Tag Archives: culture shock



New pants! Thanks, Bellarmine Hall donation bin. Whoever in Bell that wears my size pants and donated them. I needed pants. (badly.)

Here is the current transition situation: this whole thing is a big pile of awesomeness and headaches. Figuring out leases, being unemployed, sleeping on couches, reading books, exclaiming enthusiastically upon meeting someone I haven’t seen in five months, getting sometimes frustrated or overwhelmed or headachey until I go to some quirky Seattle café and get some dark, black, AMERICAN HAHAHAHA I LOVE IT coffee and chat with personable baristas that I remember from back when and read books by Milan Kundera or Slavoj Žižek (I’m really smart, didn’t you know?) (actually, he just published 1,000 pages on Hegel in a weighty tome called Less Than Nothing, which is funny because it’s 1,000 friggin pages of a lot more than nothing. No, I’m on page 12. I’m not that smart. I just like to appear smart in cafés) and that always raises my spirits.

This is my third café of the day, and do you know what it isn’t? A MAN CAFÉ. HEMDULLILAH.

Funny story, I’d typed all the “café”s in this entry without the ´ over the E, because I thought now that I’m in the U.S. the accent looks pretentious, but then when I read it over I pronounced it cafe as incapewith an F instead of a P and it sounded pretty dumb in my head so I replaced them all with És.

Here’s what I find myself doing: randomly writing stuff in Arabic all over the place, saying stuff like “oh. mushkil,” in my head, and scrolling through our cohort’s facebook page every time I’m on the computer. All my girls and boys have become so…so…cyber-real now that we’re not together in Morocco anymore, whereas all my home-friends have become real real, and DUH KATIE OF COURSE THEY DID but I didn’t realize just how polarized these worlds would be. Morocco feels like another universe: though I can recall every detail as soon as I close my eyes, I can’t seem to finds the words or pictures or anything that brings it to life for my old friends, who seem both excited and unsure about what I’m doing here. Well, I’m excited and unsure about what I’m doing here, too, so we’re on the same page.

And then there’s the whole realization that nobody really cares about Morocco, which is also sort of funny. It doesn’t bother me, it’s just kind of funny–that what happened over there really only matters to 1) my friends, or 2) the very small minority of people who know about Morocco. Then I remember that we all have our bubbles, and that Morocco is a new bubble that I inhabit alone here, and that’s okay.  The French in France people will have their France bubbles, the IDIPers have their IDIP bubbles, the SUers who stuck around had their Winter-Spring 2012 bubble, I have my Morocco bubble. The fun part will be blowing our bubbles at each other–if we can find the words, if we can find the pictures. I’m still working on that.

(blowing our bubbles at each other? I think I need an editor.)

I swear, though, if I hear one more “Arabic! Wow. Squiggles and dots, right?!” I WILL SQUIGGLE YOU. Arabic is a LANGUAGE with LETTERS THAT ARE CONNECTED. Okay, I’m not being fair, because I’d have said the same thing before I learned anything about it. In fact, I probably did. In fact fact, I think the only reason that it bothers me is because I don’t like to be reminded that I’m not in Morocco anymore. Which is also unfair because I’m not in Morocco anymore, and simply by virtue of their not-being-in-Morocco-either, other people constantly remind me of it. Squiggles and dots. Ha.

You know, I even feel a little guilty typing that. Who do I think I am, judging people like that? SHUT UP, KATIE. It’s just so surreal to not be complaining about Al-Kitaab to the English-speaking Arabic students around me (a sure-fire way to start a conversation with any student in Morocco), and instead have English-speaking Normal People look impressed by my practically nonexistent Arabic skills. Bizarre. Also, hearing English everywhere: bizarre. The flow of traffic: bizarre. The price of bread/fruit/anything: BIZARRE. The coffee: INCREDIBLE.

However, let me counter this withjust how muchI’ve felt welcomed in the past few days: people who, even though we’re barely even acquaintances, remembered that I’d been in Morocco and looked excited to see me home. People who squeal in excitement and make sure I know that they’re interested in my experience there, who want to grab coffee and catch up, who can’t wait to catch me up on news of home, who want to cook Moroccan food with me sometime. As isolated as I’ve been from this community, I’m reminded upon my return of why I missed it so much.

I’m still nervous about coming back for senior year, though. I feel so done with college, and the concept of a whole ‘nother year is a bit daunting at the moment. Nervous about choir, which is very different from what it’s been in the past. Nervous about math class and houses. Living in this weird couchsurfey limbo, till I figure out whether my summer sublet (in the house I’ll be living in come fall) fell through or not (I’ll be temporarily homeless if so, how sad).

So, now that I’m rambling, let me wrap this up with a life-summary: my current existence is as comically disoriented and disorganized as my brain, which plans no farther than 5 days in advance (and even that’s a stretch) and has been reading books and drinking coffee rather than doing anything constructive for my life or future. I’m living by the seat of my new donation-bin pants, both happy and frustrated to be back in Seattle. I am going to try to start writing more stories about things. Maybe I’ll take a writing stories class or something. I am going to keep updating this blog, probly, because what else will I do in my 3rd café of the day?

Okay, this is enough. Peace out, y’all!



Or I could make my OWN meme…


It’d be something like “study abroad student comes home,” probably featuring a confused-looking college student wearing vaguely ethnic clothing (christ, doesn’t this girl realize how hollow words like “ethnic” are when used in that context? How insensitive. Culture Shock is no laughing matter, nor is the Inappropriate Use of Cultural Symbols Like Clothing. Jeez).  There would be captions like, “LOOKS AT FACEBOOK/WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE!?” or “/BAGELS” or “WTF IS THIS SHIT / $ ”

I suppose that last meme would apply to anyone who didn’t go to a Euro country, for whom the dollar would be a blessed relief. I, however, have found myself far less rich than I was in Morocco, where a kilo of fresh oranges cost me 6 dirhams (remember that exchange rate? Actually, the dollar’s struggling; it’s up to 8.8956 MAD to one US dollar).

That’s still around 67 cents for a kilo of oranges, though, so no complaints here.

Anyway, we’re cooking Chinese food for dinner tonight. SWEET. Holy crap, this blog is getting pretty boring now that I’m spending my days folding clothes. HERE IS A COOL PICTURE THAT FORREST TOOK!!!!! Forrest is Angela’s pal, who studied with her in France and came to visit us in Morocco during our last few days there. She takes awesome pictures.

The Sad


Being sad in other countries is hard.

Being sad at home is hard enough, when life drains of meaning and the Lonely machine (meaning a machine that produces loneliness, and is not lonely in itself) in my head tirelessly cranks out sadness like a broken printer. In another country, without the people I’m used to and surrounded by things I don’t understand, the sadness seeps into every corner of my brain and clouds all of my perceptions and interactions.

In general, I’m a fairly stable person, but I frequently find myself very extremely happy and enthusiastic about things and nothing can touch me I am so very happy everything is great great great! By contrast, when the occasional Sadness hits, I’m somebody else. It’s the saddest sadness ever. Nothing means anything and everything sucks and I suck and lonely and death and sucky and sad. This is when the Lonely Machine kicks it into overdrive; nothing and nobody can escape its reach, and Sad and Judge settle in for an extended stay.

This is the Lonely Machine:

Someday I'll get good enough at paint to make real computer drawings but till then you get pictures of drawings. WOO

Probably because I’m in whoa-new-country mode, I misfired big time in my battle against the Sad, which only made things sadder. Last week, to try to escape the Lonely Machine’s inevitable condemnation, I aimed all the judge at everyone else instead of myself, which was easy here because I don’t know anyone that well yet.


But I got so sad and judgy, and guilty at being sad and judgy, that I couldn’t keep that going for very long. Then I started getting angry with myself for judging other people, and thought that by telling myself off, I’d stop and feel better.


Why are you judging them? what did they do to you?


they’re really nice people and you suck.



Oh. Yeah you’re right I –


I’m sorry….! S**T I’M SORRY






This produced more frustration, isolation, and sadness, which I eventually ran out of energy for, to be replaced by lifeless and depressing interpretations of all the things happening around me, no matter how awesome they were. I forgot that the majority of things here are wonderful, and instead started paying attention to the things that make me uncomfortable. And thus, all the everyday differences that I was just learning to take in stride suddenly became severe blows to my self esteem.

Classmates I suddenly don’t know how to relate to you even though you are also from the US and understand me

Street please stop catcalling me please

People please stop staring there is nothing interesting about me

Darija/Fousha speakers I don’t know anything about what you are saying and also I suck

and also I suck

I’m pretty proactive, so I took further measures to combat the Sad, like played ukelele (shut up you’re stupid), ran (what, you’re taking a walk break already?), told stories (oh, talk more. Good for you), surfed the internet (did you come to Morocco to internet? cool.), and read (SHUT UP YOU SUCK). Yet even those things I did to try to pull myself out of the Sad didn’t work, because the Lonely Machine just turned it all into self-conscious judge sludge, and I am a big stupid pile of sad.


That’s a weirdly symmetrical pile of sad but you get the idea.

Explanations didn’t help either. It’s culture shock homesickness occasional depression it’ll pass you’re fine okay. Cool. Diagnose me all you want, I’m too apathetic to care anyway.

And then for other people’s sake and because I’m in Morocco and I want EVERYTHING TO BE GREAT GREAT GREAT, I just tuck the Sad away and attempt to ignore it, even though it persistently hammers on the door of my consciousness, demanding entry in quiet moments. But sometimes by then I’m just too numb to care.

And since I’m wildly inconsistent, sometimes I wake up and it’s just not there anymore.

…So that’s what happens when I get sad in other countries.






Today, class, we’re going to learn how to learn Arabic hellza fast—or, we’ll learn all about what frustrates me while attempting to learn Arabic hellza fast. Mezien? Good.

Arabic is a varied and complex language, with (I am so eloquent here) bajillions of different spoken dialects spanning North Africa and the middle east. I’m studying the very particular dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco, Darija, which is often incomprehensible to Arabic speakers from anywhere else (this incomprehensibility is, interestingly, one-way; since the media is largely in Fous7a and Egyptian Arabic, Darija speakers have no trouble understanding other dialects). Darija is an entirely oral dialect, and so the rules that apply to written Modern Standard Arabic do not apply in our Darija classroom; this makes spelling and pronunciation sort of whatever-you-want. Cool!

We conduct classes using a mind-bending combination of Arabic script and latin-script phonetics (there is no International Phonetic Alphabet here, we just write what sounds right, which is different from the weird Peace Corps textbook, which is different from the class handouts. BRAIN). So, for example, here are some verbs conjugated in the past tense:

(Pretty, right? I friggin love this script.)

AND THEN we are instructed to write a paragraph about something, using the verbs that we just conjugated. Easy, right? NOPE. We’re not fluent enough in the alphabet to be able to spell out a paragraph using Arabic script, so we’re supposed to do it something like this:

(It looks like jibberish, yes. Yes, that is my nose. Yes, these are my notes. JIBBERISH NOSE NOTES.)

I’m struggling a lot with the brain acrobatics, I just thought I’d share that with you all. Good thing Allie is a fous7a goddess. Good thing we have 12-year-olds to be way better at this than us. WOOOOO!!

Sometimes in class, I get frustrated with myself for not understanding immediately, for messing up sounding out words, for not learning it all perfectly as soon as I open the book. It’s the classic measure-self-worth-against-performance-in-class complex, which is silly, and so I’m working on being patient with myself. This is only week 2 and I can DO this. I AM doing this! I WILL LEARN THESE SKILLS TO PUT TO USE FOR A MORE JUST AND HUMANE WORLD! RAAAAAAAWR!!!

Still, the combination of difficult classwork, new culture, new place, new language, new everything, feeling isolated and starved for news of you—I find myself sometimes becoming overemotional about things like numbers and verb tenses, laundry and showering, eating and sleeping. It’s the little things here that yank the comfy chair of familiarity out from under me at every turn; sometimes I get tired of falling off the cultural merry-go-round, and every-so-often attempt to steal a meditative moment of solitude in the bathroom.

(Pooping is becoming a very spiritual experience for me. It’s the ONLY time I ever spend alone here.)

It’s just that before I left, 4 months was no big deal. I think of my friends who have left for months and months, years and years, and my heart fills up; 4 months looks pretty scary from here.  But I have found a wonderful community here, too, and I know it’s something we can all pull off together (cue high school musical. Yeah, and I know a dance to it, too. NO SHAME! WOOO), as we share our linguistic triumphs and awkward moments. Let’s DO this.




C’est baasl


Or, Katie uses Rage Faces to talk about Uncomfortable Subjects

BAASL. That means YUCKY. It’s a very important word.

Not everything in Morocco is wonderful. For example, they drink this stuff that I thought was milk. Took a gulp…

The taste most closely resembles liquified sour cream, but really it’s sorta just spoiled milk. I suppose I could develop a taste for it, but I’m not sure I want to try.

Today, one of our host sisters played a very unsettling game of make-believe: Alexandra and I were her wives, and she our husband. I mean, that’s fine, except for the frequent pretend wife-beating and I’m-angry-with-you-because-you-won’t-obey-me sort of things. UUUUUHHHHHHHHHH

I masked my discomfort, because a harmless child’s game is just that, and she plays games modeled from what she knows—but internally, my discomfort quickly evolved into anger. Gender issues in this country are delicate, and have been in flux for decades, but it infuriated the little-incredible-hulk-feminist inside me that explodes every so often. I WILL NOT PLAY THIS GAME AND I WISH—I WISH—

The men tend to order around the women, and will raise a hand-just in play-against them (it’s still uncomfortable). ijust-don’t- I need to get used to it? I don’t really know how to handle that.

Other yucky things: if you make eye contact with a guy, it means you want to sleep with him. I guess. That’s pretty dumb. I was followed by multiple men multiple times today, and there’s not much I can do about it except tell them to leave me alone. The catcalling I can deal with (Moroccan women often see it as a confidence boost, oh I look good today), but I think foreign women get the short straw. I suppose I’ll have to get used to it, though it’s a bit weird that so many men seemed to have nothing better to do today than follow us around.

Me: laissez-moi tranquille, s’il vous plaît. (and other such things, eye rolling, etc)

Group of 2 or more men: ton numéro téléphone? Ooh la la! (Follows around for 30 more minutes)


Less important things don’t make sense here, too: walking in sandals outside makes you sick. Not having slippers/sandals on inside on the tile makes you sick. Having uncovered wet hair outside makes you sick. Not eating enough makes you sick AND ugly. All of that is charming, actually, but it can get overwhelming trying to remember when to take off and put on shoes, having to say schvet! schvet! shokran! Schvet! —I’m done eating! I’m done! No, really, thank you, I’m done!—and nobody hugs here. I miss hugs.

Random fact, nobody really drinks water here, so we all got super dehydrated during the first week. What?


Well, I don’t want this to be a completely downer post or anything. I’m happy, and this is all part of the Experience, the Journey, the Growth, right? There’s all sorts of other uncomfortable things, too, so now imma write about a funny one, in this blog post.

Tomi the Drooly Kitty, and Other Stories


Or, Morning Edition

Tomi the Drooly Kitty and Rime the Pregnant Kitty sleep on my bed every night and growl when I move. Really growl. Growl.

Here in Morocco, everyone lives with their family until they’re married, or something else happens and they move out.  Though there’s really not a status quo with cultural stuff in the US, many Moroccans find it bizarre that we moved out of our parents’ houses at 17 or 18 to make our own way in the world, and find it even more bizarre that we don’t plan on coming back; that we might not get married at all.

Including Alexandra and I, there are around 10 people living in a house behind the blue walls, tucked away in a corner of the labyrinthine Kasbah: five middle-aged siblings, 3 kids, and the two of us. THEY ARE AWESOME. You’d never guess that the house was small; from the rooftop terrace, it feels as though you have all of Rabat and Salé and the Ocean to wander to; you’d never guess that money’s scarce, because laughter isn’t.

Oh. So we get up before the sun rises, and this is what we watch out the tiny kitchen window as we eat breakfast. Like, whatever.

The family is very traditionally Moroccan, but not at all religious (that means something very different here than it does in the States; I mean only that they don’t pray each time we hear the calls to prayer rise from the mosques surrounding the Kasbah. Maybe they pray in their heads, who knows? I’ll have plenty of time to tell you about religion, religious language, etc…anyway); they sleep, as I mentioned, on the couches bordering every wall, and share one big closet. They all speak Darija, Fous7a, and French, they eat in the traditional Moroccan fashion, they watch ridiculously fantastic Arabic soaps. The house is always occupied, always lively, always loud, never lonely. Neither of us really have any problem communicating, this family are experts at bouncing between languages, encouraging us to speak and explain things to each other. Abir and Wided are our wonderful, 12-year-old fraternal twin host sisters that we can ask about anything, Jalel is their 14-year-old brother upon whom we are planning a good practical joke to get him back for spraying us with water from the roof yesterday.

That’s another one watching the sun rise. The BOATS. AAAAAH.

Jamila, Farid, Boushra, Abdnmabid, and Huria are the siblings living here. I’m not sure what all their stories are; some widowed, some divorced, but it’s not unusual here for siblings to just keep living in the family house after their parents die. This family has been in l’Oudaya forever, I’m pretty sure.

People are starting to get to know Alexandra and I, which is nice; maybe soon they won’t try to rip us off at the hanout because we’re foreign, which requires us to overcome our paralyzing fear of haggling with a local shopkeeper (yeah, that is exactly what we came here for. Cultural whatnot. I suppose we’ll get there).

Also, people stare. ALL THE TIME. I’ve never been so conscious of being so white. SO WHITE! SOOOOO WHIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTE ALL THE TIME. SO WHITE AND PRIVILEGED. I think about it all the time. Every time I go out and catch 8 people staring. I wonder if I’ll get used to that.

Also, you think Seattle is well-dressed? Come to Rabat. One Thing I did Not Expect from This Experience: Learning about fashion. Moroccans dress SO WELL, it’s a fashion show every time we step in the street! On the other hand, they immediately change into all-sweats inside the house. It’s two completely different realms, the street and the house. The divides between private and public, female and male, h’shuma and proper—all these I promise to enumerate in more detail over the course of my stay here. There’s a lot to talk about.