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From Guidebooks to Reality: Amid the Artwork and Tranquility of Asilah, Morocco

Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal

There is no way to truly be ready for a study abroad experience. I bought a NatGeo guidebook from Barnes & Noble, I read Lonely Planet articles, and I searched for blogs and forums in hopes that I could somehow envision what my life would soon be abroad. Although these resources may have told me which sites to visit and what to eat, deep down I knew that they could not possibly convey what my experience in each location would be. And this rang true when deciding to visit the small coastal city of Asilah, a destination my sources recommended. This tiny town has changed hands many times. Previous rulers include the Phoenicians, the Portuguese, the pirates, and even the Spanish. It is a popular vacation spot for many Moroccans yet it retains a quiet and relaxed atmosphere.

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The most fascinating part of Asilah is an art festival that takes place every summer. This art festival was founded by two men who wanted to bring the forgotten city back to life. Now the festival has grown to include guests from all parts of the world, from Saudi royalty to Japanese diplomats. Hotels in the area are fully booked months in advance. Although I did not get to attend the festival itself, I experienced what was left behind: every summer, artists are invited to paint murals on the massive walls of the old city. The best ones are left up for the next few years. Seeing photos in a guidebook or in a postcard was different than actually being in the town’s reality. Bright, colorful paintings can be found at every turn, down every lane, and every alley. No guidebook could ever do this artwork of Asilah justice. It is simply unimaginable until you see it yourself.

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Even the merchants in the old city take on more of an artisan role. Shops sell goods that are difficult to find anywhere else. Most items are handcrafted, making each one unique. You can also enjoy a tall glass of the mint tea specialty while sitting by the old Portuguese fortress walls. Between the sounds of the sea and the magnificent artwork, it is impossible not to enjoy Asilah. Despite all this, Asilah still has not been tainted by the hustle and bustle of tourists. The small town retains an incomparable air of tranquility and serenity.

While in Morocco, I visited this city three times. I discovered something new each time I visited. Even though it was such a small town, I could not explore it in just a day. Even though I had visited it before, I had not truly seen it. Even though I read about it online and in my guidebook, I did not understand it. The encounters you have studying abroad will always surprise you and exceed your expectations, no matter how much you may prepare beforehand. This is truthfully the best part of studying abroad. As many pictures you may see and as much advice you may get, you must experience it yourself to even begin to understand. If I go back again, I will make sure to visit Asilah. And when I do, I’m sure it will surprise me yet again.

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