After I fell sick in Hanoi for over a week (the entirety of my stay there), I was glad to have a change in scenery once I was finally in recovery. Studying with IHP requires a lot of stamina in order to travel so frequently. For someone like me who has not traveled much, our travel days are exhausting. Our journey from Hanoi, Vietnam to Rabat, Morocco began on a Friday afternoon. We checked out of our hotel at 1:00 p.m. and drove for an hour to the airport, where we had to wait for another hour before checking in, since the ticket desk was not yet ready for us. Each of us spent extra time waiting at the check-in desk, attempting to get our luggage checked through to Rabat in order to prevent having to recheck our luggage along the way. Once we got through security, we were not left with much time before boarding our plane. The first leg of our journey was to Kuala Lumpur on a relatively small plane. We then had a short layover before boarding our overnight flight to Paris. Luckily, this flight was on a much larger plane that offered many amenities. Once in Paris, we had a six-hour layover that was primarily spent moving to the correct terminal and waiting in line at the ticket confirmation desk. Once we had free time in the airport, we bought overpriced cheese and chocolate— things that are fairly difficult to find at such a high quality in Vietnam. We finally boarded a full plane to Rabat. After checking through immigration, we arrived in the city. The journey took a total of about 30 hours—and it’s not our longest travel day of the program.
Moving from place to place as quickly as we are has many disadvantages and problems that I acknowledge, but I would prefer to focus on some of the great things that I am experiencing from having moved around so much during the past two months. Probably the best thing for most of the students in my group is that we are able to experience the excitement of a new place so frequently. We loved the weather when we first arrived in Vietnam because it was so warm and tropical, but after a couple of weeks it became tiring to sweat so much. Moving to Morocco presents weather that is much dryer and quite a bit cooler—a welcome change from Hanoi. Additionally, switching from a rice-based diet to a wheat-based diet of bread and couscous satisfied our diverse palates.
Another aspect of the IHP program that I find intriguing is the chance to experience living in different cultures. Of course, we only really experience one household per country, and one home is not at all representative of an entire culture. Coupled with the information we learn, though, we can make some inferences about cultural differences. In Southern Vietnam, the beds I saw in houses were primarily wooden frames, with mattresses only a few houses. In Rabat, classmates and I do not sleep in beds at our homestays. Most families sleep on large couch-like pieces of furniture that line the edges of most rooms. Our home in Rabat is also much more open than in Hanoi, with curtains instead of doors.
Day-to-day life is quite different in the two places, as well. In Southern Vietnam, people typically wake up early in the morning, nap in the afternoon, and go to sleep before 11:00 p.m. In Morocco, my host family wakes up at 10:00 a.m. and goes to bed well after midnight. Their sleep schedule seems a little different from those of my classmate’s families, as does their eating schedule—for example, it is common to eat dinner at 10:30 p.m. My stomach is struggling to adjust to eating dinner right before bed. Additionally, the Moroccan government is much more lax with travelers than is Vietnam, which allows us to have free time to travel the country on our own.
Although I wish I had more time in every individual city in which I am studying, I enjoy the ability I have to live so comparatively. This is not just a perk for learning about societal differences, but also for learning about differences pertinent to my research. My independent research focuses on local food systems. Being able to immerse myself in numerous places that are so different provides me with additional knowledge about each place and allows me to have a better comparative approach. I am excited to continue to learn about Morocco and compare my life here with my time in Vietnam.