At first, I thought of making two different blog posts about the topics in this post, but after reflecting for a minute on my trip to Morocco and the importance of international education, I decided that they were analogous in many ways. Perhaps explaining them together will make it the relationship between both clearer to you and clearer to me. (Every time I sit down to write something, the act of writing and continuously thinking about a subject makes me connect thoughts easier than merely reflecting upon the same subject.) (Maybe that’s why people say journaling is good. Hmmm, interesting.) 

CityLife group photo

Anyhow, this weekend I made a big trip, one that I had been looking forward to since before I left to Spain, and one that had been on my list of things to do for quite some time, and that was to begin my exploration of the continent of Africa! (Africa is wayyy too big to say that I have been to Northern Morocco and so, therefore, I have seen Africa. I am definitely going back to see some more.) On Wednesday night (October 31), we (the CityLife Madrid tour group) began our journey to the southernmost tip of Spain (the town of Tarifa). In Tarifa we got onto a ferry, and before the afternoon on Thursday, November 1st, we were in the Kingdom of Morocco! The passport control, lines, ferry, and customs were all very interesting as I had never crossed into another country on a boat before, but it was also very boring and time-consuming. (Also the ferry was fun, but that was because I wasn’t one of the many people that got very seasick in the crossing, which I found out later had made the ferry one of the least favorite experiences for some.) 

This tannery is in the middle of the Fez medina.

The trip that I signed up for was “6 days and 5 nights” which was 4 days and 3 nights in Morocco and 2 days/nights in Spain traveling there are back. Even though the length of the trips didn’t seem long, I chose the trip because of how much we would be able to squeeze into one long weekend (we had Thursday and Friday off) as well as how many different places we could see in Morocco in the relatively short amount of time that we had. And in that aspect I was not disappointed in the least. We cover a LOT

Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

of ground in those “6 days and 5 nights.” The round trip distance traveled (according to Google Maps and not counting moving around in each city) was 2221 kilometers or 1380 miles. That’s like driving from Albuquerque to Portland or Chicago or Atlanta. So like a lot, but we still didn’t get all the way across the USA (that’s how I measure distance in my head: where could you get in the USA). Overall, it did feel like a crap ton of traveling but that was part of the experience as we consequently got to see a lot of the Moroccan countryside (when we were actually awake). We traveled to 4 cities in the 4 days that we were in Morocco: Rabat, Fez, Chefchaouene, and Tangier. 

Hassan Tower, Rabat

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and the political center of the country if not necessarily the economic or cultural center. When we arrived on Thursday evening, we visited the medina, which is a word used for the “old town” or old Arab section of the city, which usually has a wall around it and is a very crowded place with narrow streets, market stalls everywhere, and a lot of people. After the medina, we visited a few other nice looking places, but everything we closed due to the late hour. In the morning, we took some pictures and saw a few other places, and then we left to Fez. 

Fez is the second largest city in Morocco behind the better known Casablanca. This city, while far from being the biggest I have ever seen was one of the most compact cities I have ever seen. It was in Fez that I felt as though I was in a completely new and different place. We spent most of the tour walking through the medina in Fez, and let me tell you, it was huge. We didn’t walk through all of it, but that only made it more impressive to me.

Mohammed V mausoleum, Rabat

Our local guide in Fez told warned us right off the bat that of all the places to separate yourself from the group or try to do your own thing, this was possibly the worst place to do it. The medina in Fez has over 9500 streets… Let me say that again. 9500 streets. I honestly can’t say that I’ve been on 9500 streets in my entire life, much less in one place. She told us that last time a guy stopped to go to the bathroom a moment and got separated, the local people and guides didn’t find him for 3 hours. Some of you may be thinking that they told me wrong on the number of streets (look here), but the place is a

Overlook on the medina in Fez… it is bigger that what you can fit in the picture.

literal labyrinth, with more dead ends than streets and as soon as you’ve walked in you are lost, you can’t even see the sky anymore in lots of places. Though it was a Friday, and thus the medina was not as busy as it would normally be, there was a lot to see it was just a crazy experience. Different from anything I have ever experienced in many ways. We spent the night in New Fez, which was nothing like the medina of older Fez (founded in the year 789), but interesting none the less, and in the morning we headed off to Chefchaouene. 

Very picturesque indeed

Chefchaouene, also called the Blue Pearl, is a very small city in the mountains (2000 feet elevation) of Northern Morocco, and as its nickname may hint, it greatly painted in shades of blue. (Not all of it, but a lot of it.) No one really knows why it is painted blue, but there are stories if you look up the city on the internet. They told us that not long ago the city was more or less a secret, or overlooked place, but in our age of social media and our quest for the most picturesque photos, the blue city has become a less well guarded secret. (Don’t get me wrong the Instagram pictures do come out nice. @miguel_sabol if you want to see some.) A lot of people spoke Spanish in Chefchaouene in comparison to the French spoken in Rabat and Fez (due to their different colonial histories), which was nice because I only speak English and Spanish, and really not that much of French at all. Here we were encouraged to buy souvenirs as Chefchaouene has a very nice market with some very unique items that you can’t find in the same quantity or quality anywhere else. We were allowed a lot of free time on Saturday in this city as it was much smaller and not somewhere to easy to get lost. When we woke up in the morning, we set off for Tangier and our ferry back to the Iberian Peninsula.

Overlooking Chefchaouene after sunset

Caves of Hercules

Tangier was explained to me as “one of the most Europeanized cities in Morocco,” and to tell you the truth I could tell just by what I heard and saw in the streets. Tangier is the third largest city in Morocco and a very large port city that sits in a very good position at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar on the Atlantic side. When walking through the medina all I could hear was Spanish from the people there. Near Tangier, we stopped to see the Caves of Hercules and then went down to the beach for a highlight of the trip, which was getting to ride camels! It was pretty cool, and a neat experience, although the inside of my thighs tell me that I am not very meant for that form of travel. After the camel ride, we visited the medina of Tangier where we visited a local pharmacy that sold all those products that people associate with Morocco like argon oil and amber perfume and stuff like that, I did not pay attention as much as the girls in the group…my hair is already arranged beautifully and I never have to smell myself so I don’t think I need much perfume, but hey, that’s just me. I ended up buying a very very very soft and smooth scarf for myself after that though, so you can see where my priorities lie. 

Camels & I

After looking around Tangier for a few hours we headed to the port and stood in a ridiculously long line for the ferry and customs and all that nonsense then got on the ferry and headed back to Spain in the dark. I don’t know how the others felt about the second ferry ride, but soon enough we were back in Spain (where we had to stand in line again). We rode through the night on a bus and at 8:40 in the morning on Monday we stopped in a very rainy and wet Madrid, and we all set off in different directions. I had a quiz at 10:45 that same morning so I took off for home, took a [much] needed shower and then went to class for a few hours. 

My experience in Morocco was a great one, one that I would most definitely repeat in the future if I have the chance. I for sure wish to see even more places all around Africa after this. I recognize that I saw very little in comparison with the continent itself, but the amount of new, different, puzzling, and even surprising things that I saw has made me eager to see other new things and made me curious for the other things that I could learn from more experiences like this in the future. Morocco was like no place I had ever seen before, and that is part of the beauty of having these new experiences, that it expands the realm of what one has seen and makes for easier understandings and comparisons. 

Camel riding next to the Atlantic Ocean

This is where I link my Morocco trip to international education, and in the end, it is a very simple analogy. While you were reading about a simple trip that I took to a new place and you were hearing some of my thoughts and the things that I learned, you probably weren’t surprised because we have all been to new places and seen new things and probably told stories similar to the one I have just told you. Studying abroad is essentially the same thing… it is a trip that you go on, and while you’re there you see new things, learn new words (maybe a new language), visit cool places, take a lot of pictures, and have a good time. The biggest difference that it has from a complete vacation is that you continue to study while doing all of this (and maybe that you stay for a lot longer). 

Picture seems fake, but yeah, I took that

We as individuals are constantly learning new things: we take trips to new places, meet new people, learn new jobs and tasks for work, or go to school to learn something that interests up. We are constantly striving to understand more about the world that surrounds us, and each of us is on a different path. In going to different countries, studying abroad, or learning about new cultures, we have the opportunity to find out about how humans around the world live their lives, what they think, and where they wish to go. We learn about what makes each of us different, but in doing so we also begin to see all these commonalities between us. In the globalized world that we live in today, it is increasingly important that we, the citizens of various countries, make an effort to see new peoples, cultures, and places. It is not only important, but it something that I believe is necessary because in having new experiences, seeing new places, and meeting new people we open up own personal worlds to the great playground that is our Earth. 

Mirror selfie

Though it seems like a difficult mandate to learn about other cultures, meet other peoples, and go new places, it not really that bad, and usually, the hardest part is just getting there. As I like to say, as long as you can talk just a little bit, you can always make friends/meet new people, and from there, everything else comes on its own. I think everyone will agree that no one can learn all they need to know from a seat in a lecture hall or a desk, at least half the time is just about getting out there and doing it, trying it. I signed up for this trip to Morocco by myself, and I left my flat on Wednesday night without knowing a single person of the 68 people on the trip, but by the time I made it back on Monday morning, I had made more friends than I could give names to (in situations like that I am more likely to remember your story and where you are from than your name, sorry). I’m sure anyone that has ever studied abroad or gone on a trip by themselves that the best part of the experience was meeting new people and making friends that could last a lifetime. It isn’t that hard to learn, you just need to start with your name and where you’re from and hope the other person remembers one of them.

Don’t forget to eat some good food too. (FYI that little tiny pepper was one of the hottest things I have ever eaten, I couldn’t feel my tongue for 20 minutes.)

Get out there and see a bit of the world. 

Un saludo, 

Miguel Sabol

As always, feel from to email me for recommendations (msabol@unm.edu) or follow me on Instagram to see more pictures (@miguel_sabol)