Mediterranean field school introduces students to other cultures in Europe and Africa

Turn left, then right, then right one more time abruptly. Try not to lose the group. Don’t look down for too long, or by the time you look up everyone will be gone. Hold your bags above your head; we can barely fit down these dark alleyways never mind carry our tourism baggage.

 My mind was racing as I run over all the instructions our tour guide had given us before we descended into the narrow, and clammy alleys that link parts of the city of Fes, Morocco. It seemed like we had been winding through these backstreets forever as we stepped over cats, broken children’s toys, clutter, debris, and tried not to fall when our shoes got caught on uneven stones. Then we just stopped. Right before we turned around another sharp corner our guide yelled, “باع ” which sounded to me like “bellack!” Throughout the trip we learned this roughly translates to, “Move out of the way! There is a donkey and/or a large cart trying to get through. If you do not move, they will keep going anyway and run you over.”

After waiting for this exceptionally slow donkey to move out of the way so we could finally make our way out of the alleys and into the market, we made it through. Only after we made it out, we stopped again. But not for a donkey.

TOTO, WE’RE NOT IN CANADA ANYMORE

No, we stopped because of the sight of a businessman selling camel heads at his stand. Hanging, sliced down the middle, while humps were displayed in the front. No one else seemed bothered by this but us. We were supposed to ride camels in the desert in five days, not eat them. Now it was more apparent than ever that we were clearly not in Canada anymore.

The Hassan II mosque was built over the Atlantic Ocean to honour the wished of King Hassan II. Break walls were installed to prevent the ocean from deteriorating the mosque. However, locals enjoy the view as the tide goes out.

Photo by Melissa KadeyFor this particular field school that myself and 18 other students were a part of last year, we visited France, Spain and Africa to study cultures in the Mediterranean area. I’ve travelled before, a few places throughout Canada, and even fewer in the United States. Most of my travel time has been spent wandering through Europe. For me, going to France and Spain wasn’t much different than the rest of Europe that I’ve seen —besides the Spanish stores closing around noon for a siesta, and the French people being nicer than I had been told they would be. I didn’t really have any preconceived notions of what Africa would be like, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Looking back now, nothing compares to my time there.

Most people might think of lions, giraffes, and elephants, when discussing Africa, but during this field study we were in the northern area —specifically, Morocco. Think Aladdin with the camels, desert, and scorching hot sun. Only we (mostly the women) were unable to dress for such heat. In Canada 25 C weather means tank tops, shorts, and flip-flops. In Morocco, 35 C means T-shirts, capri pants, and runners for us. We tried to dress as modestly as our suitcases would allow, and even then we were being looked at with wide eyes. However, most of the Moroccans we passed by were wearing djellabas —long, loose fitting, unisex robes— so I can understand how 18 Canadians looked so out of place.

I wasn’t the only one who found the heat, and change of clothes different from a typical Canadian summer. Another student on the trip, Katie Tompkins who is majoring in psychology said, “Maybe their clothes are used to protected them from the sun, but I wasn’t used to the hot temperatures. Even the air felt hot —I was always dehydrated.”

SHOCK AND ADHAN

The heat wasn’t the only thing we had to adjust to everyday. Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) is sounded five times a day all throughout the city: at dawn just before sunrise, as well as from twilight until dawn, plus three other times during the day. Although it was alarming at first to be woken up early in the morning by what sounded like a giant, unclear megaphone, it was something I grew accustomed to.

What shocked me the most out of our time spent in Morocco, however, was when we visited the International University of Rabat, named after the capital city of Morocco. After talking to several students I realized how grateful we are for our educational choices in Canada. Students I spoke to at this university wanted to become journalists like me, but were unable to. They were being told they had to become teachers, and found out the test they would have to take to get into journalism school is much too hard and that almost no one gets in. Because of this, the majority of the students we talked to were going to become French teachers.

A caravan of camels waits for our group in the Zagora Desert, Morocco. It takes us roughly two hours to get to a local camp where we stayed the night in tents.

Photo by Melissa KadeyThe CIA World Factbook states that education reformation is one of the economic goals for Morocco, but still remains a challenge. 

In the mean time, these students will still be contributing to the economy to help this potential reformation move forward. The CIA World Factbook also states that in 2012 Morocco’s unemployment rate was only around 18.6 per cent while Canada sat at 14.3 per cent the same year. 

One of the other students on the trip, Marekret Markos who majored in policy studies, noticed that even though the university students live on completely opposite sides of the world, their lives are not all that different compared to ours.

“I met lots of really smart students at the university,” Markos said. “We took similar classes, had similar interests, watched similar shows and movies, and we valued similar things. I got to know a few students, in particular, whom I still keep in touch with via social media.”

After this visit, the students of Mount Royal University and International University of Rabat exchanged contact information, and many of us still keep in touch. Despite living 8,334 km away, we are not that different. Our cultures may be, but the people are not.

The constant heat, changes in clothing, startling calls to prayer, and using bottled water for almost everything were differences we all had to adjust to. However, every day we spent exploring the different cities of Morocco, we were taken aback, humbled by the generosity and overall acceptance of the people, and we learned more in the field than a classroom could ever teach us.

mkadey@cjournal.ca 

To contact the editor responsible for this article; ahardstaff-gajda@cjournal.ca 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flikr Licensed to Creative Commons