This story is part of an occasional series that looks to highlight the benefits students derive from studying abroad and internships. FIU students are encouraged to seek out these opportunities by working with FIU’s Study Abroad Office and Career Services as well as professors and mentors. International Relations major Dayra Carvajal is currently on a prestigious, $20,000 Boren scholarship in Morocco studying Arabic for a year. Below she reflects on her experience studying abroad. Read more internship profiles here.
By Dayra Carvajal
One year and one month have passed since I made the decision to study abroad in Morocco. Today, I can confidently say it was the best decision I have ever made.
Global understanding and international affairs have interested me for as long as I can remember. My passion and deep interest for diverse cultures and traditions tremendously inspired me to look for opportunities to further explore other countries and regions, not only in theory – with the knowledge acquired through a major in international relations – but in actual practice. I was happily surprised by the countless opportunities to live and study abroad available to students from all fields and backgrounds, which are frequently created and promoted by various schools and departments at FIU, such as the Study Abroad Office.
It was precisely through one of the information sessions hosted by the Study Abroad Office that I learned about the David L. Boren Scholarship, an initiative of the National Security Education Program that provides funding opportunities for undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests. It was then that I realized that my college years and my professional path would not be complete without an experience overseas, and in line with my desire to serve my country in the future, and to promote cultural understanding between the United States and North Africa, my area of study, I made the decision to apply for their Arabic language program in Morocco.
Five months, five countries, four host families, countless couscous (traditional Moroccan dish), numerous train, ferry, airplane, horse and camel rides later, I’ve learned beyond my expectations about the history, traditions, language and local customs of a uniquely diverse country. Furthermore, I have found fascination in the Maghreb region, particularly in the connection between the Mediterranean coast, the Spanish-Andalusian traditions, the Arab World, and the African ancestry that coincide altogether in Morocco.
Throughout this journey, I’ve experienced the strength and potential of the Worlds Ahead education I have received at FIU. In Morocco, I have had the opportunity to practice my Classical and Moroccan Arabic skills with shopkeepers, taxi drivers, my host family and local students on a daily basis, and during this short time span I have been able to go from a simple -“As-salamu Alaykum”- to holding small conversations about the sociopolitical context of the country (often times using a mix of Arabic, French, English and hand gestures at once). The ability to interact with locals in an open and respectful manner reminds me of my daily life at FIU, where we have the possibility to communicate with a community receptive to multicultural understanding – a unique opportunity that prepared me for my time abroad.
Moreover, I have experienced firsthand the hospitality of Moroccans, who have shown me that study abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, where I have been part of a family and a society with origins and traditions different to my own, and yet have embraced and welcomed me in the celebration of religious holidays such as “Eid Al Ftr”(celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting), family traditions like weddings, and the accustomed daily tea time.
This cultural immersion paired with an in-depth education on the religious, political, economic and social aspects related to the country and the region has also allowed me to volunteer and teach English to children and young adults, conduct a research project assessing the current state of sub-Saharan migration and refugee population in Morocco, and spend my free time learning Moroccan sewing techniques from a local tailor shop.
Beyond providing me with the language, academic and professional experiences I was looking for in a study abroad program, my time in Morocco has taught me how to leave my comfort zone and assess challenges imposed by an unfamiliar context, language and society in a tolerant manner, and has instilled in me a sense of greater appreciation and understanding for the different array of values and worldviews found abroad.
When I first transferred to FIU from Colombia, I would’ve never imagined that 2 years after I would find myself writing these lines from Morocco. However, with the support, guidance and encouragement of directives, professors, advisers, classmates, friends and countless people within our FIU family, I was able to, against all odds, embark on a journey that has made me realize what the true meaning is of being an international citizen. This is my invitation and words of encouragement for those of you who desire to explore other cultures and traditions to not be afraid and take the next step to be Worlds Ahead.