Edina from May 2016 team has just finished the Study Period and is getting ready for her 3 months travel in Africa and a 6 months project in India. Here she tells us about the Study Period and the study-trip to Morocco which she did with her team during the studies.
The “Fighting with the Poor” program has a 6 months Study Period that we spend at the school, in Norway, together with our team. During this time we need to complete pre-designed study tasks which we receive from our team leader. The effort invested in solving these tasks depends fully on individual initiative and interest in a certain topic. The tasks are all related to development topics. However, this period is not only about studies. We live here, together with other students and staff members, and we all participate in activities like cleaning, cooking, dish-washing, and so on. Well, living in a community and working as part of a team has its challenges, and they’re never the ones you’d expect. In other words, there’s no time to get bored!
However, there is no doubt that some of the highlights of these months are the study-trips, so called “investigations”. Depending on each team’s budget, in the Study Period there can be one or two investigations of approximately two weeks each, outside Norway. The countries and the investigation topics are chosen within the team and they have to be approved by the team leader (the teacher). These study-trips come with really important opportunities: experiencing another way of travelling, interacting with different cultures, and trying different ways of investigating certain topics. It usually remains one of the strongest memories at the end of the 6 months of studies.
The objectives of this investigation are diverse: building stronger ties between team mates travelling together, getting used to travel on a low budget, interacting with locals as much as possible, gaining knowledge on a topic previously chosen by the team, and many more. The outcomes are up to the team members and the team leader. For one investigation each team gets around two weeks in total and a certain budget. Some teams choose to visit more countries in these two weeks. However, my team preferred spending the entire time in Morocco so we’d be able to get the most out of this trip, and not rush through the country.
For my team it’s been difficult to choose in which country to go. We had lots of ideas, among them Kyrgyzstan, Israel, Greece, Siberia, Jordan, Morocco. In the end we decided it’s best to spend the whole two weeks in Morocco. We decided on the topics of education and culture. Culture is a rather broad term, but we chose it because we didn’t want to be limited by the topic. Anyway, we were interested in everything related to the lifestyle, beliefs, conditions and attitudes of the Moroccans. For most of us, it was the first time we were to step in Africa, so we were overly excited.
To me, one of the most challenging and the most rewarding components of this investigation in Morocco was travelling on a low budget. I got to interact with the country on a whole different level than would’ve happened otherwise. We talked with people from the cities we visited, we were hosted by young people studying in University and we found out their stories. It was a bit of a shock to see that the students we met didn’t have things which I was taking for granted back home, in Hungary. Things like warm water in the shower, internet at home, money to go out and approval to go out with friends, the opportunity to go abroad. Especially the latter is a big dream for many of them, but it is very difficult and very expensive to obtain visas for visiting another country, even for just a short while. For me, at this point, it’s difficult to imagine life without the possibility to travel…
Some of us visited NGOs related to education or to integrating women in society. Meeting the people working so hard for their communities is extremely inspiring and, in addition, this offers a glimpse into the issues of a certain community.
A really big challenge, and very intense experience has been going through markets, or through narrow, crowded streets full of shops. It gave me the impression that the pushy shopkeepers are used to seeing white tourists as walking money-bags. Sometimes it can get frustrating when you understand that for most of them you are nothing but a potential customer. But if you give it more thought and just look around a little bit, you realize that part of the fault lays with the regular tourists and their attitudes when travelling to this country. Morocco has so much more to offer than just these touristic places mentioned in the travel guide.
So we’ve tried the more touristic places to see what all the fuss is about, but then we also tried places off the beaten track. In most of the old cities of Morocco we found medinas. A medina is a distinct part of the city, very old, and sometimes walled. Visiting a medina is a whole experience in itself! One highlight of the trip was the local traditional food: tagine, couscous, roasted chickpeas, cactus fruit, endless amounts of sweetened mint tea, and so on. We’ve travelled with buses and we hitchhiked. And… we also walked a lot. We met a lot of friendly people, very willing to share with us their stories, and even help us. We also met those people who were more difficult to deal with, and were not so friendly, but those were the exception.
In the end, what I and my team mates learnt from this travel is unique to each one of us. But we did find out a lot of facts about Moroccan culture and its facets, and about various types of school serving different communities. This two weeks study-trip in Morocco was only a taste of what will come in the three months Travel Period. And all things considered, I can only say the best is yet to come!
Edina – May 2016 Team