I enjoy meeting people and learning about different cultures of the world. I have previously traveled to Vietnam and always wanted to study abroad again though didn't realize I would get the chance to. When this opportunity came up, it happened to work with my academic plans and offered me the chance to learn about global public health approaches and issues in a real tangible way. Plus, Morocco seemed to be an awesome country.
I participated in the Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco: Women’s Rights and Family in Islam study abroad course. This was a faculty-led global health program where we were introduced to multifarious factors (e.g. socioeconomic, geographical, religious) that have impacts on women, infants, and children in both rural and urban environments.
That is the kicker! I found out about the program less than a week before the application was due and I did not get details until later because I was in mid-terms week! Since I was completing further education as a post-baccalaureate student, I did not have as much access to financial aid. My first stop was the financial aid department, where I learned that I could secure some aid I rejected in an earlier term. Then I reached out to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) mentors, faculty, and others who had helped in the past. They encouraged me to keep looking for funding in different places including: reaching out to specific individuals within the university, other mentors, and even pharmaceutical companies who might sponsor the experience. So I started sending emails all over. I also applied for a chapter scholarship through the an honor society and other non UW-Milwaukee related scholarships. Together with funds I saved through campus and off campus jobs, I was able to afford the study abroad experience. As a pleasant surprise, I learned after I returned that some of my mentors had worked on my behalf to gain some additional funding that would reimburse part of my out-of-pocket spending earlier. In all, it was a team effort that worked out pretty well.
I don not have any regrets, but I guess I wish I had known about the program earlier because I would have prepared more. First: While you cannot plan for everything, and sometimes it is better not to plan at all, I have found that planning is the best approach when it comes to experiences like this so that you can get as many people and resources working for you earlier. Second: it was such a great program that I would have tried to network with the faculty leader before the program started to determine how to maximize the opportunities for developing the research project beyond the course.
I think most of all, I could feel there was something about me being a woman. Not just a woman, but I was a woman studying about women in Morocco--not exactly the most common subject area. I was never harassed or treated unkindly, but one of the things I took notice of was the spaces that women were in and spaces in which they were not. For example, I didn't necessarily feel comfortable going alone to a coffee shop. When I walked by those spaces, I would see only men there unless I was in more touristy locations. Walking around my host family's apartment, I did not feel as comfortable when I was by myself. My host sister told me it was not proper for women to go places alone--though she did not agree (or necessarily follow this perspective). Similarly, I didn't feel comfortable taking taxis by myself either. I don't think the idea of being alone in places and feeling uncomfortable is an experience isolated to Morocco, but when it happens in the U.S., it is mostly because it might be pretty late at night, or I might not feel as safe because of crime-related activities, and less so because I am a woman. Also as a Nigerian-American, I believe there are new relations between sub-Saharan Africa and Morocco. Many Sub-Saharans have migrated through Morocco to get to Europe but recently the borders are not as fluid, so increasing numbers of migrants are staying in Morocco. I think there is continued need for discussions group dynamics around dealing with these newly introduced groups into Moroccan life (if at all possible). I would notice that some of the homeless individuals were from different sub-Saharan countries including Nigeria, so this was a smaller but interesting thing to note for me.
Personally, it has widened my perspective and allows me to be more open with and more open to understanding others. While there are still a lot of things I don’t know, there is much that I have learned, and thus some I can teach and enlighten. Academically, it is a plus to have this broader perspective. Prior to participating in this program, I was interested in public health as an addendum to my future medical studies. While in Morocco, I realized that I wanted to pursue public health outright. Being immersed in such an environment allowed me to consider this as an option.
If you are thinking about it, talk to someone in your study abroad office. For everything you think is preventing you from studying abroad, there is a resource that can assist you in mitigating it be it: your GPA, your academic requirements, fear of being somewhere new, going by yourself, cost, etc.... So reach out if you are thinking about it. And, if you are not thinking about it, think about it.
If I could do it again I would. Both times I have studied abroad, I never thought I would be able to and I did. Be open to the opportunity. Overall, I am very thankful for those looking for me, and those who prayed over the situation.