Tag Archives: politics

Top 7 Things to Experience in Morocco

1.) Brush up on Moroccan politics

An experience in Morocco will be much more enriching if you can understand Moroccan politics which, as in most parts of the world, are very complex. You can take a class at a university or research institute. If you take the time to understand the context of the political climate that Moroccans are living in, you will begin to understand why certain things happen. I have had quite a few “ah ha” moments especially after a few politics classes.

Center for Cross Cultural Learning

Center for Cross Cultural Learning.

2.) Talk to as many people as you can

People in Morocco are very, very friendly and personable. It is very easy, even for the shyest of foreigners, to feel comfortable here. If you see a group of students or young people at a cafe, try and strike up a conversation with them. Chances are you will walk away with a few new friends.

3.) Don’t be afraid to take a “grand taxi”

In Morocco, there are usually two types of taxis: petite taxis, and grand taxis. Petite taxis are like taxis you might be used to in the U.S. Grand taxis are usually 1980s model Mercedes Benzs that are not always in the best condition, and can hold up to 6 passengers who you split the tab with. You get an adrenaline rush when you realize the seat you are sitting on isn’t actually attached to anything while you dart through rush hour traffic at questionably high speed. At the same time, you can make friends with the other people in the car by your shared fear for your lives. Two birds with one stone! (Jokes aside, they are a cheaper alternative to petite taxis, and you do get to meet some cool people, without being scared for your life. That just happened to me once, very recently.)

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A flock of petite taxis.

4.) Visit as many cities as you can

It is nice to be able to see the differences from one city to the next. From the textiles in Fez, to the art scene in Marrakech, there is a great deal of diversity between all of the cities in Morocco. Getting between cities is very efficient with the train system. Tickets usually cost between 50-200 Dirhams per ride (5-20 U.S. Dollars) depending on the distance. I recommend traveling first class, which just ensures that you have a place to sit. Otherwise you might be standing for a while.

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.

5.) …And also try to get out of the cities

The geographical diversity in Morocco is amazing. When my study abroad program went on our excursion, we woke up in the snow if the Atlas Mountains, and we went to sleep in the sand of the Sahara Desert. By seeing the landscape and the rural lifestyles of people in Morocco, you can begin to understand the complexity of the country and its beauty.

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The countryside of northern Morocco.

6.) Go to co-operatives

Co-operatives in Morocco make things from cups, to roof tiles, to jellabas. Visiting these co-ops is a way to see the labor that goes into all of the things that you might buy as a tourist. You have the opportunity to put the face of the maker behind the object, and understand that someone physically chipped away each tile to get that exact design for that table top.

7.) Let Morocco be what it is

Don’t get too bogged down trying to categorize the country, because chances are you won’t be able to. It’s not only an African country, or only a Muslim country, or only a Mediterranean country. It’s all of these things. When you can acknowledge Morocco’s diversity and complexity, you will be able to appreciate it more.

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Filed under middle east, Savin in Morocco

Several Shades of Gray

Perhaps everything in ones life can be measured with something as simple as the sixth-grade mathematics.  We learned of an object known as an open line segment.  This theory may sound too simple to be accurate, but upon closer inspection, one may find clarity in his/her circumstance. Too often do individuals obtain ideas throughout their lives, and place them on either Point A or Point B.  This black and white mechanism disregards the difference and the beauty that can be found in each moment because on an open-ended segment, the answer cannot be found on the two opposing points, but rather in the space between.

On this segment, people will never fully have one trait or another, but rather some degree of that characteristic.   The gray area that exists between the opposite ends of the segment is where one’s reality lies, for the perfection of an ideal composes the opposing points.  When one polarizes the complex nature of social situations, he/she creates a stereotype that places an idea of a person or thing into the box of an ideal.  It is necessary to examine that which cannot be defined because if we do not, then we gain a satisfied yet inaccurate judgment of others rather than a well-rounded understanding.

On this studious adventure of mine in Costa Rica, I have discovered that when my reality changes – all that I am left with are my philosophies – the ideas that compose the nature of my existence.  What I know about the world becomes somewhat invalid because I cannot view this new place through the same social lens, so my ideas have been whittled down to the original figures of love, persistence, positivity, and other things that are inherently human. When one says that they want to study abroad because they would like to find out more about themselves, I believe that is essentially what they are describing.  Because when one’s surroundings change, it is true character that will stay the same.

The past month has filled me with insights that have begun to expose the shades of gray surrounding many of the prevalent social issues, such as social health care, education, and gay rights.  Continuing to discover the specifics of these things has been a motivating factor for me recently.

Social Health Care

In brief, this country is run on a social health care system in that everyone – including those that work here from Nicaragua have access to it.  During my first weekend here in Costa Rica, my group and I went on a tour of a coffee plantation, and explored the park of a legendary waterfall.  Our tour guide, Gustavo, shared his thoughts about this feature of Costa Rican politics.  He used to be opposed to the system, but his sister was then diagnosed with a terminal case of thyroid cancer.  Not many survive from this ailment, and because of the health care system – she was not only able to receive a treatment that cured her, but also was able to receive substantial financial aid.   Something that she would have spent the entirety of her life without paying off was reduced to something that the government took as their expense.

My home-stay mother can offer another perspective on this topic.  Her view is more negative due to the fact that many qualify for the same degree of assistance that there is not enough present to adequately handle problems that arise.  As she sees it, if she were to get sick, it may take three years to receive satisfactory attention.  The complicated nature of this issue is apparent – and as controversial as it may be – there is no black or white answer.

Education

Costa Rica is known for their phenomenal education system, but every system has its flaws.  Upon arrival, I believed that the system must be very respectable because the government of this country does not have an army – it chooses instead to finance its educational institutions.  As a result, the literacy rate is much higher than that of other countries, such as the United States, and it places a great deal of pride on these facilities.

Today in class, we discussed the experiences of several education students that have been working in the school systems now for about a month.  Notably, they have been working at selected private and public institutions in a small radius within San Jose.  They offered several takeaways:

1)   Without going into excruciating detail – the standard of literacy is sufficiently lower here than it is in the United States.

2)   English classes are highly valued – especially in private schools.

3)   Religion is present in the classroom in that occasionally – one must be Catholic to teach, and the teacher leads “prayer time” at one or multiple points throughout the day.

Another interesting point that can give a powerful look into the occupational nature of this country is an exit exam that students take after their high school experience.  The idea is somewhat like the SAT in that it includes questions that are non-major related, and is indeed a standardized test.  However, the outcome of this evaluation does not just give one a number to submit on a college application.  It actually limits one’s future occupation.  For example, if one does not achieve the score necessary to study communications, then that option is not a possibility.  One can take additional classes to become more proficient on the exam, and then take it again.  This, however, assumes that one will have the necessary resources.  Every society has constructs that control the success of individuals within its population.  I view this exam as a factor that sustains a socioeconomic cycle.  If one grows up in an underprivileged neighborhood, then there is an excellent chance that the educational capacities of that area will not be equal to that of privileged areas.  Immediately following high school, young adults take this exit exam, and have their possibilities minimized to some degree.  The underprivileged population may never gain the ability to study for a higher paying profession.  Comparably, in the United States, if one receives a bad score on the SAT, community college can be an alternative.  From there, one can enter into a more highly ranked institution.  Opportunities to step beyond the constraints of social class are more easily accessible in this regard.

Gay Rights

Before I begin – I should discuss my misguided initial impressions of this country. I had not yet experienced the social environment, therefore, my views were uneducated and ensnared by a stereotype.  Homosexuality was a word that I thought would never be mentioned in my household.  The opposite has proven true.  I have found that not only is it acknowledged, it is supported.   I am aware that my household may be an exception to the majority, but I never thought I would be living with a house of avid advocates.  Many individuals in my Costa Rican home are actively aware of the present social movements, and this has been a great resource to jump-start my regional education.

Weeks ago, I traversed to the Congress building where I received a tour.  Laura Chinchilla is the current President, and is the first woman to hold the position.  She appointed her version of “the cabinet” to establish the priorities of her presidency.  Those topics are discussed over the course of several months, and I came at the right time to hear about a few of them.  Gay rights, however, did not make it to her list.

The state of the human services agency that is run through the government may function gloriously, but my experience indicates that the leadership is somewhat unpopular at the moment.  This organization exists to protect people against the social inadequacies or injustices that government produces.  Currently, the man who is in the director’s chair believes that there is a cure to being gay.  He has proposed this cure, and has received government funding for its implementation.  The LGBTQIA group, or “Los Invisibles,” which is an easy translation, feels that their rights have been infringed upon.

In response, the LGBTQIA community organized a rally in the middle of San Jose that several members of my household and I attended.  It was made public via the news, etc.  Upon arrival, I expected there to be protest against the rally.  I expected this event to be dangerous to attend.  There was no noticeable protest – and in this place where I thought anger would be present – all that was visible was a peace-seeking community that had gathered to celebrate their difference.   We, as a single unit, marched to the Ministry of Human Rights.  Chants that were first sung into a microphone were then echoed by the moving mass.  As we proceeded, I witnessed the looks of hope and happiness displayed across the faces of the crowd.  My family and I stood next to a motorcycle that honked the rhythm of our Spanish chant.  The character of this populace possesses an indomitable spirit that seeks to enlighten a people, and revolutionize a legal system.

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For if one chooses to see in black and white, he/she will gain a perception that will satisfy, but not exemplify existing complexities.  If one could merely see in these two colors, his/her image would lack the depth that shades of gray provide.  This country is struggling with the concepts related to health care, education, and gay rights, and much of this can be observably attributed to people living inside of a social box.  If one matures without the ability to question, he/she will inevitably become a product of the surrounding environment.  It is by starting the difficult conversations with people that one will find new and exciting perspectives that may challenge what he/she believes.  I advocate for these conversations – because even if offered a perspective that contradicts one’s own – it produces a more open mind, or a deeper understanding of a previous belief.  Hiding from difference will only continue ignorance, while embracing it promotes a future that can speak and operate across it.

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Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica

Live and live well.

My goals for Ecuador:
Learn Spanish
Experience a different culture
Not get homesick
Gain knowledge of the medical situations in other countries

I feel pretty confident about my time here. I have been able to experience Ecuador in full force. There were times when I was very frustrated with my speaking ability and homesickness, but with some help of some very good friends both problems passed fairly quickly. My time in classes was very good and I had the opportunity to take a class on the culture and civilization of the country, with focus on current politics, social issues, and past governments. This class not only taught me about Ecuadorian politics but also let me take a different perspective on American politics.

The culture, it’s everywhere!!! This past week was a very large celebration here as it was the anniversary of the Foundation of Quito. For just about the whole week, the streets were filled with vendors, parks full with concerts every night, and all of the people of Quito seemed to be celebrating. I have noticed that the “Fiestas of Quito” really kind of act as our Thanksgiving, where families spend time together and celebrate, then also kickstart the Christmas season. This is one example of the very rich culture that just about everyone holds very close. It is interesting to me to be able to experience living with a different family.. Especially one who is from a completely different culture. I absolutely love my family and am so lucky to live with them, but living with another family makes me appreciate my family in The States all the more!! Which leads me to the homesickness… It’s not fun, but a good way to combat it is stay busy and try to make the best of everything. I have some wonderful friends, both here and at home who have supported me and been there when I need them. Being homesick is not fun, but similar to the family aspect, it has really shown me the important things in my life, and all too soon I will be back home living “the comfortable life” as some have put it. This phrase bothered me at first, but the more time I spend here the more true it is. Yes, I and most everyone I know has worked hard for the things that we have, but it’s easy in comparison. We don’t have to walk up and down mountains to get to the bus station that would take hours to get to a destination. Where I am from we don’t have to use a gate and three doors to get into the house ( for security purposes). I am very fortunate to have the life that I do and while I realized that before, now I have a whole new understanding.

In my 17 weeks here I had 9 weeks of grammar classes, a week vacation, four weeks of culture and civilization  and now the final three weeks are spent at an internship at a clinic! My time is spent watching surgeries and caring for patients with the doctors. I absolutely love ever minute I spend there, sometimes I get confused because medical vocabulary is very different than the style I learned in class, but that just means I get to learn that much more. Every day is different, some days there are three or four surgeries to watch, and others are spent talking with the doctors and nurses (in Spanish because very few of them can speak even a little bit of English . I have learned so much about the healthcare and education systems here and it has definitely affected my appreciation of healthcare in other countries. Sometimes they don’t have the resources necessary and have to “make due”, which in my opinion is almost more interesting than going by the textbooks. They have to work by hand writing patient records, surgery charts, and other necessary documents, where in most clinics in the US use computers for everything.

I want to go to Physicians Assistant school after I graduate in 2014 and then hopefully use my knowledge of Spanish to work in an area of high concentrations of Latin-American people. And hopefully one day be able to work abroad in a Spanish speaking country.

For I agree with Mr. Emerson when he said- “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson Hopefully one day I will be able to say that I have lived, and lived well.

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Filed under Jerrin in Ecuador, south america

Ecuadorian Politics & U.S. Election

I have always believed that politics are very important, but for the most part are one’s own opinion and never really put much effort into the topic. However, I quickly learned that when you are from America, everyone wants to know your opinion on President Obama.  The first couple of times I was asked, I quite honestly had no clue how to respond!  I was not used to talking about politics ( I usually stick to talking about biology or other closely related topics) let alone sharing opinions so openly.  I quickly learned how many people view America, and how different it is from how I personally view our politics.  As the election came closer everyone (Ecuadorian and otherwise) wanted to hear all about how I was to vote and how I felt about the current topics!  This was very strange to me, but i now understand how important our politics are to the rest of the world.  One day at school a friend of mine from Germany asked how I thought the Presidential Debate went the night before, as he had watched it and wanted my “American opinion”, any the only response I had was that I didn’t watch it.  This bothered me quite a bit, that a person from another country who couldn’t vote one way or another still listened and cared about the debate, yet I could vote, but didn’t take the time to hear what President Obama and Senator Romney had to say.  Needless to say from that point on I made a special effort to keep myself informed as best as I could from outside the country, which was actually easier than I expected thanks to technology. After the election the questions kept coming, and I’ll have to say it was very eye opening to view the election from here, especially without all of the political commercials.

Three weeks ago I had my last “Grammar” class and had a week of vacation then started my Culture and Civilization class.  Even though grammar classes are very necessary in learning a language, I think I have learned more in these last two weeks than I ever thought possible.  Each day we start out talking about current events from our own countries and also Ecuadorian news.  I absolutely love learning about how the government has changed throughout the years and the different impacts past presidents have had.  Some very good others very bad, but overall I am very grateful that we have a strong government that works together with the people, even though sometimes it might not seem that way. One day our class took a trip to the National Assembly, which is open to the public, to view Ecuadorian legislation.  I was absolutely shocked, because it was nothing like I expected.  I expected to see orderly debates and discussions over the new possible law, with lots of participation from all of the members similar to the image in my head of what an assembly looks like, but it was almost the exact opposite.  Later our professor told us that the National Assembly is composed of members elected by popular vote, but don’t necessarily have a political background, some are soccer players, models, TV hosts etc.  Which makes sense as the people vote for the people they know, however, this doesn’t really improve the situation.  There will be a presidential election in February to reelect President Correa or to elect a new president. This provides many interesting discussion topics and is very important to the people, also because here it is MANDATORY to vote, not just an option. In the months to come there will be many public appearances and debates to gain votes, but not in the same way the United States candidates campaign. There are around 6 major parties that will either group together to support a candidate or have their own, which is very different from our 2 party system.

I still have a lot to learn about politics, but along the way I am learning the importance of being informed even if things don’t go the way we think they should. We are very lucky to have the freedoms and systems that we do and I know I will definitely pay more attention to national events when I get back home.

I stumbled upon this quote and now realize how incredibly true it is.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett

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Filed under Jerrin in Ecuador, south america