Finally, the end of my epic Moroccan adventure. It was my first time leaving the country, my first time on an airplane, and my first time studying abroad through VCU. What can I say to adequately sum up such an experience?
This was really something special.
I experienced new food, a new climate, and five new cities.
I met faculty from VCUarts Qatar (VCUQ), all of whom encouraged me to apply for the arts exchange program. Because of them, I not only studied there the following spring, but I also got to graduate from there.
I met students from VCUQ too, so when I made my way over to Qatar in 2018, there were already some familiar faces waiting for me. One of those familiar faces even invited me to her sister’s wedding. She introduced me to her family, let me stay at her house, and through her I was able to build more relationships with new people.
I found similarities between myself, the locals, and other students & faculty on the trip. I saw where our experiences overlapped and where they differed, and in that I was able to learn about the world in a subtle and unexpected way.
(See, people all over the world will carve their name into private property in the name of love)
I even met my mom’s past teacher, the teacher who got her to attend VCU in the 90s, the teacher who no longer works at VCU, yet I somehow made her acquaintance halfway around the world.
(A selfie with Prof. Lydia Thompson)
Sure, it was odd having to share a bed with a student I had just met a few days ago, and yeah it was a headache having to share a room with 3 other girls because our reservations got screwed up. There were people on the trip who drove me crazy and my sinuses staged a mutiny for a solid 12 hours. We had turbulence on the airplane, I was constantly dehydrated, and Charles de Gaulle Airport was not a pleasant experience, but all those things were minor in the grand scheme of my adventure. None of those problems compared to the places I saw, the things I learned, the people I met, and the connections I made.
Want to hear a story? As a freshman during Welcome Week I went to the information session about studying abroad. I remembered at that information session they said there were study abroad opportunities year-round, that they could last anywhere from a week to a whole year, and that there was an array of different funding options. For me this was perfect because I really wanted my first time studying abroad to be something short, sweet, and affordable. I wanted to ease my way into studying abroad because I knew it would be something new, anxiety inducing, and potentially pricey. However, when I had a meeting with the education abroad office two years later, I learned that there weren’t any opportunities that matched the sort of experience I was looking for. Much of what was available at the time were semesters abroad that were out of my price range or outside my major. But then, as if by fate, I walked into the Fine Arts Building and saw two posters advertising a 10-day, $2,700, field study in Morocco.
It was perfect.
Yet at the same time, it was unexpected. The decision to study abroad right then and there wasn’t a part of my “college plan” and it felt very out of character. I wasn’t an exciting, world-travelling, seize the moment kind of girl, I was a meticulously obsessive planner who only did something if she knew exactly what she was getting into and how it would affect other things in life; I was the kind of girl who made decisions only if I knew it was the right decision. This Morocco trip didn’t offer me that peace of mind, and I definitely had a panic attack (among many more moments of doubt), but I forced myself to stick to it even though it made me uncomfortable because if it’s one thing that scares me more than new experiences, it’s regret.
So, I used that fear of regret to do something life changing.
And after travelling to Morocco the world immediately shrunk. I suddenly realized I could go anywhere, all I needed was a passport, a visa, some cash, and some good planning. Before Morocco I had never imagined myself travelling the world, that had never, ever, been a goal of mine, but after Morocco—after I realized how easily it could be achieved—I was excited to do more of it while I had the opportunity.
I understand the panic that can come with impending newness and the thought that you’re about to dive head first into the unfamiliar. I know what it’s like to have half your brain tell you it’s an extraordinary opportunity while the other half fills you with hardcore doubt. And I know that saying “push past the panic” is easier said that done, but the thing is, it can be done.
In Morocco, I proved myself (and my doubts) wrong, I became my own template for what I could accomplish, and I was inspired to be ambitious in a new way. Now, two years later, looking back at everything I’ve done in that time, I can comfortably say that I don’t have any regrets.