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Gap Year Abroad

2 posts from March 2014



“Much progress, and much to be done.” the one and only- Lisa Margo Levine 

It is a wild to think that after only a 6 hour bus ride, I found myself in a new continent, new country, and completely new colorful, captivating, culture.


We were only in Morocco for the weekend, so it was a very short amount of time to truly understand the culture, but here are a few of my initial thoughts. The first thing I noticed was the extremely high ratio of men to women. It was something like 75: 25 for the people I came into contact with. It could have been more or less but it was enough for me to notice something was very different. The whole weekend seemed to be run by men, hotel workers and shopkeepers, tour guides, servers at the restaurant, people helping us onto the camels, showing us silk blankets and explaining natural medicines…all men. Occasionally you see a woman in the street selling her fruit and vegetables but that is about it. 





Another difference was the few women who were out in the streets were covered up completely, usually in a traditional piece of clothing called a djellaba, a long dress with sleeves and a hood. A few men in the streets were wearing djellabas but there were also a lot of men in shorts and t-shirts as it was a beautiful day at least in the 70’s. It seemed so out of the norm for women not to be completely covered that I even got a few stares by having just my ankles showing.

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Before going to Morocco I knew that praying was a big part of the Arab culture and as the guide explained people are summoned, by bells, to the mosques 5 times a day and if you are working, like our guide for example, you can go at a different time or pray on your own time. But he also explained how although men and women can pray in the same mosque they are not allowed to pray next to each other.


As we were walking around to different shops and seeing how every single vendor was a man, I began to wonder where the women were and what they were doing. In one shop I asked the vendor if he was the one who made the scarves. He laughed and responded, “No, women in factories do that”. That was really hard for me to hear because yes, as a global society I think a lot of progress has been made over this issue of gender inequality but as I could see this weekend, there is still work to be done. 


Growing up in the States I have always experienced and understood that men and women are equal. We have equal opportunities for jobs, to vote, to get an education, and how to dress; the list goes on and on but in Morocco I felt a different vibe.

Experiencing a culture that is completely different from my own is not only important because it helps me create an understanding for people of all backgrounds but it also is helpful in creating an appreciation for my own culture.

There are positives and negatives in every culture, but I think it's important to create an accepting society that is as well-rounded as the sphere of the planet on which we live. 


Ciao for now! 


Family First

"The world in which you are born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being like you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis 

I feel like I’ve said this before but I’m going to say it again. Your host family is such an important part of your study abroad experience. Yes, you have your Spanish classes, your volunteering, and excursions with the group, but your host family is really where you get to experience and become really immersed in the culture.

Here is what I mean.

I wake up and nobody is up because 8:00, at least for my family, is considered very early. Yet, I still have cereal and a bowl set out by my lovely host mom every morning when I get up. After breakfast, I make my way to school and after class around 1:30 I get home and wait for my host mom to knock on my door around 2:30-3:00 telling me lunch is ready. I usually eat with my host sister, who is home because her first class doesn’t start until 4:00 (lucky duck). While we eat my host mom is usually in the kitchen preparing food for my host dad, and my two aunts who are also currently living here as well (very cultural), but they all don’t eat until later…can you believe it, later?

During lunch my sister and I talk about classes, travels, family, friends, boys, really anything. It’s super casual and comfortable, and I’ve gotten really close with her, which has been fabulous. After lunch it is the hour of “siesta” or nap. Really, it’s an actual thing. A lot of the shops in town close down from around 2:00-5:00 for lunch and siesta (super cultural). I have a hard time taking a nap in the middle of the day because if I do it’s hard for me to get moving afterwards but I usually try to relax for a bit.

After siesta, some days I go to the park, meet a friend for tea at a café, go to volunteering, head to the gym or visit the Alcazar, Cathedral or Parliament with my CIEE group. Just like back home in the states I have to keep my host mom updated with where I am, except in Spanish. My host mom is super caring and really treats me like one of her own. She is always reminding me to take an umbrella or wear a scarf because it’s cold and at one point even referred to herself now as having “2 Martas” (my host sister).

After volunteering I come home and hang out until dinner is ready around 10:00. Yes, 10:00. Meal times, I have to say, have been the hardest adjustment. For me, 10:00 is really late to be eating, but it’s a big part of the culture. Just like in Chile, dinner time is when I have the most contact with my host family so it’s important that I’m there. During dinner I practice my Spanish listening and talking skills and jump into the conversation when I can. We talk about everything from current events to different places around Sevilla, including places I have visited on excursions or will be visiting, so I’m able to get background information before I go with the group. We also talk about different parts of Spain and Europe and typical Spanish foods. My host aunt and I share a love for cooking so we always have fabulous conversations about different kinds of recipes, and we even plan on having a recipe swap one day in the near future!

I also get asked about different parts of American culture, which I love. For example, once my host dad asked, “What is typical American food? Like what do Americans eat on a daily basis? Hamburgers and French fries from McDonalds?”

It was a hard question, because when I think of American cuisine I think of a range of foods because America is a huge melting pot of cultures. I explained what a typical meal in my family would be and how my mom is very health conscious so we eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables, not that much meat, a lot of whole grains and not a lot of processed foods. After I explained this it was funny to see my host dad and the rest of my family’s expressions. They all looked slightly surprised at the fact that not all Americans necessarily like, or even eat fried foods all day, every day. Of course America is huge and there are all kinds of people who have a variety of eating habits but it was a great sense of accomplishment to feel like I changed this American stereotype in even just 5 people’s minds.

On a typical night, I finish my gazpacho (typical Spanish cold tomato soup) and tortilla de España (another typical Spanish dish-basically an omelette with potatoes and cheese) and then my host mom asks me 15 times if I want more and 15 times I say no thank you, another huge cultural difference I’ve experienced. Food is a sign of love here and since I am not used to this sometimes it feels very forced. Instead of serving oneself my host mom will serve everyone and then after we finish our servings insist we eat more and more…and sometimes even more. Saying no at least 15 times during a meal has just been one of those things I’ve had to get used to and really I know she only means well.


Like I said, my host sister and I got pretty close from the beginning. Marta is 19 so we are at similar points in our lives. Therefore, finding things to bond over, even with the culture and language difference, really wasn’t hard at all! And a couple of weeks ago I was ecstatic when she asked me if I wanted to go to Rome with her! I of course said yes, so we bought our tickets and last Thursday traveled to Rome, one Spanish chica and one American gal, quite a story!

We stayed with her good friend who is studying in Rome and living with 4 other Spanish girls so it was full on Spanish the whole time, which of course was overwhelming but was also really, really good practice for me. Rome was absolutely incredible, but it was extra special navigating through the city and seeing all the monuments with my host sister. We laughed over asking people in the streets for directions in English, then Spanish if they didn’t understand the first time, which still sometimes didn’t work! What could be better than sharing a pizza at a restaurant and listening to an Italian street performer play a little number on his accordion? How about tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain then hiking up a bunch of stairs to a marvelous view of the city and watching the sun set over the wonderful city of Rome. Traveling to Rome with my Spanish host sister, Marta, was more than an adventure and quite an experience that will remain with me forever!

Here are some pictures from our adventure! 

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Ciao for now! 

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