Starnes Surprised at Quick Immersion into Culture

Ian Starnes ’11 – When my plane arrived at Barajas International Airport in Madrid on Jan. 4, my stomach was cringing with anticipation.  I had no idea what was in store for me during my study abroad adventures. I had heard several stories from past Wabash men saying it is a great experience and you learn and grow so much, but I am the kind of person that doesn’t believe everything people tell me. Well… I believe them now…
I am studying in Salamanca, Spain, which is a college town about two hours Northwest of Madrid. The city was a European Capital of Culture along with Bruges, Belgium in 2002. The city is absolutely breathtaking. The gothic architecture, cobblestone streets, and endless Tapas bars give the town an eclectic yet charming environment. In my mind it is a “city of contradiction” and by that I mean the first two words I think of to describe Salamanca are tranquil and bustling. It is tranquil in the way that it is a historic town with gorgeous cathedrals and academic buildings where great scholars like Miguel Cervantes and Hernan Cortes studied. Yet, at the same time the town houses over 60,000 students and has a vibrant nightlife scene that is unparalleled in Europe. The University is the oldest in Spain and the fourth oldest in the world and brings in a very international student body.
I am taking classes at the 800-year-old university and I am being immersed in the Spanish culture daily. Along with William Fulton 11’, I am engaged in intensive Spanish language and Culture classes Monday through Friday with other international students from around the world. It is interesting because the classroom is a melting pot of ethnicities and the Spanish language is the binding tool that brings the class together. I have taken Spanish language classes since my sophomore year in high school and have always seen pictures in the textbooks of Spanish life, yet I could never really grasp that concept.
Living here has allowed me to become aware of how different the Spanish culture is and I have grown intellectually as a result. I live with a host family and I am challenged everyday to learn more about their lifestyle and I am given the opportunity to interact with them. They do not speak any English and we enjoy every meal together. I even splurged and purchased a Spanish guitar and we sometimes drink wine after dinner and play Flamenco music into the night.
My goal coming to Spain was to grow: Intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I feel that I have accomplished that in my time here. I have not only grasped but also assimilated into Spanish society. I get asked for directions by tourists daily, and I am mistaken for being a Spaniard all the time. I love when both of those happen.
During my time here I have also had the privilege of traveling. These excursions have also allowed me to learn and grow as a result. I have traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Bilbao, the northern coast of Spain, Valladolid, Burgos, Rome, Italy; and Marrakech, Morocco. When I was even shown around the eternal city of Rome by my fraternity brother and Wabash alum Kyle Trusgnich 08’, who is currently living and working in Rome and who so kindly shared his knowledge he had gained from his study abroad experience in Rome with me.
William Fulton 11’ and I even took the chance of running with the bulls in Ciudad Rodrigo during Carnival. (A frightening yet enlightening experience that my mom is still angry with me for partaking in). This upcoming weekend I will be traveling to Valencia, Spain for Las Fallas, which is a large Carnival like event on the Eastern Coast. I will have the opportunity to visit Derrick Yoder ’11, Adam Auter ’11, and Chris Beedie ’11.
It is great to see how Wabash connects all over the world. The bond we hold as Wabash men is unique and truly special and I have seen exemplified while here. After visiting Valencia, Spain I will be traveling Europe for my midsemester break, visiting Bishops Stortford, England; London, Engand; Dublin and Maynooth Ireland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Prague, Czech Republic. I am very excited and look forward to keeping everyone updated of my amazing experience in Spain, Ciao, Hasta Luego!

Experiencing the Chile Earthquake On Second Day

Michael Jordan ‘ 11 – In our orientation the SIT program advised the group that Chile was a country susceptible to earthquakes. With most of us from the Midwest and East coast we paid no attention to that warning, and little did we know that “the big one” was looming. 

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake occurred only after our second day in Santiago (the capital of Chile). After two weeks, the aftershocks are still coming with three today being about the same magnitude as the devastating Haiti earthquake. Luckily, none have occurred less than 90 miles away from Santiago. Don´t get me wrong – waking up to the first earthquake at about 4 in the morning was an experience I will never forget. The ground shook forever it seemed (little more than a minute really) and I jumped up when my host parent yelled for me ‘ven aqui Michael! ven aqui!’ Objects off shelves were flying everywhere, all you can hear is furniture rumbling and glass shattering. It was all very surreal at the time. To finish the night the entire street chatted with each other or slept outside on cushions and blankets.

The earthquake has been a huge part of my program now, whether I like it or not. Dealing with aftershocks is normal and one day we even skipped class to volunteer at the Red Cross center in Santiago. The amount of clothing that was donated was unbelievable, and we spent the entire day sorting clothes into canvas bags to be sent to Concepción.
Despite the earthquake, Santiago was back on its feet the Monday after it happened, almost as if it never happened. Our only reminders have been the cracked and fallen buildings and the constant news coverage near the epicenter. Otherwise I have been in class as normal for intensive language studies, human rights (in relation to the Pinochet era), and the education system here. 
All of my classes are entirely spoken in Spanish as well. Needless to say, the experience in and out of the classroom so far in the past two weeks has been life altering. I can´t wait to see what the next two weeks have in sotre for me (just no more earthquakes please).

Study Abroad Experience Goes Fast

Adam Auter ’11 – It is hard to believe I have already completed half of a semester since arriving in Valencia, Spain. The weeks here are fleeting, each one taking its own unique form and presenting me with unforgettable experiences. I have had no difficulties assimilating into the culture, and I often find myself envisioning living a life as a Spaniard in the future. For that I believe it is safe to say that Valencia has become another home of mine.

I am incredibly thankful and taken aback by the magnitude and nature of opportunities I have encountered thus far. Highlights include day trips to historical villages on the outskirts of Valencia as well as museums and local attractions, playing pick-up soccer with the natives and other European students, receiving instructions about the tactical and fundamental aspects of soccer from a professor of this program who was once a professional, world class player, attending a local church and meeting others here in Spain who share the Christian faith (an awesome experience!), and volunteering at a local elementary school to serve as a conversational tutor for English classes. Each of these has added to the depth and richness of my study abroad experience, and for that I am forever grateful.
Furthermore, next week marks the beginning of “Las Fallas,” which is considered to be one of the greatest festivals in all of Europe. This is the staple that unites all Valencians, and the countdown to the next Fallas begins the day after its culmination. Based on the descriptions I have heard so far, I can’t help but make a quirky connection with Wabash homecoming: the festival is a weeklong event rich in tradition that draws hoards of people causing the population to double; each neighborhood selects their own Falleras (young women who represent the neighborhood in more or less the same way the women of the Miss America Pageant represent their state, or perhaps the way that a 250 pound, hairy freshman represents his fraternity), and each neighborhood also funds and constructs giant floats which can reach up to 150 feet and are destroyed at the end of the week in massive bonfires. While I certainly recognize that this event is far from being the same as Wabash Homecoming, I am intrigued by their common ties that stretch across the Atlantic. I have been told that I will come out of the week as a different person, and for that I wait in eager anticipation.
At this point I am looking back at all that I have done so far and also looking forward to the adventures and endeavors of the second half of the semester. Each day I am spurred by the recognition of the countless possibilities that I have at my fingertips. I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and reactions in the future.

Hull ’11 Getting Intensive Introduction to Dutch

Cliff Hull ’11 – I’ve just finished up my first month studying abroad in the Netherlands and it has been a whirlwind so far. I am studying in Leiden, a town of 120,000 people on the Old Rhine River only a thirty minute train ride from Haarlem, Den Haag, and Amsterdam.

Like Wabash, Leiden University has a very rich academic history; it lists among its alumni John Quincy Adams and the current Queen Beatrix of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Furthermore, the town of Leiden has been a university town since William of Orange founded Leiden University in 1575. Even though the weather has been pretty chilly, it has been bearable riding my bike to class on cobblestone streets lined on one side by canals and on the other by five and six hundred-year-old buildings.

For my first three weeks here I took an intensive Dutch language course. One of my academic goals for my study abroad experience has been to learn conversational Dutch. Dutch is one of the parent languages of Afrikaans, which is one of the national language of South Africa. I was born in South Africa before moving to America as a baby, so I never got a chance to learn my mom’s native language. Luckily for me, I had no idea that I would get such an intensive language course. We spent four hours per day for the better part of three weeks learning Dutch from a renowned Dutch language professor. All the work paid off, as I have had a few conversations with my mom over Skype in Dutch, not to mention with many Dutch people around Leiden.

Because the Netherlands is such a small country, I’ve had a chance to travel on the weekends to different parts of the country. This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to the original Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam with the University’s International Student Network. We went to the Heineken Experience, where we got to tour the original 1867 Heineken Brewery, see the famous Heineken Shire horses in their stables, as well as go through an interactive museum detailing the bottling process as well as the history of the Heineken family.

And on the weekend leading up to the beginning of Lent, I was able to celebrate Carnaval in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, one of the biggest of such celebrations which are most prevalent in the southern Catholic provinces.

The rest of my classes are starting this week, so I’ll hopefully be checking back in with more updates soon.

Next Wednesday I’m going to see the Netherlands play the United States in an international friendly soccer match, and then I’m headed the next day to Barcelona and Valencia to visit Derrick Yoder ’11, Adam Auter ’11, and Chris Beedie ’11.

Louvre a Perfect Fit for Tian Tian ’11

Tian Tian ’11 – Being able to have classes regularly at the Louvre Museum in Paris is already a big treat for me as an art major student. Having an externship in the Louvre during December just literally put me into heaven.

At the beginning of my study-abroad semester, my art professor at the university I am attending in Paris, Prof. Mandel introduced me to this great opportunity to do an externship at the Louvre Museum for a series event called “Nocturne Louvre” during several weekends in December. After three months’ rigorous preparation and numerous training sessions by the Louvre staff, I finally become an eligible extern. This series event “Nocturne Louvre” is a very genial and smart idea which offers free entrance and extended hours to visitors on Friday nights.
My responsibility during this externship is to present the paintings in one of Louvre’s exhibition areas as a trilingual interpreter using French, Chinese and English. The specialty of this exhibition area I present is the French classicism master, Nicolas Poussin’s paintings.
Paris is a city famous for the frequent strikes by the workers. There happened to be a huge strike on the first day of my externship, Dec. 4. More coincidently, this strike is started by several major museums in Paris, including the Louvre. The reason of the strike is because the administration refuses to replace the retired staff of the museum with new staff and the current staff are very disappointed. Half of the Louvre Museum was closed during that day, but fortunately the strike ended right before the start of my work at 6:00 pm. At first I was a little bit concerned that there will not be many visitors because of the strike, but in fact there was a huge crowd that night because they had waited a whole day for the museum to reopen. Without getting a chance to reflect a little bit of what had just happened, I turned on the “working mode” in my brain immediately.
Quite different from a typical tour guide of the Louvre Museum, my role as an extern during “Nocturne Louvre” is to take initiative to approach the visitors and try to present the paintings by engaging the visitors into my conversations. To put it another way, my job is to act like an advertising agent, who tries to use the most effective way to promote the product. Even though as a trilingual interpreter, I am required to always start the conversation with the visitors in French. This is a challenge but also a great way to show my progress on French oral expression. I also find it easier now to approach visitors and engage them into an “informative” conversation, because that is one of the major skills I learned and achieved during my internship at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis during the past summer.
The most constructive part that made me learn a lot is the skill to communicate effectively with the people of different backgrounds and expectations. That night at Louvre, the visitors who listen to my presentation are highly diversified. I learned to adopt a more casual approach to present the paintings for the visitors who are less familiar with the art. Comparatively, I also learned to use very professional interpretations towards those demanding visitors who are obviously scholars of fine arts. The most interesting visitor that night was a gentleman from London who made my “one-way-presentation” into an open discussion with him about the paintings because he is obviously an expert on Nicolas Poussin’s paintings.
At the end, during my three and a half hours’ work during 6:00 – 9:30 pm, I presented the paintings for 15 individuals and 6 group visitors. I feel like I have learned a lot from this experience and meanwhile I am so excited about another Friday night’s work. I regard this externship experience at Louvre a very constructive and memorable way to finalize my study abroad semester in Paris.

Weber ’11: Traveling China a Diverse Experience

Will Weber ’11 – When I stepped off the plane at the Pu Dong airport in Shanghai the first thing that popped into my head was “what have I gotten myself into?” I had just stepped onto foreign soil, controlled by a totalitarian government that wasn’t too friendly to my American ideals like freedom of speech. I found a surprise waiting for me at the arrival gate. Yangnan “Paul” Liu ’12 was waiting to welcome me to China before he flew back to Wabash. After that I felt alright.

I talked to my language professor in the cab from the airport and asked her about Shanghai. She told me that it had 16 million inhabitants. I assumed that I had heard 6 million, about the size of Chicago. It took me a while to grasp what she was saying. I have since learned that estimates range from 16 to over 20 million. Shanghai is the economic capital of China. As the largest sea port, with a developing financial center, and the headquarters of many international corporations it is the wealthiest region per capita in China. Shanghai is its own administrative region, equal to a province in political terms. The city has a very large international community and many virtues for hapless foreigners. For instance, Shanghai has what we call “the magic number;” a call center where you can ask them anything in English and then give the phone to the Chinese person you’re with and the call center will explain to them in Mandarin. This is useful for everything from telling the restaurant what you want to finding your nightlife destination to telling the barber how to cut your hair.
China is different. It takes an experience like study abroad to really understand what foreign exchange students experience coming to Wabash. You walk into McDonald’s, everything looks just like America, and once you bite into your longed-for burger you discover that one of the standard toppings is corn. Seat belts aren’t available in the taxis, though foreigners wish they were. In China the rules of the road are a little different; cars have right-of-way then mopeds and bicycles (who don’t have to obey traffic lights), and then pedestrians. If you get hit, you’re at fault. When a group of tourists from my home town came to Shanghai for a week in November, I couldn’t help laughing at how they covered their eyes and clutched their seats in the taxi in fear. Cultural adjustment is inevitable, it just takes time. Initially we whispered criticisms of the Chinese government, fearfully paranoid that microphones were everywhere just like the cameras were. Now we are more outspoken because the Chinese don’t care or don’t understand what foreigners say in any other language than Mandarin.
In China they work 7 days a week. Students at Fudan University ask us why we are so frivolous with our time in Shanghai, instead of studying every waking moment. I told him that this was one of our last opportunities to do anything like study abroad for many years. Soon we would have to get jobs and settle down. The students typically respond “Oh, I never thought about it like that. We always work hard and try to get a good job so that by 35 or 40 we can take care of our parents and take vacations and have fun.” To my American ears this sounds depressing, but it’s the view point of everyone in China. It’s also something that I welcome on occasion. Construction projects that in America take months are completed in days in China.
I make a point of going to the underground market at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum at least once a week. While initially incompetent, I have developed into a foreigner who can point and count to 10 in Mandarin. This, combined with a rough idea of how much something should cost, essentially means that I am an accomplished bargainer. One of my personal rule of thumb is that my opening counter-offer should be 5%-10% of their opening offer. At $12 for a tailor-made shirt, my wardrobe has also expanded significantly. But the best part of the market is watching the other foreigners, the ones in Shanghai on business or vacation for a week, get taken advantage of by the shop-keepers. Without the experience of doing it time and again, visitors overpay for everything and think they’re getting a good deal. Another one of my rules of thumb is that if the shop-keeper gives you their business card at the end of the transaction, you were probably robbed on the price. On the other hand, if they yell at you in fury after handing over the goods, you did a good job.
During the National Holiday (60 years of Communist totalitarian rule woo-hoo!) a group of us traveled down to the city of Guilin and then through the Yunnan province. We bought cheap knock-off backpacks and regretted it hours on the trail. My own broke both shoulder straps before lunch. The mountains near Tibet were majestic and beautiful, the roadblocks and checkpoints less so. I was so used to Shanghai that being in the countryside and the absolute poverty there was a surprise. For a socialist society, China is not very egalitarian.
Shortly before Thanksgiving my program sent us to Taiwan for a week. It was like being back in a Western country, in spring. The temperature in Taiwan seems to be perpetually in the high 70’s. There were copies of The Economist available and Dunkin Donuts were everywhere. Facebook was not blocked by government censors. And the prices were very close to American values. I was so used to measuring everything in Chinese Yuan that I experienced decided sticker shock.
In both cases of travel, when I got off the plane in Shanghai I genuinely felt like I was coming home. Shanghai, with its 10s of millions of inhabitants, its parks, its incredible cleanliness, and its exciting nightlife, has become my home. I will be as sad to leave Shanghai as I will be excited to go back to America and Wabash.

In photos: Top right, Weber with Charlie Kelly ’11, who is also studying in China. Center left, Weber’s class visiting Taiwan. Bottom right, Will and class visited a Chinese Meditative Garden.

Scheller ’11 Values Friendships He’s Made in Italy

Matthew Scheller ’11 – When I first came to Rome, I was incredibly intimidated by the city lifestyle and size of the city itself. Being from a small town in Southern Indiana doesn’t exactly make it easy to cope with such an environment. However, after having spent some time walking around the city by myself with only a map I could hardly read because the images and text were so small, I became more and more confident about my journey. I found my school and place of residence, and I was the FIRST to report to both locations for the Temple Study Abroad program.

When it came time to move into my apartment and head to orientation, I immediately made 5 new friends, one of whom was my roommate. Over the course of a mere 6 days, I felt as if I had gained 100 new friends and had been welcomed into a new community in a foreign environment. It felt as if I had crash landed on some strange planet shaped like a boot and was thrown into a new life.

After a couple of weeks I had already traveled through three quarters of the entire country and had established some very comfortable and what I think will be everlasting friendships with people living all over the United States, people from Pennsylvania, Washington State, Oregan, California, Texas, and even a young woman from Depauw University. Now, before you break down my door carrying torches and pitchforks for befriending the enemy, I must inform you all that her father and uncle are Wabash Men, and she STILL TAILGATES ON OUR SIDE AT THE MONON!

By the end of the second month, I had been from Italy, to Spain, to France, To Greece, and back to the West to Ireland. I had seen the Ancient Sector of Rome and all its riches, I had been to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, visited countless churches and museums all of extravagant beauty, and I had ran in the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

Having said this, I must admit, that though I have seen so many things and experienced so much in only a matter of months, the thing I cherish most about my trip are the friends I have made. I am part of an enormous family of 180 students that are placed in a situation that can be exciting and dangerous, but we have grown together, learned many life lessions, and leaned on each other when in times of need. It really means a lot and strengthens your bond with people when you lose two family members so far from home, and those people are with you every step caring for you and supporting you. I thank God for this experience that no one can ever take from me, but I thank him even more for the people he has introduced into my life.

Drake ’11 Embraced Challenges of Studying Abroad

Austin Drake ’11 – Spain has, in a word, been asombroso. It has been both a challenge and a great blessing.

Studying abroad has thus far challenged me and driven me towards greater independence and maturity as both an individual and student. I believe that I entered Spain with a very limited worldview, but I will be leaving in just a few weeks with a much greater grasp of what it means to be a citizen of the USA, a European country and the world.

Studying over here, I have found many things that I love about Spain. For example, after a long day of work and a good meal, the Spaniards don’t work around the house; instead they take the famous siesta, prepping themselves for a long evening with friends and/or family. In bars and restaurants, it’s common to chill there after having some tapas and talk with your friends. Life here is centered around being social—not a bad strategy.

I’ve also realized how great we have it in the US. The starkest contrast came from my visit to Morocco. We went to a village in rural Morocco, a night and day difference from anything I have ever seen in the US. Electricity is used sparingly, houses are open to the elements, and clean, running water is a luxury. Even compared to an industrialized country like Spain, we enjoy many more privileges. Here an unemployment rate around 10% is the norm, and salaries are comparatively lower. I love Spain, but I’ve also learned to love the Red, White and Blue even more, too. 
Spain has so much to offer students wanting to experience a different culture. It has an amazing history (especially the 20th century), and a much different way of approaching healthcare. It also is a great place to travel from, offering tons of sights within its borders such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, La Concha de San Sebastian, the mastery of Picasso, el Greco or Goya, or La Alhambra of Granada. It also is a great hub to France, Portugal, the UK, Ireland, or Africa. Travelling has been amazing, taking me to 5 new countries and offering tons of experiences and stories along the way
Learning in a different culture and environment is the perfect complement to my Liberal Arts education. Not only have I taken various courses covering arts, history and economics, but I have learned them from a completely different perspective. I sincerely believe that anyone with the possibility of studying abroad should jump on the opportunity. It is a great experience that has permanently changed my worldview, enhanced my education, forced me to mature as an individual and been an all-around good time!

German Reflects on Gibraltar, Morrocan Visits

Jake German ’11 – My program in Granada periodically schedules weekend visits to different cities of cultural interest in Andalusia like Cordoba, Sevilla, and Cadiz. However, the main trip of the semester is the week-long excursion to Morocco by way of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is still part of the United Kingdom, using both the Queen’s English and the British Pound Sterling. It is a fascinating city, built right up out of the water. It has been part of the United Kingdom since 1713, and it is a strategic point of defense for the British Armed Forces. When we arrived in Gibraltar, the Royal Air Force was doing training exercises all over the Rock during the day. Chinooks and F-14’s were executing aerial maneuvers above the Straight of Gibraltar. We took a bus tour over the territory and saw the tunnels remaining from World War II that the British used to house 39,000 troops – including a full-working hospital – all underground. We then drove to a mosque that overlooks the gap between Gibraltar and North Africa. The mosque was founded by the King of Saudi Arabia. The actual mountain itself is guarded by tribes of wild monkeys. Monkeys are nice creatures until one of them gets angry, and then they all get angry. At the top of the Rock on the clear day that we were there, I could see the coast of Morocco in front of me and all of Spain behind me. What a breathtaking view! Gibraltar is definitely a unique blend of Arabic, Spanish, and English cultures.
We traveled by ferry across the straight and landed in Tangier, Morocco. Morocco was formerly a French colony; therefore, French and dialects of Arabic are the predominant languages. Our first stop in Morocco was the Center for Women which educates them to be seamstresses. The goal of the center is to provide training to make women more economically independent. Morocco is an absolute monarchy; however, my experience there indicated a very progressive Islamic system focused more on women’s rights.
After Tangier, we drove through the countryside to Rabat, the capital and home of King Muhammad VI. We stopped once to ride some camels which were awesome. My program arranged for us to stay with host families for two nights. That was a very interesting experience. Many travelers see Rabat and visit its great landmarks, but very few actually get to experience what it is like to stay with a Moroccan family and eat traditional Moroccan dishes. We visited the sights around Rabat – including the old Roman ruins, Yacoub Al-Mansour (unfinished 12th century mosque), and the Royal tomb of the Muhammad family. The last night we also visited a traditional Arab bath house. It was very intense heat, but my skin never felt cleaner.
Our next visit was to Chechaouene, a city located on the eastern side of Morocco. On the way, we stopped in the Rif Mountains to talk with a rural family to see what life is like outside of the big cities. The conversation we had with this family was one of the most interesting aspects of the visit to Morocco. In Chechaouene there is considerable Spanish influence, and so we were able to speak Spanish again. That night we had a very traditional Moroccan dish called chicken Tajin; it is eaten by dipping bread into the dish with your hands. There were no eating utensils! It is a very sweet dish that contains dates and raisins.
Morocco was a great experience and a true highlight of my study abroad so far. It was my first visit to an Islamic nation and also my first to Africa. This visit has reinforced many of the concepts that I have studied in both my art and architecture class and my Spanish history class in Granada. The Islamic presence in Spain lasted nearly eight centuries, and certainly the Moorish influence is still seen in architecture, language, foods, and many other customs. Moreover, I sense a more openness in my thinking about other cultures and other faiths.

Avtgis ’11 Swirling in Morrocan Culture

Alex Avtgis ’11 – While most of the globalized Western world employs modernization in order to boast of their pluralist hybridities (cultural, social, or otherwise), Morocco can proudly claim the latter without needing recourse to the former; a dynamic cornucopia of Arabic and Moorish influences, Berber native ancestry, and communities originating from several Sub-Saharan African nations traditionally subsist under the royal name of the state, without ever acknowledging the multiple foreign and European influences – be they French, Spanish, Japanese, or American – which also intertwine in Morocco’s present day.

Yes, fresh and highly modern influences do exist already. Cell phones are found in every pocket, be it the pockets of rural jellabas (a Moroccan tunic) or urban designer jeans. Televisions talk constantly, and the internet informs homes across the country. You can locate the centers novelle (new) in every major city (coastal or inland). Some even boast of large corporate Megamalls. In certain parts of Rabat, such as the trendy Agdal, you’d think you had lost yourself somewhere along the way in Chicago or Indianapolis.

And you’d also think that would surprise me, as a Westerner coming for his first time to an African country. But that’s not what I’ve noticed the most.

I live in the capital city of Morocco, Rabat, and arguably the most representative of the entire country. Characteristically, it’s not overly sensational like Marrakech, exorbitantly touristy like Tangier, highly relaxed like Essaouira, surprisingly rural like Boujaad, or fanatically bustling like Casablanca. It combines all of these spices into a nice complex blend, which I breathe in (deep!) every beautiful morning from the leisure and comfort of a second-story bedroom window.

What I have found most astonishing about this charming capital is its constancy in revolving around a romanticized Medina khdeema (old city). Even after hundreds of years, the city’s pulse directly stems from those ancient, cement structures which inhabit the three square miles encased by red stone brick.

Though the city has expanded for miles southward over a short decade or so – through which it can now boast one of the best and prestigious universities on the African continent – most of the life and activity occurs in this conservative, coastal center. All energy found in the Villa Novelle centralizes right outside of the old medina’s busiest hub; where the dusty Avenue Mohammed V intersects the equally worn Avenue Hassan II marks the location, on average, of the most foot, taxi and motorbike traffic found in the entire city.

See, when this intersection dies out, there won’t be a soul wandering the newer French city. What you could find is the chatter of elderly patriarchs (always accompanied by the hurried scurries of younger relatives bearing cups of tea on metal trays), female conversation floating from windows and doorways, the smell of roasting onion and beef rising from street vendors, the calls and scrapple of animated alley soccer games – all of which are screened only for kdema’s citizens.

At times, life inside of it is like life in the Wabash fraternity. There are certain walls which simultaneously bind and liberate individuals, both foster and inhibit growths, and all the while provide concrete boundaries which forge and force relationships to occur.

In short, everybody knows everybody. A shocking story reveals this best – when I was jumped during the first few days, and had both a copy of my passport and an IPOD stolen, it was the medina which came to my aide; I credit the networking of its inhabitants. Immediately following the incident, my host brother rallied the entire police force in a five mile radius by walking from post to post and talking to ‘friends’. While the ensuing search revealed nothing, the situation was resolved hours later, when a fruit vendor, who was also my brother’s friend, informed him of the thief’s home.

When my brother returned triumphantly with my passport and IPOD, I knew it was only possible by the help of a friendly, small city. He confirmed it was. The laughs we now share over the topic confirm my love and deep gratitude I have for the opportunity to study abroad.

That’s only one of many such encounters I have with the kdema’s numerous characters. Everytime I pass the reggae vendor on ‘fish and vegetable’ street (which we’ve appropriately named after its two main foodstuffs), who sits all day listening to music, we smile at each other. It’s the same simple relationship I have with Karim, my friend at the hookah café down the street, who gives me a hug and calls me his brother.

And that doesn’t stop at the peer-level. I’ve been invited over to over for coffee, tea and discussion by a myriad of people who are old enough to be my grandparents.

Alas, I mustn’t keep you any longer. I’m being kicked out of the café in the new city – I should’ve known. Find attached some pictures of Rabat and others documenting some my journeys outside the beloved city.

To me, it isn’t funny I just used the adjective beloved. I guess I have developed a deep love for it; the same way that the freshman must be seeing our dearly beloved Alma Mater right about now, with the leaves falling golden and the warming promises against DePauw circulating.

Before I forget – I recently completed my search for a place to stay during my independent research period. As I turn back home, and navigate the kdema’s ancient streets tonight, I will probably grin as I put the key in my apartment off avenue Sidi-Fatah; I am both proud and happy to continue calling this ancient community my home for the next month.

In Photos: Top Right, Chefchaouen city view; at left, looking up a cathedral bell tower in Casablanca; second right, Casablanca’s Cathedral; lower left, Beni Mallel street vendors.