Even from a young age, I have always romanticized a life spent abroad. I spent hours mesmerized by the glossy pages of National Geographic, my walls were adorned with maps of other countries and I have at different times attempted to learn French, Spanish and Japanese (with little success). I would listen to my father’s stories of studying abroad or see my mom jet off to India with her boyfriend, and tell myself that my time would come; one day the collection of travel books sitting on my shelves would become useful. Finally, my time did come when I decided that the summer before my junior year of college was the perfect time to study abroad and that Morocco would be the perfect location, since I was studying Arabic.
I was not worried about the travel logistics. I was a frequent flyer since the age of 11 when I would lead my younger brother through airports all across the country to make our yearly trip to visit our father in Hawaii. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anyone else in the Morocco program; I had a taxi that was going to pick me up at the airport and I believed that everything else would fall into place after that. All of my life I was confident that I could make an easy transition into a life spent traipsing across the globe — which made the anxiety I felt boarding my flight to Morocco so surprising and foreign. For the first time in my life I felt homesick — even before I got onto my plane.
Upon arriving in Fes, I got into a taxi and promptly forgot how to speak any Arabic. The sights I saw out the window were nothing like the photos in my travel guides. I was introduced to my host father, who grabbed my hand and pulled me into ongoing traffic to bring me to my new home, where I realized I was unable to communicate with any of my new family. After a whirlwind day of traveling, I sat down on my bed and realized that maybe I had taken too large of a leap.
My first trip out alone the next day was met with lost turns, heat exhaustion and a permanent feeling of being drastically out of place and alone. The next day I Skyped my father to tell him that I wasn’t sure I could do seven more weeks. Through heaving sobs I felt like a failure — where had that independent 11-year-old gone?
Seven weeks later, after spending Ramadan with a Moroccan family, camping overnight in the Sahara desert, accidentally drinking tea with the cast of an Anthony Bourdain episode, and receiving help from an orange seller after having thrown up from dehydration, I realized I no longer wanted to leave the country that had become my new home. I could have chosen to study abroad in a country with my classmates or a country where I wouldn’t have felt so linguistically and culturally isolated, but Morocco taught me that I had a lot more courage than I ever knew, and perhaps my dreams were not as unachievable as I once believed.