Students Reflect on Immersion into Arabic Culture
Students Reflect on Immersion into Arabic Culture

by Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor

An eight-hour flight gave Maegan Moran ’14 more than enough time to ponder what the next three weeks in Morocco would have in store for her. She was one of seven students who spent winter break living and studying in Morocco, immersing themselves in the culture and testing their understanding of Arabic.

“I kept thinking and wondering what our host family would be like and if we would be able to communicate with them,” said Moran, who stayed with a host family with one of her classmates.

While in Morocco, the students visited the city of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Understandably, there were hurdles to overcome when communicating with their new family, but they improvised. “We found ways to talk with them through a combination of Arabic, charades and laughter,” said Moran, who has been studying Arabic for about two years. “We learned that laughter is a universal language.”

By the end of the trip, Moran said she felt more confident understanding and speaking the language.

“Immersion is so crucial because we talk in class, but it is totally different to interact with people day to day,” she said. “The language isn’t easy, and it was a struggle at times, but I know I mastered more of the language because I was forced to use it every day. Being around people who know the language made it easier to learn.”

Moran, a criminal justice major, said the time living in a new place was good preparation for a career that will see her interact with people from various cultures, religions and ethnicities.

“Sometimes we forget that our culture and traditions are not the same as the rest of the world,” she said. “I was able to see firsthand that culture can vary a lot, and I learned how important it is to understand someone’s culture before you make any judgments about that person.”

Brandon McKenzie ’14, another participant on the trip, has been planning for a career in federal law enforcement since high school. He started studying Arabic two years ago when he learned that it was at the top of the FBI’s list of most valuable languages to know.

“In our country, there are a lot of misrepresentations of the Arab world because of things such as terrorism, and I thought it was very important for me to go to an Arabic country so that I could experience the culture firsthand instead of just listening to what the media told me,” he said.

“There is no better way to learn about a culture than to live in it, and there is no better way to learn a language than being in an environment where you have to speak it,” he said.

Solange Ramikssoon ’15, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, embraced the opportunity to experience a new culture different than the one she grew up in and the one she lives in at UNH.

Between classes, she bargained with the shopkeepers, made friends with the locals and fed peanuts to the native monkeys during a visit to the resort town of Ifrane. Through it all, she expanded her understanding of the language and appreciation of the Arabic culture.

She enjoyed the trip so much that she is already planning a return visit to see her host family. “I felt so comfortable and welcomed there, and I want to try to maintain my relationship with them,” she said.

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