This past summer, I spent eight weeks traveling through the beautiful country of Morocco.
This study abroad opportunity was offered to me through ROTC. Project Global Officer, or Project GO, is a program that promotes language and culture study for ROTC students. After becoming acquainted with the Tufts Arabic program through two semesters taking the language, I was intrigued and excited to learn more. I applied to the Project GO abroad program to study at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. This was an incredible experience that exposed me to the richness of Moroccan language and culture. Additionally, I was able to meet some amazing people who remain friends with and to deepen my knowledge of the Moroccan language and culture.
At the airport in Paris, I met up with the seven other cadets/midshipmen that I would be traveling with for the rest of the program. There were two Air Force cadets (including myself), four Army cadets and one Navy Midshipman. After another flight, we finally arrived in the city of Casablanca which we would later get to fully explore. Then, we traveled to another city called Fez, and after a midnight bus ride we finally arrived in Ifrane, a small town in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Because of the elevation, Ifrane was a cool 75 and sunny all the time. The architecture was quaint and the university that we stayed at had meticulously manicured lawns (that they really spent an impressive amount of time maintaining).
During the week, we attended our Arabic classes at the university, did homework and studied in the café at night, fueled by coffee and fresh croissants. On the weekends as long as our travel was approved, we had free reign of our time. During the first weekend we decided to travel to Tangier, a city on the coast of Northern Morocco. When we finally arrived, we stayed in a small hostel that had a view of the entire city from the roof. It was a relatively new place and we were some of the first customers, so in the mornings the manager cooked a full breakfast which he shared with all of us.
After a delicious meal, we spent the days wandering the medina. We traveled deep into the city searching for great restaurants. We found a café that was commonly frequented by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, another café with famous tea that overlooked the entire coastline and showed you a far-off Spain in the distance. One day, we walked miles and miles to eventually come upon the divider between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It was here where we sat and watched a technicolor sunset. While on this trip, we all practiced our Arabic with street vendors, waiters, taxi drivers, and anyone who would speak to us. It was a bonus that many people in the city also spoke Spanish and French, which allowed us to fill in any communication gaps with our other language knowledge.
Honestly, I always thought that Microsoft desktop backgrounds were computer generated and generally fake. This trip proved me dead wrong. The sand dunes looked like they were laser cut, and the sand was so fine it was like water. The first day in the Sahara, we drank at least 5 cups of delicious piping hot mint tea, which made absolutely no sense to me at the time, but I soon learned was very commonplace in this scorching environment because it lowers your internal body temperature making the heat more bearable. On the first day in the desert, we rode camels into the sand dunes. Once we reached the bottom of the largest one, we dismounted and looked up at least a 400 meter, almost vertical slope. One of my friends says, “We can climb up this way, full send”, and man, did he regret that decision. About halfway up, we were climbing, or more crawling, up the slope in socks with our hands in our shoes, sweating profusely, with sand EVERYWHERE. I still had sand in my eyes and nose for weeks after we got back. That was probably one of the hardest cardio workouts I have every experienced. But we eventually made it to the top and the view was worth it. There were pristine dunes laid out for miles and miles – an ocean of sand in perfect, frozen waves. We waited up there until the sun began to set, and it was like a block of gold melting over the horizon. Of course, we were all too busy running/falling full speed down the vertical slope of the sand dune to notice much, but what I did see was absolutely magical.
ROTC gave me the opportunity to travel abroad, see the world, and learn a language that I am passionate about. We took many trips over the course of the program, and along the way learned so much. I made some great friends and experienced things I would have never seen anywhere else. Connections and opportunities like these are only some of the great things that a person can experience as a cadet. There are so many summer programs offered in so many different disciplines, so that cadets with all interests can find something that will teach them a lot and give them a great window into how their interests are applied in the real world. Project GO was truly an amazing experience, in a beautiful country!