How Cultural Exchange Shaped my Perspective
By Marisa Natarajan
Going to Morocco with Imprinted Abroad was one of the most enriching experience of my life. From the moment we landed in Morocco and instantly became friends with Bilal and Saadia, our Moroccan program leaders, I began to learn about Moroccan culture. From then on, every activity we did, person we talked to, and sight we saw changed and enriched my understanding of the differences between the culture I experience in America and culture in Morocco. I found myself begging my group to end our day with a group reflection every day, even when our leaders said we didn't have to, because my experiences had peaked my curiosity so much that I wanted to discuss everything I had learned and seen with my peers.
One of my favorite experiences happened during a visit to a public high school in Moulay Idriss, when what started out as an exchange of national anthem singing and selfies with the girls around us turned into a very honest and real discussion about the differences in the treatments between genders in Morocco and America. We talked about what was expected of women in both cultures, how men view and treat women, our frustrations with the lack of change, and hopes for the future of gender equity. Our discussions were so interesting that we stayed almost an hour longer than we planned, and after leaving the school, me and my classmates couldn't help but continue the conversation. I had never expected that a group of 50 teenager students who, for the most part, didn't speak the same language, could go beyond the bounds of small talk to have a conversation that would change my outlook on my privilege, the issues with both American and Moroccan society, and my assumptions about Morocco.
My favorite aspect of Moroccan culture which I learned about what the hospitality with which we were always met, especially in our homestay experience. I had never done a homestay, and in the days leading up to it, began to feel extremely anxious about separating from my trusted teachers and peers and living with a family whom I had never met and didn't share a language. However when I arrived, I was greeted with warm hugs and tea from my host mom. While my host brother and cousins were quiet at first, we quickly won them over with an epic game of pick up sticks. Throughout the next three days, I felt welcomed into their home as part of their family. By the second day, my 8 year old host cousin, who could not understand a word of what I said, refused to leave my side and let go of my hand for the rest of our stay. These three days with my host family ended up as my favorite days of the trip, and I struggled to say goodbye to them when it was time to go. The amount of connection that could be shared between people who didn't share a language was beyond anything I had imagined.
When asked about my Morocco trip, I struggle to find the words to encapsulate all that I have learned and seen. Of course, I most of the time end up talking for hours detailing all the amazing experiences I had. However, I am more convinced than ever that every person should be immersed in a cultural exchange themselves. What I learned in Morocco in invaluable, and also just the beginning. More than the actual experiences and conversations I had, I learned the benefit of cultural exchange and I have now become more comfortable and have a greater desire to push myself to form connections with similarly curious, passionate, and inspiring people all around the world.