle stick and lacrosse ball.

Although it is much more difficult to maintain my standards as a student-athlete here in Morocco, I am glad with what I have been able to do thus far. I believe that what I have been doing here will help me to make great progress in my swimming because it allows me to focus on toning myself as an athlete outside of the water. Training here is completely different from what I am used to but I believe that it will have an incredible and positive impact in the long-run.

Being here has also helped me to develop a better outlook on my sport. I am more excited to return to my school and rejoin my team. My appreciation for both the sport and my teammates has increased since being in this country. I have set serious and determined goals for the season and beyond and aspire to be much more focused on my future when it comes to swimming. I believe that this experience abroad has already had such a wonderful impact on myself as a student-athlete.

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Back Home, But as a Different Person

It’s a very odd feeling to be back in the U.S. I don’t know if I am just more aware of it now, or if it happened more this time, but I have been told “welcome back home” by people that usually don’t say it…or I don’t remember them saying it. The first person who told me that was a customs agent, who said it in an oddly genuine way: “Welcome back home, Mr. Mattozzi.” The next person was the flight attendant on my flight back to Portland, Maine. Whenever I fly back from school, I don’t remember them saying welcome home. The reason I am bringing this up is that I’m not sure if I feel at home. It’s a foolish thing to say, I know, I’ve spent all of my 21 years of life in this country, my childhood was here, most of my friends are here. But for some reason everything seems distant. I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated, or particularly lonely. Maybe misplaced is a good word. I feel like I had such a profound experience finding a part of myself that I have been struggling to find for a while. And now that I found it, I have to leave Morocco. As I mentioned in a previous post, I do have plans to go back to the region, not to reminisce on the past, but to grow and learn even more. Even though these plans are still in the “hopeful dream” phase, it is a comforting thought that will motivate me to do all that I can to achieve that goal of returning to Morocco.

 

Medina of Rabat

Medina of Rabat.

End of the day in Marrakesh

End of the day in Marrakesh.

It is not just the fact that I found my ethnic identity while studying abroad, but also that I grew so much as a journalist. I did things that gave me a taste of what it will be like to be a professional journalist. I worked on what I felt was an important topic that gave me the opportunity to speak with government officials, heads of NGOs and other people involved in my interests. I had deadlines and editing sessions with my advisor who writes for the New York Times, and I learned how to navigate through murky situations with little guidance. A few students on my study abroad program researched some pretty emotionally difficult topics, and when we felt overwhelmed or needed a break, we’d go out together and vent and get our minds off things. I know how to write better, interview better, look for details, and describe things in a way that will make people feel like they can relate and better understand the topic I am writing about. I learned that there are stories everywhere, you just have to ask the right kinds of questions and look hard enough. All of these things came together to form an experience that I believe impacted me on a very deep level. I know I have said this before, but I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to the Gilman Scholarship for giving me this absolutely stunning, amazing, life changing opportunity that I would not have had without Gilman.

 

Myself with my fellow journalism students

Myself with my fellow journalism students.

Myself and two friends I met while working on my independent study

Myself and two friends I met while working on my independent study project.

Now, to the future. In the short term, I am going to continue working on my project from Morocco to see if it can be published in the near future. For the long term, I am going to start organizing the specifics of my plan to study in the Mediterranean or in Southern Italy via the Fulbright, the Fulbright-National Geographic Fellowship, or another scholarship or grant. I have to dive in and do as much research as I can so I can be ready to answer any questions that come my way and help people understand the region and its collective history and culture better.
Whether I like it or not, I am back home, but as a different person. I should not dwell too much on the past and the little things I should have done while in Morocco. My eyes have been opened, and my curiosity has been piqued. This past semester has been an amazing journey, and I hope it is just the beginning.

 

Myself being pensive on the roof of our School, CCCL, in the Medina of Rabat .jpg

Me being pensive on the roof of our school in the Medina of Rabat.

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Morocco and Mezzogiorno

My study abroad experience in Morocco has made me more confident than ever that I want to pursue a profession in journalism. Meeting professional journalists, being put in positions as real journalists and not students, and being able to go after stories that we had some freedom with gave me the chance to see what my life might be like as a journalist. I want to be the best journalist I can be, and there are some things I have learned I need to improve on. I really need to buckle down with my language skills, especially Arabic. Struggling to communicate with people to have more productive interviews has motivated me to do much more to master Arabic and other languages as well.

At this point, I am still unsure if I will go to graduate school. I am getting mixed advice from my teachers and mentors. On the one hand, if I were to get into a graduate program at a school like Columbia Journalism School, or Berkeley, then that would be clearly beneficial. However, the advice I have been given recently has been more along the lines of simply going into the workforce. This, my advisors say, gives me the most opportunity to learn true field reporting skills that are not always learned in grad school.

 

Air show in Marrakesh

An air show in Marrakesh.

 

What has changed is what I plan to pursue after I graduate. I am very interested now in applying for scholarships like Fulbright to study post-colonial effects on Southern Italy, or a comparative study between Mediterranean countries. The more time I spend here in Morocco, the more I realize how important it is to promote the history of my heritage’s specific area, or of the greater Mediterranean area as a whole.

 

View of the Hassan area in Rabat

The view of the Hassan area in Rabat.

 

There was a point where I was on a train from Rabat to Marrakesh where we passed some very rural and poor areas, and I could not help but think of Mezzogiorno, the Southern region of Italy. (I apologize that I keep harping on this, but the awareness that I have gained from studying abroad in Morocco has had a fairly profound impact on how I see myself, the area around me, and my family’s Italian roots.) Looking at the landscape and the ocean in the distance, it just looked so familiar. Morocco and the Mezzogiorno have been victims to similar kinds of destruction. As I am Neapolitan, I feel like it is not only my place, but my duty to ensure my country is given the proper respect and opportunity it deserves. My ancestors fought and gave their lives to defend our sovereignty and dignity, and were defeated. I feel like it is my responsibility to carry on their fight in a way that I can: through journalism. I would do that by exposing the effects colonization still has on the people of the Mezzogiorno through research and field work. If I can, in addition to that, bring the same awareness I now have of the region to other people in the region, I would feel I have completed something very important.

 

Sunset over the neighborhood we stayed in Marrakesh

The sunset over my neighborhood in Marrakesh.

My professional goals have not changed, but have felt more solid and confident. I think my academic goals have changed to reflect my greater awareness of a history and culture that I am a part of, something I am not sure would have happened to the extent that it has, had I not studied abroad in Morocco. And for that, I have one more thing to be grateful for.

 

Me standing on the roof of our apartment in Marrakesh

Me standing on the roof of our apartment in Marrakesh.

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