Five Days in Morocco

For me, the highlight of this adventure in Granada did not actually take place in Spain, but Morocco. While living in Spain did present a massive cultural adjustment, it wasn’t the most different of places for me to be. Other than the language and some European differences, life as a college student in Spain was not much different than in Walla Walla. I’m glad that IES decides to do this five-day trip to Morocco because it offered us a chance to experience something truly different and alter our perspective as global citizens.

We started our first of five days taking an early bus ride three hours south to Algeciras, the port city that serves as the main hub for transportation between Spain and Morocco. After the boat and another bus, we arrived in Tangier where we settled in for the night and ate a delicious meal with the most vegetables I had seen since getting to Spain. The next day we took a quick tour of the city’s downtown and markets and started to get a sense of this culture and lifestyle that came as a surprise to even the travel veterans in our group. We then met up with three female students who volunteer with an organization that helps women find work, housing, education, and stability. We had a lengthy conversation with them where they discussed all aspects of Moroccan life. Their answers to our questions proved both very familiar, such as the anxieties of finding a job after college and dating while still living with their parents, and yet quite different, such as having to be careful not to openly criticize the government and the discrimination that comes along with wearing a hijab. This last point sparked confusion and interest from us when she said it. After all, Morocco was a Muslim country, so why wouldn’t one be allowed to wear a hijab? Morocco, as it turns out, is an incredibly religiously diverse country, with Christians, Jews, and Muslims living together. In efforts to modernize the image of the country, however, anyone who wears a hijab is barred from government service. The student who tells us this wears a hijab herself, and her skills as a translator (she knows English, French, Moroccan Arabic, and Standard Arabic) will have to be put to work somewhere other than the public sector. This was the first of many conversations we were to have with different Moroccans, and was the most profound and interesting aspect of our visit. We did some classic tourist activities, like visiting the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat and walking the shops of Chefchaouen, but speaking to real people was an experience unique to our program. Anyone can go to Morocco and see the sights, but it’s hard to sit down with people and hear their perspective on the world.

After Tangier we headed to Rabat where we partook in some of the most delightful of tourist activities, like riding a camel on the beach and getting scrubbed down in the hamam, as well as further conversations with local residents. I stayed in a homestay with a family—a woman in her early 30’s and her mother father. The younger woman spoke enough English to communicate but not enough to have any kind of in-depth conversation, but talking, at least with this family, wasn’t that necessary because our meals were spent watching TV, her favorite show being one where Nick Cannon dissects viral videos. The highlight of Rabat was getting to speak to Moroccan college students, who were more than happy to show us their favorite spots around town and answer our questions. I think they enjoyed acting like rebellious Moroccan youth because they made flippant comments about the government to us, saying they don’t care who hears them, but only making these comments in noisy and private places. They also asked us a ton of questions, mostly focusing on parties and drugs and other facts of the American college that they gleaned from movies and television. After Rabat we took a long drive through the mountains to Chefchaouen, stopping at a rural farmhouse along the way to talk with a family. Offering a more conservative viewpoint than the liberal young people we talked to, the husband and wife sat with us and talked about life on the farm, how they met and became married, local healthcare, and their neighbors. They have three kids but both come from very large families of over ten siblings. They had a good laugh when I told them that in America you get a TV show about you if you have 8 kids. We ended our journey in Chefchaouen where we had a more calm day of walking through the markets, having a delicious final meal, and spending a couple hours on the roof with our small group reflecting on our journey. Unsurprisingly everyone had a lot to say about the country, even though we had only been here for a few days. By all accounts we had a structured, pampered, and safe visit to Morocco, but it was still enough for us to gain an appreciation for a people and culture most of us had not considered before. And I’m not talking about just the Moroccan people necessarily, but rather the billions of people living alongside us who do not possess many things or much money but still live life to the absolute fullest and find joy in what they do. Going on this journey made me much more grateful and appreciative of what I have, and I can only hope I will be a more informed and empathetic global citizen.

A Trip

View from Mirador de San Nicolas

Catedral de Seville


IES Granada wants you to stay close. One of the first things they tell you in orientation is to not travel too much in your free time; according to IES alumni, their biggest regret was jetting off every weekend to a nearby European metropolis, and not fully integrating themselves in the Granada community. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to on the program has at least some plans to travel elsewhere during the semester (I myself am going to Paris for our Día de Andalucia four-day weekend, and then Italy for 10 days during Semana Santa). But I think this sentiment resonated with people. After all, we’re only here for four months. The Louvre and Grand Canal will stay in place forever, but your time as a student abroad is fleeting. So while wanting to take advantage of your time in Europe and cross some landmarks off your bucket list is perfectly fine, don’t forget about the reason you’re here—catapulting yourself from your comfort zone by immersing yourself in a foreign culture.


However, IES has some plans to get you out of your neighborhood. There are several trips that you take during this program—cities and towns that wouldn’t make Conde Nast’s Top 20 European Hotspots, but are culturally rich and refreshingly secluded so as to provide you with an experience you wouldn’t get if you decided to trek Spain yourself. So far I’ve been to Ronda, Setenil, Seville, and Cordoba; Morocco and Cabo de Gata are right around the corner.


Ronda is unlike anything seen in the U.S. Situated atop an enormous cliff, this small town has a rich history dating back thousands of years, most notably as a refuge for Muslims after the Spanish Inquisition. That same day we drove another hour to Setenil de las Bodegas, a beautiful small pueblo of about 3,000 inhabitants. Many houses are carved into the sides of rock walls, everyone steps outside at night for drinks or dinner, consistent white stone structures emphasize the uniformity—the town’s antiquity is palpable. It is also very hilly and tight (there are people who do drive cars here, but I can’t imagine how), and the view atop an old bell tower is phenomenal.


Our next small trip was an overnight visit to Seville, a big city contrast to the small pueblos of Ronda and Setenil. Seville boasts the third largest cathedral in the world, one of the most awe-inspiring encounters of my time abroad so far. In the U.S. we may be used to tall buildings, but this was a BIG building. And not just an unnecessarily tall skyscraper hosting office buildings, the Seville Cathedral is a public structure of which every inch can be explored, colossal in scale and historical lavishness. Adorned throughout the cathedral are giant paintings, intricate architectural accents, and even the burial site of Christopher Columbus, which brings me to another point. Columbus is still a widely celebrated figure in Spain, and most people have no knowledge of the grisly aspects of that historical saga. At our orientation they even tell us that unless you are part of that academia, you will simply see him as the man who discovered the Americas. Memorials to him can be easily found throughout Spain, including a grand statue of him on my walk to class. It’s an interesting cultural difference between Spain and the U.S. to say the least.


One of the experiences I am most looking forward to on this program is our week-long visit to Morocco, where we will be staying with several host families on a farm and visiting tons of historical sites I’m sure. Cabo de Gata is a coastal town and since we visit there during our last week I think that might be a simple, relaxing farewell to Spain before we take our finals and head back home. I hope this has answered some questions about traveling abroad. IES makes sure that even if you don’t travel on your own, you will be traveling. Our instructors have been helming this program for years, finely tuning each visit so it runs like a well-oiled cultural machine. I will definitely be writing about Morocco (that will surely be the highlight of this blog, I will make it the internet event of the year). Next post I think I’ll talk more about Granada as a town. What it’s like living there, what people do, etc. It’s starting to get really nice outside so I want to take advantage of sunny weather as soon as possible. Until next time…

5 Mindblowing Facts About Studying Abroad in Granada That Will Make You Say, “Wow, Those Facts About Studying Abroad in Granada Blew My Mind”

You actually have class.

It didn’t really dawn on me until I woke up at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning that my adventure in Granada would actually consist of going to class and learning stuff. I think everyone at least somewhat imagines study abroad as a four month break from school in an exotic location of your choice–I certainly did. But don’t cancel your plans yet, it’s not that bad. My schedule consists of five classes, all taught in Spanish, at IES: Spanish, Islamic Civilization in Spain Since 1492, Islamic Art and Architecture, Cross-Cultural Psychology, and History of Spanish Cinema. The classes are all great so far but for me the most important aspect is just improving my Spanish, and having 5 hours of class in Spanish each day is certainly making me a better listener and speaker.


Dinner is always an adventure.

Granada is famous for its tapas, little appetizers you get for free when you order a drink. Going out for tapas is the most popular way of getting your late night meal here (usually around 9 p.m.), and if I have to see one more message in our 80-person IES group chat asking “Anyone wanna go out for tapas?” I swear I will make fun of them on my blog. But really, it’s great. I’m gonna get some as soon as I’m done writing this post. But the best food in Granada has got to be the Middle-Eastern food. Spain is separated from Morocco by 9 miles of ocean, so the Arab population in Granada is huge. And when the ham and bread don’t cut it, I’m always happy to spend three euros on any of the hundred shawarma places near me.  


Only two types of dogs exist in Spain.

In all my walking the past couple weeks I have kept a watchful eye out for the local dogs, and friends, let me tell you, there are only two. You will either encounter tiny dogs with sweaters, or big dogs with Gucci collars. 100% serious, no cap, honest to God these are the only dogs in this country and I challenge anyone reading this to prove me wrong.


Spanish college students have the endurance and energy of a Navy Seal.

I’ll just say it: two-and-a-half years at Whitman have killed my appetite for nightlife. I’ve gotten so used to the school shutting down at midnight that I just accepted an early bedtime on the weekends. But the Spanish youth are a different breed. From everyone at my residence I’ve talked to, it’s not uncommon to wait until 2 a.m. to start their evening and go until the sun comes out, after which they’ll either sleep during the day or go to class on no sleep. I understand now why all the interest house language assistants are dismayed by Whitman’s relative tranquility compared to the continent that never sleeps.


American culture is ever-present.

I read a travel blog post a few years ago that said if you travel to Europe you should avoid wearing white sneakers because no one in Europe wears those and that is a dead giveaway that you’re an American. Well, readers, imagine my surprise when I stepped off the bus in Granada and half the people I see are wearing white shoes. I don’t think the author of that blog was lying at the time, but since they wrote that fashion and cultural trends in America have undoubtedly further spread through Spain, blurring the line between the two cultures. Younger generations especially like to flaunt their American-ness with their Wu-Tang shirts, Air Force Ones, and Supreme hoodies. In trying to hide my American-ness, I might really be exposing it.