Marshall study abroad student immersed in Moroccan culture

There are not stereotypes about Islam here like there are in the U.S., so we can actually get past trying to correct false assumptions and really delve into studying the religion for what it is.

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Katelyn McGuffin, junior at Marshall University, is currently studying abroad in Ifrane, Morocco, where she has become immersed in the culture of the Moroccan people.

Since January 13th McGuffin has been on many adventures including trips to Fez and Morocco’s capital, Rabat, where she learned how to surf.

This weekend she plans to visit Marrakesh to take tours of the city, the Atlas Mountains and maybe even ride a camel. For spring break she plans to take a trip south.

“It is fun to get off campus occasionally, to go to dinner in town, to take a break from the dining halls, and Ifrane is just a beautiful place,” McGuffin said. “It has vast parks and a welcoming town center comprised of shops, restaurants and the marche.”

At Marshall McGuffin works the front desk of the INTO MU center, and she has also been a coordinator for the Conversations Partner Program. She says working at the INTO MU center has prepared her for this trip in many ways.

“It has given me the opportunity to regularly interact with an international community and aided me in feeling completely comfortable engaging with people from different cultures,” McGuffin said. “It has also helped me get used to understanding accents. INTO MU has cultivated in me a passion for international students, so I am eager each day here to meet new Moroccan friends and share life with them.”

One aspect of home she was eager to share with her Moroccan friends was the movie “We Are Marshall.”

This isn’t McGuffin’s first time outside of the United States. She has also been to Haiti, Israel, Canada and Costa Rica. These were all trips lasting fewer than 10 days, and so she is thoroughly enjoying her long stay in Morocco.

According to McGuffin the languages most spoken there are French and Arabic, more specifically Darija Arabic. French is more common on campus, but luckily all of her classes are taught in English. She said taking a taxi or doing anything off campus does require some basic Arabic skills.

Her major is communications studies with an emphasis in interpersonal communication, and her minor is Greek. Her classes have given her many learning experiences about the Moroccan culture.

“Because I am living in a predominantly Islamic society, it’s fascinating how the religion is ubiquitous in each of my classes and in daily life and conversations. I love the perspectives I am getting in class, especially in my Introduction to Islamic Civilization class, because there are not stereotypes about Islam here like there are in the U.S., so we can actually get past trying to correct false assumptions and really delve into studying the religion for what it is,” McGuffin said.

McGuffin said she is highly impressed with the Moroccan way of life. She said life there is very slow-paced and the people are very hospitable.

“Everything here is slower, and people make time for people. Quality time is valued above the task at any given moment, and that is definitely something I want to take back with me and exhibit better in the U.S.,” McGuffin said.

“The most vivid image of hospitality I saw was visiting a nearby shepherd town, Tarmilat, a very impoverished area, far from the comfortable life I have in the dorm. We came to donate boots to the local school, and they greeted us warmly, sat us down to talk with us and served us an abundance of tea and msemen (Moroccan bread), despite the little they had.”

She said the only big difference in the culture she has seen while studying in Morocco is the way people greet one another.

The most learning I’ve done here has not been in the classroom. I love Morocco, and it has a mystery about it that many popular study abroad countries seem to lack because they’ve become so touristy.”

— McGuffin

“Typically people greet one another by touching cheeks and making a kissing sound — one on each cheek for the typical greeting or a total of four if you haven’t seen the person in a while. It’s like a handshake to them,” McGuffin said.

She also said that the weather is quite different from what many expect Morocco weather to be: desert like. She said classes were cancelled the first week of school because they received over a foot of snow. She also said that some students have told her sometimes it still snows in May in Morocco.

McGuffin said one thing she has fallen in love with during her trip is Moroccan mint tea and that she dearly misses her family and friends.

McGuffin said this opportunity to study abroad has given her a widened perspective.

“One significant experience for me was visiting my roommate’s mosque with her in town and discussing Islam and religion with her. Being a follower of Christ makes me a minority here, and I am thankful for the religious dialogue that is encouraged on campus, specifically through the Interfaith Alliance at AUI.  I am learning so much about Islam — from my roommate, other friends and in classes — which gives me perspectives I have never before encountered in the United States, and that’s probably the most valuable aspect of living in this predominantly Muslim culture,” McGuffin said.

McGuffin said she highly recommends this study abroad to other students.

“The most learning I’ve done here has not been in the classroom. I love Morocco, and it has a mystery about it that many popular study abroad countries seem to lack because they’ve become so touristy,” McGuffin said.

“There are definitely touristy parts of Morocco, but for the most part, prepare for some deep cultural immersion that allows you to really experience genuine Moroccan culture — tagines, mint tea and all.”     

 Caitlin Fowlkes can be contacted at [email protected]