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Classes Abroad: Challenge Accepted

Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal 

I chose to study abroad in Morocco because I had been learning both Arabic and French for a few years, and wanted the chance to practice both languages inside and outside of the classroom. Most importantly, I also wanted to continue to contribute to my Linguistics major and my Arabic studies minor. What some may not know is that in most Moroccan cities, people speak both Arabic and French, and many, in fact, are adept at switching between the two fluidly! So with this detail in mind, the program that seemed perfect for my needs was the CIEE Language & Culture program in Rabat, Morocco.

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When I arrived in Rabat, the time came for me to choose my classes for the semester. Taking classes abroad is very different from taking classes at Illinois. First of all, classes never included more than a handful of students because the CIEE program that I went on had only ten students total. Secondly, teaching methods weren’t just lectures, but tutorials, seminars, fieldwork, and some even had guest lectures, field trips, and excursions that were relevant to an academic theme. Like some programs, all of us had to take two required courses: Contemporary Moroccan Culture and Society and any level of Modern Standard Arabic. We then had the choice of two English or French taught electives such as Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, Modern Moroccan Literature, and the Qur’an. Eager to learn as much as I could, I took all three electives, including the French-taught elective about Moroccan Literature. I knew I could handle the burden of taking this additional class because my French couldn’t be that bad, right? As it turns out, this literature class was my most difficult. I had majorly overestimated my French-speaking abilities, and even though I had a longer and richer education in French (since high school), my intense focus on learning Arabic since starting college had overshadowed my French skills. Because our class was only five people, it was discussion based. We would spend most days discussing the themes of the novels and how they reflected Moroccan history and society.

French books horizontal

I struggled to keep up in class. Although I had some trouble reading the novels and understanding the professor, I had the most trouble with the in-class discussions. I could not articulate my ideas without pausing and stuttering, or even worse, switching to Arabic. I would sit in silence, dreading the moment the professor would ask my opinion. I understood the books and I developed opinions about them, but I just couldn’t voice them. That was the most frustrating part. However, instead of dropping the class and continuing with the other two electives, I stayed in the French class. I knew it was the best way to challenge myself to get better at French. See, I was comfortable with Arabic; I used it with my host family, with taxi drivers, and with shopkeepers. This class was the only thing that forced me to continue practicing French, so I stuck with it. I had to. Over the course of the semester, I improved my French significantly, and all because of this course. Granted, I wasn’t perfect and it still took a lot more time and dedication to keep up in class, but at the end of the semester, it was extremely satisfying to see the progress I had made.

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