In a few hours when my plane touches down in Morocco, I will be completely out of my comfort zone. I am actually pretty scared. Sitting here on the plane right now, I’m trying to think back to my first days in Turkey. How did I manage to communicate with people I had no language in common with? How did I sleep well at night knowing I was in a stranger’s house with everyone I loved across the world from me? All I know is that I did it and it turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my life thus far. It’s going to be hard, especially in the beginning. I will probably get a little food poisoning and I will probably get a little lost. Until my language skills develop, I will probably get some painful headaches from struggling to understand even the most basic of cues. Simply figuring out which public transportation to take will be exhausting. People will stare at my blonde, uncovered hair.
But each day will be an exciting adventure, filled with new foods and new friends and new words. Especially having already lived in Panama and Turkey, I know I am prepared to meet all of the new, unique challenges that will soon be presented to me in Fez. My drive to learn the language and understand the culture of Morocco will keep me focused and I won’t give up. The challenges I faced in Turkey and Panama were always worth it.
To explore anything requires risk; in fact, it demands it. Life is all about which types of risk we choose. I choose to expose myself to scary possibilities in very different parts of the world in order to experience more than mere superficiality. I know how important experiences like these are. They’re important not only for my growing up, but also for the world. International exchanges lead to friendships, and friendships foster acceptance, understanding, and solidarity. It seems to me the risks would have been far more perilous had I not chosen to travel to these places. World conflict too often evolves from ignorance and misunderstanding. Exchange programs that involve young people and put a name and a face on a culture are essential to turning that tide because they encourage dialogue and foster trust and mutual respect. Living abroad as a high school or college student is a very difficult experience but I think one of the most rewarding things you can do.
However, at this moment on the plane, I admit that I am just really worrying about how I will ever master the Arabic alphabet and about where my dog will sleep tonight without me.