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Life Changing Experiences

27 Mar


I have been home from Jordan and Morocco for a few months now, and was asked to write a short piece on my post-study abroad experiences. It has been great to occasionally reflect back on the events that have taken place over the past year, including everything that led up to studying overseas.  One decision influenced the next, ex. having made the decision to change majors (originally ECET, now Political Science) led to the decision to learn Arabic for future career purposes, which then led to an adventure in the Middle East and North Africa. More big things are coming, but before we go into that I want to share some important lessons that I learned. Some might be obvious already, but studying abroad was the best time to really practice these:

Take your language experience seriously – If you are enrolled in intensive language and culture courses while overseas, treat them intensely! Even if you are a beginner, you can really learn a language if you put all effort, time and resource into it. I made a consistent effort to go beyond textbook Arabic by really working to improve my speaking ability (which in turn helped my reading and writing abilities). My host family in Morocco spoke only Arabic and French, so being reduced to Arabic helped me to determine what that I didn’t know…but really wanted to say. The language course required the students to prepare short weekly presentations on any subject. I choose topics such as the history of April fools day, Curiosity Rover, The Red Bull Stratos skydiving project, how to play Uno etc. and really forced myself to learn new vocabulary. I also attempted to know the subjects well enough in Arabic, as to be able to get up and freely talk about them outside of a rote presentation. Talk to Cab drivers and store owners, just go for it!

Leave bad habits at home – Come to the host country…and leave bad college habits behind! While in Jordan I studied with a great group of Americans. However, Jordan is a fairly conservative country in regards to religion and the “sober” lifestyle associated with Islam. Many of the students I studied with would go out at night and act like they were at an American college town. Some of them had a close call one night when they went to a drinking/loud music party. They were attacked by stone-throwing locals and had to be escorted back to the city in police vehicles (true story). What a scary memory to have for your time overseas! A study abroad program will really change you for the better if you let it, so give up your old life temporarily and give a new one a chance. Take the cultural element seriously, or you are just wasting your money.

Dealing with Panic-mode – Panic-mode can lead to logic-lock, where you start to make irrational decisions. The solution: train your brain so that when you face a difficult situation, the overriding thought in your head is “Ok well there is a solution to this, lets get busy and find it!” In Morocco, a fellow American and I attempted an independent excursion to the coastal town of Mirleft, in Southern Morocco (1 day journey). At the first stop on the way, we discovered that the destination was not where we originally thought, and would require a new plan of travel to get there. The situation was further complicated, as there was a major Islamic holiday occurring and all buses for travel beyond that were full. After price haggling and 3 taxi rides across the Moroccan countryside, we finally made it to the beautiful town of Mirleft. It was difficult, as we had to negotiate a new taxi at every stop, and at one point almost lost a bag. But you have to go through hard experiences to have the best experiences, and I consider the Mirleft trip to be one of the best excursions during the 6 month trip.

As cliche as these sound, they are absolutely true! My time overseas was incredibly satisfying. I am motivated to finish strong at Purdue and prepare well for a good future, one that will involve moving my future family (wife, 3-4 kids) around the world.  In the meantime, the experience in Jordan has made it possible to return this summer for an internship with a major security studies institute. College life is great, and studying abroad has made it even better. Anyway, hope you have enjoyed all of the entries. As a study abroad ambassador here at Purdue, my job is to promote and encourage others to take up traveling while in university. Questions? contact me at Take care!


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain



Journey’s End

2 Jan

My family is full of travelers. We have had immediate and extended family members travel and sometimes live in some extra-ordinary places over the years. It was really cool to extend that legacy, especially in Africa. It was even cooler to have my dad come at the end to see where I have been for the past few months. I finished strong in the Arabic class and other projects and then went touring around the old city of Fes one last time. We had a rare opportunity to take a walk through a medieval tannery. In one of the previous entries I mentioned that the Medina was full of Tanneries (leather producers). A typical visit of one includes a tour through the shop and then onto the roof to look down into the production area. However, this time as we were walking around the city at night, a tannery worker invited us into the production area where the dye pools are located. This was a rather neat experience, as this is usually an off-limit area. We were taken around the big maze of 2m deep dye pools and piles of fresh hides. It was very smelly, but awesome experience nonetheless.

The last night with the host family was fun, as we had a big “Dad, meet Dad” experience. My real father would talk to my host-dad, who would smile, nod and say “ah, uh-huh” and then turn to me with that “what did he say?” look, then I would translate. My dad and I gave Adil (host dad) and his mother some small gifts from the US. I had brought a variety of small gifts, some suitable for young children (I was under the impression that it would be a family of 4-5), but my host-dad still got a kick out of the Indiana photo book, as well as the slinky toy and glow sticks haha. The last day was spent in Rabat and then in Casablanca, where we had dinner with some Americans in Rick’s Café.  Based on the movie “Casablanca”, the restaurant was built by a foreign-service officer only about 10 years ago and is very faithful to the fictional setting of the classic film. Afterwards we took a drive around the Casablancan neighborhoods containing WWII -era houses used by American and British leaders to negotiate strategies for “Operation Torch” (the Allied invasion of French North Africa). In a previous entry I wrote about a major highlight of Casablanca, The King Hassan II Mosque, and was able to get a better look at it this time. Situated along the Atlantic ocean and with the world’s tallest minaret, this Mosque is a powerful symbol of Islamic tradition in Morocco. What a beautiful structure!

Upon landing in Indianapolis I had been awake for over 30 hours haha. My Mom and brother came home from church and found me sitting in the kitchen eating, wearing the Djellaba and listening to Koranic recitations (re-acclimation is harder than it looks haha). Good to be home though finally, and still lots to do, like get ready for school in the spring,  Wow, this trip was 6 months, but upon returning felt like two weeks, what a weird feeling!

This is the last entry though, but thanks for reading! Hope you have enjoyed this blog.  Jordan, Israel and Morocco are fantastic countries with mind-blowing histories and cultures. Purdue Study Abroad programs can definitely provide some incredible destinations, and opportunities for students to gain incredible new perspectives. For questions about anything related, email me at   Before I close, here is footage of Oud playing and a Gnawa concert I mentioned in the last entry. Gnawa concert & Oud playing  Enjoy!

Final days in Morocco

17 Dec

As the weather got colder here, the heat was really turned up, especially on school work!  This trip is coming to an end, for real this time.  Still a lot to do though, final exams and projects, and last rounds of exploring. I have been taking lessons on the Oud for a little while. It has been one of the best elements of the program. In one of the first entries, I indicated that at Petra in Jordan there was an opportunity to sit and listen to some bedouin musicians. Upon hearing the Oud and being allowed to try it, I made a vow to learn how to play this magnificent instrument. And it came to pass! I have learned to play various songs from across the Arab world, including some from the Late Um Khaltoum of Egypt. I’ll include video next time to show what it sounds like, but for now I would like to draw your attention to another important element of Moroccan culture: Gnawa music.

Gnawa is a style of music originating in Saharan africa. It combines lyric and poetry of Islam and African slave trade with very rough, repetitive and entrancing musicianship. A well-preserved style, I was able to sit in on several Gnawa performances during the time here in Fez, and it is really cool to see the instruments that are incorporated. There is Oud, Banjo, Violin, Kara-kebs (big metal castanets), african hand drums, and a Gimbri (looks like a 3 stringed bass made of a cardboard box and a broom handle). Here is a video of one of the performances.

goat hill Oud 2 Oud store view 2Most of the major cities throughout Morocco have an “Old Medina”, and an abundance of textile makers/distributors. My host dad makes clothing in one of these shops, but not just any clothing, he makes Djellabas. While the DishDash is the common apparel throughout the Levantine, The Djellaba has come to be an important piece of attire in the Magreb. They are made in an assortment of colors, are thicker than dishdashes, and very nice for the cold weather. So my host dad makes these for a living, check it out!

Anyway, my Dmealad is coming to visit this week and we will start making our way back to the US.  Stay tuned for one last entry, along with Oud video’s,  final farewells, and a final adventure in Fez and Rabat.

More of Morocco

19 Nov

The weather in Morocco has gotten fairly cold since the end of October, something I did not quite expect to happen in Africa. Even more mindblowing is that the town of Ifrane (not far from here) actually receives snow and operates a ski resort. Are we not at the doorstep of the Sahara?! There have been several major holidays in Morocco, Religious and non-Religious. I mentioned in the last entry that I was going to attempt a trip to the Western Sahara(the disputed southern claim of Morocco). My friend Ben and I were unable to make it that far, however, we stumbled upon another great Moroccan secret, which turned into one of the best excursions so far.

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Eid Al-Adha is a significant holiday in the Islamic world. Held towards the end of October, it is to remember the Prophet Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, based on a commandment from God. Across the Islamic world sheep are bought, slaughtered and eaten during a special feast on the day of the Eid. The language program was closed for a week due to observance of this holiday, and to give students a break between terms(there are 6 week study periods here). Most students arranged to travel during that time, some to Europe(Spain is a 5 hour trip from here) or to other nearby cities. My friend Ben and I wanted to explore Southern Morocco. I went to Casablanca for a day and saw the King Hassan II mosque, the 7th largest mosque in the world! Ben and I met up later and then hit the road for the South.

As we planned our trip, it became less feasible to go down into Western Sahara due to time constraints, so we planned on the coastal town of Agadir, a few hours south of Rabat. We made a hostel reservation in what we thought was Agadir. However, upon arriving in Marrakesh on our way there, we discovered that the hostel was actually in another town several hours from there, and buses were booked solid due to mass holiday traveling, whoops! No problem though! After successful price haggling and 3 taxi’s(Imagine a 2-3 hour trip in a beat-up Mercedes 190E, 4 people in the back, no air conditioning…and three of those trips in one day. It was awesome.  We made it to the hostel in the little town of Mirleft.

Mirleft is a coastal village deep in Southern Morocco. On the day of the festival most shops were closed, so this was a ghost town for a little while, with some individuals out “preparing” sheep for the holiday dinner. The hostel was situated along the beach front, it was cool to watch the sunset over the Atlantic and occasional storm off the coast. Over a 4 day period we had a blast with hiking, cave exploring and surfing. This area also had much to offer in regards to rural Berber culture. Berber is the collective name for the various groups of the original inhabitants of Morocco. They are a well intregrated part of the Moroccan community, while still maintaining their own written and spoken language, in addition to the mainstream languages of Arabic and French. On the way home we spent a night in Marrakesh, known for its beautiful structures of red clay, and for its massive antique market in the town center. Fantastic trip! Alot of road time, but it was worth it!

After the break a new 6 week study period began, and the homework load went way up! But I have seen a significant increase in my Arabic abilities since Jordan. The classes here are fantastic! I have been going to Rabat on the weekends for church, it’s a great uplifting experience plus an awesome trainride across the country! I am also learning to play a musical instrument called an “Oud”, very similar to a lute. I am also working on an interesting media research project for another class (In addition to Arabic, we are also taking courses on Moroccan culture and Islamic influence in Morocco). Stay tuned for more on these experiences, as well as background info on other recent holidays. Also coming up: What my host dad does for a living in the Old Medina, pretty cool!

Welcome to Morocco!!!

22 Oct

My name is Will, for those of you are just coming on board. I spent the past three months in an Arabic language program in Amman, Jordan. I am now in Fez, Morocco and will continue to study the Arabic language as well as the culture, history and political background of this region.

I had an interesting experience when touching down in Casablanca, where one of my suitcases was missing and I was not able to pull money out of the ATM. I was also not able to exhange Jordanian currency for Moroccan currency(Travel Tip: If you travel to Morocco and stop in Europe along the way, be sure to exchange the previous currency for Euros or Dollars before departing ). I eventually found a way to withdraw money, and have obtained the bag since then, but due to this little dilemma I did not get on a train until 10pm. I did eventually arrive in Fez at 3am after a long blurry trip. I was so out of it, and vaguely remember switching trains at 12:30am somewhere in the Atlas mountains with the help of some Libyan men. Welcome to Morocco!

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There is so much to experience here! Even in Fez(Where I am living), there are always adventures. Fez consists of two major sections, an Old City and L’Ville Nouvelle (a modern section built by the French during the colonial period). I am living with a host family in the Old City, locally referred to as the Medina. In this section, you can find long winding cobblestone streets full of food vendors,cafes,and shops selling things like traditional clothing and musical instruments. People of many different origins (Moroccan Arabs, French, Berber) move to and fro in a hurry, an occasional donkey is led through the streets carrying cartons of Coca-Cola bottles, traditional Moroccan and Gnawa music can be heard wherever you go, and the Islamic call to prayer rings aloud at various times of the day. I absolutely love waking up every morning in this city

Fez isnt the only place with adventures! We have had some incredible excursions over this past month. In the middle of September we took a fantastic trip to the Meknes area and saw the ancient site of Volubilis. The town was built by the Romans as an administrative center for their African Territories (Similar the Carthage in Tunisia). It was damaged in 1755 by a major earthquake, but many features still stand today, such as the Triumphal Arch, part of the Basilica and Mosiacs that reflect the ancient time period. The Town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoud is important to Morocco as being the site where Moulay Idriss I (great-grandson of the Prophet Mohammed) first established Islam in Morocco. The town (featured in one of the photos) is built over a set of hills. The Mosque of Moulay Idriss can be seen in the picture of the round, green minaret. The City of Meknes itself is spectacular, as we were able to visit it mausoleum of Mouley Ismail (A later ruler who founded Meknes), and the adjacent mosque. It was a wild day, with lots to see and great photo-ops.

Another recent excursion involved an overnight trip at a Berber camp in the Sahara. Erfoud is a town in eastern Morocco, known for being the filming site of The Mummy (1999). From there, we were taken on a camel trek into a remote part of the Sahara and spent the night at the camp of a local Amazeeck Tribe, about 30 miles from the Algerian border. The camp was situated at the edge of a series of Ergs (large sand dunes formed by fast winds), which we climbed that night. The climb wasnt easy, and the sand was cold by midnight. But the result of our efforts; sitting on a 500 foot high sand pile, getting an incredible view of the vast Sahara illuminated by a full moon; being educated in the culture and language of the Amazeeck, and experiencing the sought-after spectacle of a sunrise against a desert horizon. Heck of a weekend.

Gosh so many great things about this place. The language program is challenging but fantastic, and I have hit the ground running in that endeavor. I have 4 hours/day of some of the best MSA classes I have ever taken, seriously. The host family situation is also a great experience. The host dad only speaks Arabic and French, and the host mother only speaks rough colloquial Moroccan Arabic, so with her there are alot of hand signals, smiles and headnods, haha but she is really sweet. The dad and I occasionally watch American movies with Arabic subtitles. He really got into the Matrix, especially with the opening scenes of Trinity fighting the agents, “Ooh ooh ooh…Taekwandoo!!!” haha. They are awesome and it has been a great language experience as well. I come home at night and try to initiate conversations using new vocabulary from the day.

So that’s what’s up! I recently obtained an Oud (an instrument similar to a lute, traditionally used in Middle Eastern/ North African music) and am attempting to learn how to play; beautiful sound! Fall break is coming up and people are going different directions for 6-7 days. Another participant and I will be attempting a trip into Western Sahara, the disputed southern claim of Morocco that is pushing for autonomy. I will write again soon! Hope that you will enjoy this series of entries as it marks the beginning of the second part of Middle Eastern/ North African adventure. Take care!

Leaving Jordan (Arabic Adventure)

6 Sep

The past month has allowed for plenty of time to study and prepare for Morocco, but there were still a lot of fun things to do around Amman. I found some of the other Americans from the language program who stayed after as well, and we went on some adventures. I really enjoyed the “Citadel Nights” Festival that we attended towards the end of Ramadan. Jabal al-Qal’a (The hill on which the ancient Citadel is situated) provides an amazing view of the Amman during the day, but even more spectacular is the night view of the ocean of lights, spread out across the hills on which the city is built. During the festival we were able to watch performances for popular Jordanian musicians, such as Omar Al-Abdallat. My friends and I were watching this concert unfold with some small opening acts, when all of a sudden a band came on stage and started playing and the surrounding audience exploded with energy. We had no idea who they were, but they seemed to be popular. I later told my homestay father about the concert and the band and he said “Ah yes, Omar Al-Abdallat! The #1 Musician in Jordan!” Ah, it all makes sense now.

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We also saw the vast automobile collection of the Late King Hussein. With lavishing Motorcades, top-notch sports cars and an impressive collection of motorcycles, the man went all out.  But while the cars and bikes themselves are neat to see, their significance lies with the events that each one witnessed and the places they were steered. For example, the Harley-Davidson Bikes in the collection were custom made for the King, who liked to take long trips with Queen Noor through the Jordanian desert. The King was known to be huge racing fanatic. Included in his collection are a Lotus Esprit Turbo and a Mercedes-Benz 190 E, which he used to compete in hill climb competitions. You can also find Aston Martin, BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari in the set. The motorcades were used for royal processions during special events, holidays and visits from foreign dignitaries. The King enjoyed rides on the roof of his motorcades during royal processions in order to be closer to the people, as captured in famous footage upon return from the U.S. health clinic shortly before his death in 1999.

The people of the Levant are incredibly genuine and hospitable. I really enjoy daily encounters with people like taxi drivers, store owners, and students at the university, who generally take great interest in the welfare of their foreign visitors. My peer tutor from the University, Ahmed, is a bro and I really appreciated his help with the language and getting to know this country. I wish him best of luck with his pursuit of working for Google. I was also recently invited to dinner at the house of the Palestinian man, Al-Bara, whom I sat next on the plane coming to Jordan and received assistance from him in getting through the airport. It was great to see him again and to learn more about the culturally conservative element of this region. Finally, I have also been blessed with the hospitality of the Syrian family, whom I have been living with for the past month. Wonderful family! Home-stay is the best deal ever and I am excited for that same opportunity in Morocco. Goodness, there are just so many great people here!

Alright I need to wrap this up now, and not much more needs to be said about what is happening next. Here is a link to one of Omar Al-Abdallat’s hits “Hashmi Hashmi” a tribute to HM Abdullah II and the Hashemites (the video is a collection of footage from daily life of the King). Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed these last 3 entries. I will continue to post in Morocco, expect a post very soon. Enjoy!

Incredible Opportunities (Arabic Adventure)

27 Aug

My program in Jordan has been over for a little while, so I will cover things that have happened since then. After it ended I moved in with a native family in Amman. Homestays are great opportunities, and I am very excited to do this again in Morocco. There was another participant, Chris, who remained after the program ended, so we decided to take a trip to Jerusalem. The result: one of the best weeklong experiences ever. There is no doubt that the city of Jerusalem is important to the three major religions of the world, I think that is already stated enough. But when you actually come to this city, 20+ years of continual reference and emphasis on its significance (especially if you are religious) all of a sudden hits you in the face and leaves you with that “I am here right now, this is incredible” feeling.

We stayed in a hostel near one of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, which gave us access to both worlds. By worlds, I mean the Palestinian inhabited East Jerusalem and Old City, and the Israeli inhabited West Jerusalem. Throughout our week in Israel we were able to explore the major sites in and out of the Old City. The Old City itself is already a major attraction. As soon as you step out of the hostel in the morning, you are immediately thrown into a world of winding cobblestone streets and corridors, jam-packed with Jewish and Palestinian vendors and shops, and the thousands of people who make their way through the city every day. The Old City is full of energy, and can definitely leave you drained after a full day of exploring.  The City is divided into 4 quarters, Christian, Armenian, Muslim and Jewish. The Jewish quarter houses the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall of the Temple Mount). Hundreds of Ultra- Orthodox Jews conducting prayers and religious rites at the edge of the wall was quite an impressive sight indeed.

Throughout the week we explored the major religious sites in and out of the Old City, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (The Disputed location of the Crucifixion of the Savior), The Via Dolorosa (the road that Christ walked on the way to His crucifixion). We also explored the sites around the Mount of Olives, such as the Basilica of the Agony (Enshrining a section of rock where Christ prayed before being arrested) with the Garden of Gethsemane next to it (Where Christ was betrayed by Judas). The Tomb of the Virgin Mary and the Church of Mary Magdalene are next door and up the hill are many more important sites, such as the Church of the Ascension (believed to be the spot where The Savior ascended into Heaven after his resurrection), the tombs of Old Testament prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and many beautiful chapels under the religious authorities of the Catholic, Greek, Russian and Armenian churches. The Top of the Mount of Olives hosts the famous and most gorgeous panoramic view of the Old City and West Jerusalem. It was an incredible opportunity to see the ancient city from the mount on which the Savior taught and prophesied.

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Chris and I got on a bus one day and went down to the Dead Sea, one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, and the lowest elevation on earth. We swam around for a while, or tried to at least as it was fairly difficult, and as hard as you try, you will not sink, but don’t try too hard because you will get salt in your eye, rather painful. The water was also very hot and will leave you feeling dehydrated, but you also get to experience the therapeutic qualities of the world-famous Dead Sea mud, and maybe see a tourist float by in the water while reading a newspaper or book haha. On another day we went in to Bethlehem inside the West Bank. We managed to see the Birthplace of the Savior, preserved in the Church of the Nativity and the Shepard’s field. Getting in and out Bethlehem was an interesting ordeal. If you decide to visit the West Bank, be prepared to pass through a high security checkpoint at the West Bank wall. Expect a decent amount of chaos, especially on the Islamic Sabbath day when thousands of Palestinians are trying to get into Jerusalem to worship at the Temple Mount, with many being turned away because of the rejection of paperwork by the Israeli security force. Oh and do NOT forget to bring your passport.

Israel was a great experience, and there is too much here to see in one week. I feel like I had a decent background and understanding of religious history pertaining to city prior to coming here, but definitely now know what I need to brush up on for the next time, hopefully if there is a next time. Anyway, I am back in Amman, Jordan and am preparing for the next leg of the tour, Morocco! I will write one more entry prior to leaving. Thanks for reading!