In Morocco I was surrounded by beautiful blue, clear skies, hospitable Moroccans, and more food than even I could handle. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, a place that I hope to visit again in the future, I also realized how much I should appreciate where I come from: USA. I began to understand the privileges I have because of where I was born on two occasions: 1. when we were meeting with the Moroccan students and 2. when we were leaving Morocco. While these seemed like very minor situations at the time, they left a major impact.
As we were talking to some of the Moroccan students I learned that many of them can't travel to the places they want because it is hard to get a visa. They said it is a waste of money because, unless you come from money, you will most certainly be rejected. This shocked me because I ignorantly assumed that getting a visa from your own country couldn't be that hard. The students further explained that the government believes that unless you have a stable job in Morocco (or a reason to come back in general) that you will not return from your destination and end up living there longer than your visa entails. Additionally, it is very hard to gain access to certain countries because a person is Moroccan.
When they told me these things, I flashed back to when I was applying for my visa for Spain and how much I complained about the process. I complained the entire semester about how much it cost, all the paperwork including the many photocopies of my ID, the application, etc. and the money it cost me to go from Peoria to the Chicago Consulate. And when I say I complained y'all, I am serious…I complained hardcore with the absolute worst attitude when it came to the whole process. There I was, upset about the paperwork, the 2.5 hour train ride to Chicago and a $20 envelope to mail my visa back to me, when there are people who desire to find a better life and are denied because they "may not return." In that moment I felt ashamed for how I acted because I can't imagine going through all of that just to be rejected and lose not only the "non-refundable" application fee, but the opportunity to study abroad or go anywhere for that matter to gain new experiences and a new way of life. However, just because I happened to be born in the US, I am born into these opportunities. Instead of being grateful I was reminded that I acted more like a spoiled American brat.
On our way out of Morocco I became even more aware of our privilege. My group leader explained that our driver, Yaseen (the nicest man with a million dollar smile), would need a visa to cross the 9 miles it will take us on the ferry to Spain. Once again I was shocked and felt terrible for the complaining I did last fall about my paperwork. I can't imagine being a Moroccan who pursues a life in Europe, but will have to go through an extensive application process only to most likely be denied. We even got out of the van we had been traveling in and literally walked across the border while there were cars lined up for miles trying to get through. It was crazy because as we were waiting to walk through, all the Moroccans were waving at us and being the genuinely nice people I have come to appreciate…even though we basically jumped a line of hundreds of people. The officers at the border had friendlier attitudes towards us, the Americans, than their own people. It was very uncomfortable at times and I get goosebumps writing about.
If Morocco taught me anything, it was to be grateful for what I have. Having to carry around toilet paper and kleenex for the bathrooms, only drink bottled water due to different bacterial differences and not showering after four days of traveling, hiking, and walking really put life into perspective for me. Having to embrace a culture that is, in essence, less developed from your own is something I assumed wouldn't phase me as much, but it did in the best possible way. Before I came abroad everyone told me how much I was going to change, however I didn't think that Morocco would literally turn my world view upside down in such a short amount of time.
I'd rather splurge on a good meal than a nice hotel, wine than water and plane tickets than club covers. Traveling and eating are my two favorite things, so follow my journey to see where I go and eat next! I'm just living my best life.