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What Teaching Taught Me
By Julia E. (YES Abroad 2017-2018, Morocco, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
A big part of the first half of my exchange year in Morocco has been spending time volunteering. Every Saturday and Wednesday, I volunteer at an association in Salé, the city right next to Rabat. Twice a week, I rush to the tram and take it all the way across the river that divides the two cities. After about a forty-five minute commute, I arrive and immediately go to my class. I teach English to Moroccans and refugees from Sub Saharan Africa. The organization I work with, called ARDES (Association Régionale de Développement Economique et Social), was founded to help people (refugees and Moroccans alike) through their struggle with poverty by providing job training.
Teaching these English classes was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. When I first started, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. A little known fact about Morocco is that plans are nearly nonexistent. Things are often planned at the last minute, if they are planned at all. I often struggled with not knowing when things were going to happen or what exactly was going on, but that, as with most things, I became quite accustomed to. I now find myself walking leisurely around town with my friends and not worrying about what comes next or about not having enough to do. When it came to my internship, however, I was extremely nervous. I had never taught a class before, let alone in French and to students who were years older than me. Let me just say it was a very nerve-wracking tram ride that first day.
It turned out to be a very inspiring experience. Even though I enjoyed large classes, I cherished the times when only a few people showed up and I could converse with them one on one. Often times, new people would come and the head of the association, Mr. Hassan, would have me sit and talk to them in English. I will never forget one young woman from the Republic of Congo that I spoke to for nearly two hours. She explained her life story, from her leaving the Congo to when she hopes to go back and see her family. I asked her questions about her home country, about food and culture and her eyes would light up talking about it. When I asked if she was from Brazzaville, the capital, a look of surprise flooded her face. Why in the world would a random American teenager know anything about the Congo? I knew that was what she was thinking. She laughed and asked me what else I knew, which honestly wasn’t very much. But speaking to her and knowing at least a tiny bit about where she was from went so much farther than I ever could’ve expected. I felt much closer to her and it was as though something was broken between us, a barrier that was only there due to stereotypes and expectations. We both wanted to learn more about the other, and that is something that I have come to realize should be inside everyone: genuine curiosity about one another.
For the next hour or so, she and I conversed in a mix of English, French, shaky darija (Moroccan Arabic), and the few words of Lingala that she tried to teach me. At this point, those words have left me, but the feeling I had when talking to her will stay with me for the rest of my exchange and beyond.