Words Aren’t Easy

Some feelings that I can’t put into words, despite the fact that I’m living in Morocco, studying words. Here’s my attempt.

A new message from Brian pops up on my home screen. In the NSLI-Y group chat, he sent a research article about Arabic language processing in the brain. The title? “Reading Arabic isn’t Easy.” Before reading the findings of the study, I think to myself: I don’t need any science to tell me this. I semi-knew what I was getting myself into when I put down Arabic as my “First Choice Language” on my NSLI-Y application two years ago. I didn’t know the language required completely different parts of my brain, according to the University of Haifa study. I knew it all looked like art, and beauty, and love, to me. I didn’t know the feelings I could get from this language could be so indescribably strong.

This past week marked one month in Morocco, but our time in formal language classes here has only been three weeks. Throughout this time, I’ve of course questioned where I stand with Arabic.

Sometimes Arabic feels like an enemy. I’m corrected on a sound I swore I could pronounce perfectly. A simple word slips my mind. I go to the front of the class to give my weekly presentation, and every word I studied escapes me. Sometimes, I have to ask someone to repeat the same sentence four times, and then reply with a diplomatic “Mzyan,” or “Hamdoullah,” and pray it wasn’t a question or a joke. It can feel like the complex grammar doesn’t love me back. Sometimes I look at my homework, or the white board my teacher has completely covered with new vocabulary words, and I feel like I’m being betrayed. Sometimes, I hate the language. The feeling of inadequacy when I can’t communicate perfectly. When I’m tongue tied, and I slip into English. When the complexities and challenges nearly bring me to tears in class. Arabic, I’m enamored with you, and you reply to my love letters with verbal patterns and broken plurals and an array of synonyms I can’t memorize.

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But even between the bad times, this language has filled my life with warmth and happiness. I’m sitting on the balcony of my host family’s apartment as I write this. And why am I here? I’m not smarter than anyone else, or a talented athlete or good at math. Simply put, I’m in Morocco for you and because of you. Arabic has taken me everywhere. It’s given me something of my own, intangible but mine. A pursuit, a reason, a goal. I can’t hold it or hug it, but I can feel this language in my bones.

There’s a constant reinforcement here. I have a nagging fear that I’ll lose all of my progress when I leave, and then I remember I’m not leaving tomorrow. I can’t go anywhere, it seems, without hearing, seeing, or reading a word I just learned. Today at breakfast, the word “majority”. At a café study session with a friend, “quality”. Yesterday, “winner”. It’d be hard to escape this if I tried. My lessons follow me into the street, the gym, every restaurant, concert venue, news article, café. It doesn’t feel like I’m drowning, but like I’m swimming without the need for air. This feeling that every time I learn something new, the universe places an example of it in my life. A reminder: “It matters, it’s real”.

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So many words feel important. When does this stop? When will my vocabulary feel full enough? I learn the word for system. Yes, thank you, I needed that. And now process, and capitalism and television series, and liquid, and the verb for to believe in something. The distinction between that, and to simply believe a fact. The plural of cup, and bed, and most of the spices. To sit, to run, to have sore muscles. Poverty, hunger, the plural of solution. When I think, Yes, I’m finished, this is the most important word I needed. I can guarantee you there’s five more words that day just as important. Like whack-a-mole or sweeping a room and finding you missed a spot. But the spots just keep coming. It feels like I’m racing to acquire all this knowledge, and there’s no formal end. Step by step, I’m reminded, but I feel like I need to sprint.

But this isn’t a sprint. This is a marathon. We’re reminded that frequently, when it’s all overwhelming. And I don’t want to resent this language that I am so enamored with. Yes, sometimes it feels like I’m confessing my love to a brick wall, but it’s there. My love for this language has brought me here, and it’s the one thing holding everything together.

 

Findings

Your gap year is supposed to be the year you find yourself. Out of school, maybe backpacking through jungles, concrete or natural, and eating way too much. Or working, volunteering, whatever hobbies you pushed aside for the past years of school and are allowing yourself to cultivate now. A little spark of light between more years of required courses and cramming for upcoming exams. But what if you don’t know if you’re finding yourself? What if you arrive in Morocco, and all you have are little bits and pieces and pictures and some vague hope that you can piece it all together. Bits of yourself pasted together with the Arabic language. So how am I finding Morocco, in between moments of finding myself?

First of all, I’ve found my English doesn’t form the way it used to. Blocks of information following each other like cookie cutter houses in the suburbs. Or swirling together, sentences blending into each other like the pebbles that gradually blur the sidewalk into the road. The past few weeks, I’ve found places, and bits of information I hold dear to my heart. Vocabulary words reinforced with shop keepers. I’ve found the best way to learn a language isn’t just to use it. Maybe, it’s to spend hours in the same café, until the waiters ask to see which vocabulary words you’re scribbling down in rainbow flair pens, today. I’ve found that it’s impossible to remember every server’s name, but they’ll smile (almost as big as when you reply to their French with Darija) if you can. The response is the same from shop keepers, people at the souq, and anyone else who expects you to be a French tourist.

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I won’t try to make this organized.

I’ve found that the men at the gym might look like the scariest men you’ll ever meet, but they’re some of the nicest ones I’ve ever encountered. I’ve found the middle elliptical over estimates your pace, the majority of machines have German instructions, the shower in the locker room doesn’t get cold quick. I’ve found it does get cold at night, when the wind and midnight air blows into our room from the balcony. I’ve found my snack drawer fills up quickly. Iraqi dates are the cheapest ones. Peanuts are also the cheapest, and the word “roasted” quickly emerged in my vocabulary after a few raw-peanut-purchases. The word for “no sugar” isn’t the same, or even close to, the expression “without sugar”. I don’t know why it exists, the tea here is always served sweet and hot.

I’ve found it doesn’t really matter what I’m wearing: I will look foreign. I’ve found the amount of French I know enables me to reply, in Darija, to shop keepers’ questions.

I’ve found two produce market’s within walking distance of my house. Most of the vegetables are weighed and priced together, regardless of type. I’ve found grapes here have bigger seeds than in the US. Pomegranates aren’t as expensive. Orange juice isn’t sour, it tastes like oranges. I’ve found the lentils my roommate and I cook haven’t tasted nearly as good as the ones our host mother makes. I’ve found the word for whole grain bread uses the same root as the word for agriculture, and farming.

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I’ve found the root system just as beautiful as I found it last summer. I’ve found myself missing class on weekends, my teacher especially. “Just try,” rings through my ears, while I find myself organizing every new word from class into a study set. Words from context, 9/25, 9/26, 9/27. I’ve found new study tools. Memorization tools. The word for “to yell” sounds slightly like “Sir, akh!”. That’s a stretch.

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I’ve found the contemporary art museum has free admission on Fridays. Reading every art description in Arabic first is hard. I’ve found it is more helpful then I could have imagined.

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I’ve found moving to Morocco isn’t all mint tea and fresh squeezed juice. It’s Arabic homework. It’s forgetting the one word you need in a sentence. It’s tears, and questioning yourself constantly, and nightmares. The familiar blood rush to your face during a presentation you didn’t prepare enough for. Stress, loneliness, pressure and confusion. But I’ve also found, or I’m finding, the beauty in the tough things here. Hearing a new word that you learned in class in an outside context. Cafes with friends to finish homework. The produce markets and the cheap prices. And of course, the rush and exhilaration that comes from finding your identity, in a completely new context.

First Impressions of Rabat

(If you want to see more frequent updates on my daily life, check out my Instagram accounts. I update @MaderinMorocco almost daily with new words and experiences. My personal Instagram is @colleenvdm, with less details but more selfies. Enjoy!)

I’ve spent the last year waiting for the Arabic Academic Year. Applications, essays, interviews: the entire process led me to wait for the fall of 2019. And here I am, two weeks into my new home in the capital of Morocco. In all honesty, I’m drained from the week of orientation, constant activity, and beginning my formal Arabic classes, so my creative capacity in English isn’t performing at its best. However, I can share a bit about my first impressions of the city that will be my home until May.

People

So far, the Moroccan people I’ve met have been the group of language partners, our teachers, and our host family. Everyone has embraced us with kindness and warmth, especially with our language acquisition. Our Darija teacher, Adnan, always pays attention to what we understand and guides the conversation to our language level so that we can learn the best. Our host family are absolute gems, they always help us with Darija and Fus7a. I was scared before about trying to explain our diet to the host family (my roommate is also vegan), but they understand perfectly. We haven’t been offered anything that we wouldn’t eat, our plates are always rainbow and full of nutrients, and our mom even makes traditional Moroccan foods with oil instead of butter so we can be sure its vegan (some foods are cooked with butter or oil depending on preference, so we’d have to ask the shopkeeper a lot of questions to figure out which one they used). Above all, I’ve felt very welcomed and taken care of in Rabat, and I’m grateful for the friends, teachers, and staff members who are our support systems here.

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Places

I’ve only explored Rabat a little because we have activities every day, but of the places I’ve been to so far, I can say they are very beautiful. Rabat is very colorful, and it also is a coastal city so my roommate and I can walk along the water easily. We’ve frequented the medina, the souq, Kasbah Oudayas, the beach and various restaurants and cafes in our neighborhood. This past week we found numerous vegetable and fruit “markets” (really, independent vendors selling fresh produce on the street), which have been saviors for our budget and our body. A kilogram of fresh oranges can go for 5 dirhams, and we’ve discovered peanuts are the cheapest nuts to curb our between class cravings. Hopefully after I’ve explored more in Rabat I can have more suggestions for which places are must sees, but of course there is no rush.

Food

The food I’m eating in Rabat of course is a bit different than what everyone else may be eating, but it’s not too hard to be plant based here, especially if your host family understands too. First things first: bread. Everyone says this, but it’s true. Every morning my roommate and I wonder which type of bread our host mother will prepare for us along side the mint tea and fresh fruit. Msemen, Harcha, Khobz: there’s a wide variety of types and flavors. The Moroccan food I’ve eaten has been pretty grain heavy, however it also has a lot of vegetables. Carrots, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes are common in my daily meals, along with other fruits and vegetables. In the area I go to school, there are also a lot of Levantine restaurants, so hummus, falafel, moutabel, and that type of food is very accessible for lunch. The produce is very fresh and flavorful, and you can buy fresh squeezed orange juice on the street, and a single piece of fruit in the market might only cost 1 or 2 dirhams (about 10-20 cents). After some time I’m hoping to put together a vegan guide to Rabat, but rest assured no matter your diet or preferences, you can eat healthy and feel full in Morocco.

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Transportation

The transportation system in Morocco isn’t too complex. Honestly, my roommate and I have only taken a taxi twice. Once, because it was dark and we wanted to be extra careful (we are still new, and we stand out a lot as foreigners), and once because we were both adjusting to the water and were too sick and exhausted to walk home. The neighborhood we live in is pretty central, so we can walk to the old medina in about 30 minutes, and to our school in about 30 as well. The tram system is pretty simple, and can connect different areas easily. Its clean and efficient, however you have to ensure you validate your transportation card (only 6 dirhams for any distance, about 60 cents) because the employee actually walks around and checks the cards. In my opinion and for my situation, Rabat is walkable if you like longer walks (we frequently double our 10k a day step goal), but if you are tired or its too hot, there are easy and safe options in Rabat. Bus, taxi, tram, you’ve got options here and are rarely isolated to one area.

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Did I mention there’s a boat connecting Rabat to the nearby city, Sale?

Language

One of the most notable things about Morocco is the mix of languages. To order at a cafe, I’ll “request” the item in Arabic, but call the item by it’s French name from the menu. When I’m talking or texting with a Moroccan, English, Darija, Fus7a, French and who knows which other languages are all in the same sentence. While this can be difficult, I love it because I feel less scared to slip other dialects or languages into my sentences. Also, people here are much more comfortable with multiple foreign languages. Obviously French and Arabic (and dialects), but English, German, Turkish, Spanish and other languages are also studied here. I think because Morocco has such a diverse mix of languages spoken, I’m comfortable speaking with locals. I’ve only really experienced tolerance and praise for my Arabic here, which can be really helpful to encourage us to speak as much as possible. As I was finishing this blog post, a server at the cafe replied with a huge smile when my response to “Ca va?” was “Mzyan, ounta?”

Overall, I have really enjoyed my time in Morocco so far, and I feel comfortable and adjusting well. As I make this city my home, I want to say a big thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout this decision to move to Morocco, even if it’s just encouraging comments or reading my blog. Chokran bzef!

 

Hostel Work

The three weeks before I left for my upcoming gap year were (thankfully) not spent ticking down the days and fiddling my thumbs in Baltimore. Instead I did something completely new and different for me and participated in a work exchange position in a hostel in Montreal, Canada. I spent three weeks there volunteering in a hostel in the old part of Montreal, practicing my French (and Arabic!), and enjoying my last few moments left in North America before I depart to Rabat for the academic year. For many young travelers, myself included, a work exchange is a confusing and weird concept that no one really explained. However, the opportunities available are truly amazing and my experience was invaluable, so I wanted to discuss what exactly I was doing in Montreal.

What the Set Up is Like

The exact work done in the hostel can depend on the individual hostel and location. For me, the work was usually a rotation between different types of activities. Typically that was housekeeping, preparing and maintaining the breakfast spreads, making beds, reception, lots of cleaning, and my personal favorite, the night shift. At my location, I was usually trying to ensure the hostel was clean and ready for guests to arrive in their rooms. If you were volunteering at a more “party” type hostel, you may be leading pub crawls, organizing drinking games, or bartending. My hostel had separate volunteers with more experience as receptionists, so that was only my position if I was working the night shift. In my opinion, the work was pretty laid back. I listened to podcasts or music while making beds, and I could sit and eat a snack during my shift if I felt the need. Because most positions aren’t compensated with any physical currency, the expectation of perfect and uber productive work wasn’t really there. That was my opinion and my experience, but I really enjoyed that energy and attitude in my work. I was expected to work about 20 hours a week in exchange for the benefits I’ll discuss next.

Benefits

The benefits of a work exchange can vary, but what I received in exchange for the work expected was as follows:

  • Free accommodation in a staff dormitory
  • Free amenities (Wi-Fi, laundry, kitchen etc)
  • Free breakfast
  • Free coffee
  • Meeting really unique people from all over the world

I can’t really emphasize enough how important the last thing was. My coworkers became my family quickly, and I travelled to different cities in Canada with them, learned their languages (huge thanks to the staff members who would sit and read all my French work so I could practice pronunciation), spent long nights out and explored the city with them. It was truly a phenomenal experience I will cherish. However, there are of course downsides to hostel work as well.

Downsides

  • The elephant in the room is that hostel work is usually not compensated with any cash, which means expenses can add up fast
  • The accommodation is typically a shared dorm room with other staff members, which I didn’t find too bad, but if you value privacy, you likely won’t find it in a room shared with 8 other young adults.
  • This problem was specific to me, but the breakfast that was included wasn’t really what I normally ate. It was mostly bagels and bread with various spreads that weren’t very health conscious. For people not as neurotic as me, this would have been totally fine, and probably could have saved a ton of money. Many staff members ate bagels and toast for breakfast lunch and dinner, but I had to purchase my own meal items, which got expensive.
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    Considering this market was one of the places I could buy groceries, calling that a downside doesn’t seem entirely fair.

Expenses

In terms of actually living somewhere, this was technically my first time being completely alone. While this adjustment wasn’t super shocking or scary, it was a bit expensive. I won’t give the actual numbers I spent because it could vary greatly based on how savvy you are, but here are the categories I spent  a good chunk of cash in, and you should budget for too (based on your location too) if you chose to do hostel work.

  • Flight to / from destination
  • Public transportation in city
  • Buses/ trains to surrounding cities
  • Groceries
  • Eating out/ multiple ice cream runs
  • Bars/ club feesHow to Find a Position 

Finding the right hostel position for you isn’t too challenging, but it may take a bit of time and energy to locate. However, the internet makes it incredibly easy to find a work exchange for you.

  • Websites like Workaway and Worldpackers allow you to search through various hosts,narrowing down by location and job types. Usually these have a small fee to use the service, but it is quickly balanced out by the savings of work exchange.
  • Research hostels in the city you want to live in, and send them an email with your CV/ resume. This is definitely less reliable then using a real work exchange service, but it’s a possibility.
  • Arriving in city and applying in person. I am way too anxious to arrive in a city without a plan, but if you’re more easygoing, you could book your trip to the city of your choice, stay in a hostel for a few nights, and inquire about a position in person. Some of the other staff members did this, and it worked out for them fine. Also this way you can gauge the hostels in person, versus purely online.

Overall, my time volunteering in a hostel was absolutely beautiful and I don’t regret a minute of it. Yes, it meant saying goodbye early to my friends who were moving to university while I was gone, but it gave me amazing memories, an opportunity to practice my French, and experiences I can build on throughout my life. I would recommend this type of work to anyone interested in living in a new city, but without a clear plan of how to do so. Good luck and happy travels!

Sustainability While Traveling

As much fun as traveling is, it’d be a hard argument to make that it’s low impact. Airfare, take away food, water bottles: it can all add up fast and make an impact on the environment. Although I’m not perfect, I wanted to share some of my tips for being low waste when I’m not in my hometown!

Shop Local

  • Check out farmer’s markets for local produce and a fun experience
  • Because the produce doesn’t have to be transported as far, it’s lower impact
  • Supporting local farmers is always a bonus! No farmers, no food.Choose (More) Conscious Travel Options
  • Airfare has a super high carbon footprint, so avoiding airfare altogether would be ideal
  • For local travel, choose public transport or even walking and avoid taxis and car rentals.

Use Reusable Containers

  • Having a reusable water bottle is an obvious one, but it can save tons of single use plastic from being in the environment. Just make sure to fill it up whenever you have the chance.
  • Bring a mason jar for iced drinks / packed lunches / leftovers from restaurants.
  • If you don’t want to bring a glass jar in your luggage, you can always check out the recycling bin at your hostel for glass food containers. Clean it really well and voila!Reusable Utensils
  • Reusable straws are definitely a fad right now and available in so many places! Chances are your local smoothie shop/ health food store has them for sale, but if not they’re readily available at stores like Target or on Amazon.
  • Reusable utensils can be a total life saver if you’re eating packed food, or if you just don’t want to use plastic for ice cream and such. Shop the “Free Food” Section
  • If you’re staying in a hostel, chances are there’s a section in the fridge or pantry labeled “free food” from travelers who over purchased but couldn’t take the food with them.
  • Checking out these options can save you money on staples like rice, oats, bread and pasta. Plus you never know what you might find!
  • Food waste contributes to methane production, and it’s a huge issue in the USA and abroad. Also, it’s plain simple that it is ridiculous to buy something that’s available for free!
  • Choose Low Impact Options
    • Try to say no to plastic bags / food that comes in single use plastic.
      If possible, choose vegan / vegetarian options. Animal agriculture is harmful for the planet, so opt for alternatives when available. The vegan option on planes is usually much fresher and not AS mass produced, so I’d recommend it to anyone whether you’re vegan or not!
  • Reusable Bags
    • If you’re cooking your own food and grocery shopping, make sure to bring reusable bags to carry the products back to where you’re staying.
  • Use reusable mesh bags for produce, nuts, seeds, etc to avoid plastic.
  • Lastly, Be Kind to Yourself and Others
    • This isn’t truly about sustainability, but I do think it’s normal to make mistakes and to not be perfect in your pursuit of a low impact life style. 100 people doing 50% is still better than 25 people doing it perfectly! Try your best, but don’t get angry with yourself or others if it doesn’t always go perfect.

    Do you have tips for sustainable travel? Share it with me or others in the comments. Bon voyage mes amis!

    What I Eat in a Day

    Another post about food! Something we all need and eat, yet our relationships with it can be so very different. How I eat has been a long and complicated process, and I am aware that there’s things I could do better, not just nutrition and calorie wise. While I’m not a nutritionist or expert on the matter, I consider what I eat pretty healthy and balanced. I’m often asked what I do eat, so I spent my day off work tracking exactly what it is I eat in a single day. The amount/ content can definitely change, depending on what I do, who I’m with, if I’m working out etc. However here is all my meals for one random Tuesday, enjoy!

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    Breakfast- 10:15 AM

    Because it was my first day off in a days, I slept in for a bit longer than normal. After cleaning up, I start my day with a glass of water with a clementine and then start breakfast. I had a huge bag of kale that was expiring, so I used it in my tofu scramble with bell peppers, and then made a smoothie with it as well. The smoothie was made of kale, banana, pineapple, turmeric, almond butter and almond milk. Black coffee is my go to, so I had a few mugs of that as well. If you like milk in your coffee, I recommend trying oat milk! Even before I was vegan I didn’t love milks in my coffee, but I love oat milk with espresso and recommend everyone try it out!

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    Lunch- 2:00

    My stomach was hurting a bit from something I had the day before, so I tried to make a lunch that wouldn’t bother it too much. I had a piece of Little Northern Bakery’s gluten free bread toasted with a bit of vegan butter. I usually try to avoid vegan butter because it’s void of any nutrition really, but I also don’t want to be too restrictive as I’m not able to eat a lot of my favorite foods while I’m following the low FODMAP food plan for my stomach. I also had cooked carrots with cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon as well as some slices of smoked tofu from Neopol and a few grapes and cantaloupe pieces.

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    Snack- 4:10

    I had originally planned on eating this before the gym, but a rainstorm foiled that plan! I had to settle on some light muscle work at home, but this was my snack before that. This is half a banana with peanut butter and ground flax seeds, and then a few pieces of pineapple. One thing I do to attempt (key word attempt) portion control is use really small plates so I don’t feel a pressure to fill it with food.

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    Dinner- 8:00

    When I was in Jordan, I remember sitting with my host sister and eating this amazing dish out of the pan with her, scooping up an amazing and tasty vegetable dish with the khbz (bread) we had so much of. After realizing it was simply sauteed peppers and tomatoes, I went on to try to make my own version. It’s sort of like Shakshouka, except I don’t include any eggs of course. So basically this is tomatoes, peppers, chickpeas and (surprise) tofu sauteed up together. I also needed some more greens so I had spinach tossed with lemon juice, evoo, and ACV and then sliced cucumbers.

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    Bedtime Snack- 9:45

    I have a bad habit of always needing something sweet right before I fall asleep, and so before I went to bed I had a big cup of frozen blueberries, and another cup of icy cold almond milk.

    So that’s it! I don’t actually track my nutritional information or calories, and I don’t know if I ever will, but this is a pretty good look at what I eat. Some days I definitely eat more, and some less, but I wanted to share this for inspiration and into glimpse of  a vegan and low FODMAP diet. I’m not perfect about this, but I generally try to ensure I follow the “8 a day” philosophy. It encourages plant based eating by encouraging people to eat at least 8 servings of different fruits and vegetables a day. It’s an easier way to start plant based meals because it focuses on adding those extra things in, instead of the “taking away” mindset. My 8 a day was fulfilled this day, because I had peppers, kale, spinach, banana, cantaloupe, grapes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and blueberries. Hooray for plant based eating, and I hope this can give some inspiration!

     

     

    DIY Arabic- How I’ve Self Studied in the USA

    Thanks to apps like Duolingo and Babble, a lot of people have felt more motivation to begin to study foreign language on their own. And since Duolingo just included Arabic on their hefty selection of languages, I thought it was only fitting to talk about some other ways I’ve studied Arabic upon return to the USA! Even thought it isn’t always feasible with my work schedule, I’ve tried to dedicate 15 minutes or more each day to Arabic study. 

    Finishing my Textbook
    I’m extremely lucky that my scholarship program gave us our textbooks for free, so I was able to keep my “AlKitaab” text book and finish it when I returned to the USA. I started to take notes on the grammar concepts in a separate Arabic notebook, and attempt to memorize the vocabulary using Quizlet. Making study sets on the app helps me remember the words as I write them, and then I use the “learn” function to quiz me on recognition and creation of the new words. Additionally, one activity I really like is to work on the vocabulary with friends. Shraddha (check her out at https://shraddhajoshiblog.com/ she is amazing!) and I will video chat and work through the vocabulary together. To spark our brains for creativity as well as language utilization, we’ll go through the list of vocabulary, using one new word in a sentence and replying to the previous sentence with the following word. It takes some serious brain power to use words like “dream” immediately following words like “fired from a job” but it helps us to use the new words in a variety of ways!

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    Podcasts
    Sometimes it’s hard to find podcasts in your target language. When I first tried to find Arabic podcasts, I only found ones from a university I was later rejected from. So honestly, listening to their podcasts was upsetting for me at first and I set off to find more! Thanks to Shraddha, again, I was introduced to the Kerning Cultures podcast (https://kerningcultures.com/ is the link for their podcast, but it’s available on the Apple podcast app as well!). They are sort of like “This American Life” but about the Middle East! They talk about serious concepts like immigration, the hijab, racism, but also extremely sweet ones like baklava, and love at first sight. Since many of their podcasts are in English, I recommend everyone check them out! Some podcasts however, are in Arabic. I like to listen to them, even though I sometimes only understand the main idea. Despite being unable to follow everything, hearing the language in real conversations and interviews it extremely helpful for my accent and listening abilities!

    TV Shows
    Watching TV shows on Netflix in Arabic was at first extremely frustrating and infuriating. I could only find ones representing war and terrorism (and yes, I made a post on that as well). However after some searching I discovered a few other shows I really like! The Writer is a Lebanese mystery about a murder in Beirut, which I enjoy and use the MSA subtitles to follow along (they speak in a Lebanese accent). I also loved the new Netflix show Jinn, and as it is set in the city I studied in, I can understand a lot more of their dialect and use the Arabic subtitles less. This show has some controversial reviews as it includes more “negative” representations of teenagers in Amman, so take from it what you will. I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend people watch it even if you don’t know Arabic!

    Music
    I haven’t spent a ton of time diving into Arabic music, but here are some of the bands and songs I know.
    Babylone- Algerian, I love the song “Zina” still
    Apo and the Apostles- Palestinian band, some songs are English too!
    Cairokee- Egyptian
    Massar Egabri- Egyptian
    And my absolute favorite, Mashrou’ Leila. This is probably one of my favorite bands, including English ones I already knew. They’re an alternative band from Lebanon, and let’s just say I’m extremely sad they played in Rabat in JUNE, since I won’t arrive to Rabat until September. I don’t know my favorite song by them, but I love Calvary, Djin, and 3 minutes.

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     means son of the night ابن الليل

    News
    Again Shraddha’s idea (can you sense a theme here? She’s seriously an inspiration), we’ve been reading BBC articles, writing down the words we don’t know and then making quizlet sets for those words. It’s seriously helpful! Some words we’ve learned are absolutely obscure and probably unnecessary, but it’s helped our comprehension and vocabulary! Ask me about horse riding, or Trump’s comments about congress (yes, they did publish this story in Arabic too. Yes the rest of the world knows what he said!).

     

    Books

    Reading books in the Target language can also be helpful. I have one particular “story book” in Arabic, designed for students which I like. It’s super formal, but I like the story lines and the vocabulary can be interesting.

    It has audio recordings as well!

     

    Lastly, friends!
    One of the most amazing parts of studying a foreign language is speaking it with friends. I’m extremely lucky that I not only have so many friends that study it with me, but I also have so many native speakers who are extremely gracious with their help in not just their dialects, but formal Arabic as well. I don’t think I’ve ever had friends text me and ask for explanations of random English grammar, but my friends from Jordan, Morocco and other countries have always been so willing to help me. It’s amazing and I am so fortunate to have them! If you have the opportunity to practice with native speakers, I recommend it! I think I have to shout out my friends Zineb and Abdullah, because they are half the reason I still study Arabic. People who are so willing to help with their dialect, language, and culture are beautiful and amazing and I am filled with so much love for them. Thanks again to all my pals who’ve ever helped me on this journey!

    Processed with VSCO with a5 preset
    We haven’t met everyone on our program yet, but Dylan made this with most of our names in beautiful calligraphy!

    On a different note, I also have been (slowly, Arabic comes first!) teaching myself French. I’m extremely low in it, so in terms of teaching yourself a language from the beginning I would say a textbook is helpful! Duolingo has not been my cup of tea, so I bought the “Easy French Step by Step” workbook. I’d recommend it to anyone starting out! I also try to practice French with friends who study it, and I often ask people for help with the grammar and conjugations. If you’re learning French too, reach out to me and we can struggle through it together!

    Anyways, learning a foreign language is hard, especially if you’re not living in that country! Hopefully some of my practices and tips can help you! Let’s move towards a more connected and understanding world through language. ❤