I have a lot to say in favor of trying new things. When I was little, I often succumbed to the “If I haven’t tried it, I don’t like it” mentality, which is totally bananas and doesn’t make any sense. Luckily, I’ve grown a lot since then, and trying new things is my favorite thing. My program organizes a lot of excursions and programs in which we have the opportunity to explore Moroccan culture through participation, and I’m usually one of the first to volunteer when it comes time to try it ourselves. I always get this dumb, slack-jawed grin on my face when trying a new activity, and my classmates think it’s absolutely hilarious, but it’s truly just because I’m having a great time.
Let’s start with a good old fashioned flashback: I mentioned that when I was little, I didn’t try a lot. What I didn’t mention is that when it came to manners, I was polite to a fault. My best friend lived next door, and I would go over her house constantly. Her parents would often offer me food that I would typically refuse at my house – but this wasn’t my house. These weren’t my parents! I couldn’t just say no! I vividly remember my most adventurous moment as trying sushi and regretting it later when I felt sick, but no matter what, I always tried new things next door.
A lot of things in my life have changed since, but this is by no means one of them. If you offer me food and you’re not blood-related, odds are that I’ll eat that food no matter what. This has been especially true in Morocco, where my host mom sometimes serves dishes with names I can’t pronounce, never mind ingredients that I can’t recognize. But true to form, I’ll never say no. So this summer, I’ve eaten some new things like fish roe patties, shark, and snails. Among the tamer things I’ve tried have been figs, apricots, dates, olives, and tomatoes. I mention tomatoes in particular because I’ve hated them all my life – they’re just evil, seedy juice machines waiting to ruin my burger. But because my politeness has translated into adventurousness, I’ve actually found that they’re pretty good!
In my program, we’ve tried a lot of new activities so far: throwing pottery, playing a gimbrie (a rectangular bass lute) in traditional Gnawa music, bellydancing, calligraphy, and more. Everything has been a blast, and I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to embrace these experiences. I’ve jumped head-first into Moroccan culture and am exploring it in a very hands-on way, which has been incredible. I could tell you about the history of Gnawa music, the composition of a gimbrie, or how long it takes to make a tajine all because I’ve had the chance to participate in this culture.
That being said, there’s a lot to consider about comfort. It’s taken me over a month to learn that study abroad, particularly in a non-Western country, is not a non-stop rainbow fun joy ride. There are some really hard days where I would kill for any of the following:
- not to wear shoes in the bathroom
- to see one sign in English
- a burger
- to wear shorts and a tank top
- air conditioning
- a hug from my mom
If you’re studying abroad, no one’s going to tell you about missing the familiarity of home. Everyone will just be excited for you and tell you that you’ll have a great time, and you’ll believe it. You might be like me, and believe that every single moment of studying abroad will be perfect. It won’t be. Sometimes I feel like I’ll be sick if I see another olive. There will be days when pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone isn’t fun, but exhausting. There will be days when nothing is familiar. There will be days where you feel guilty because isn’t everything about studying abroad supposed to be perfect?
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is hard, for sure, but it’s definitely worth it. By doing so, I have learned so much. On a hard day, a good friend reminded me: growth doesn’t come from comfort. So push yourself. Explore more, do more. You’ll never grow if you’re never uncomfortable.
Below are some pictures of me and the students in my program learning about the Moroccan culture and trying new things like cooking classes, calligraphy, and throwing pottery!