Cedar Falls, IA | Political Science, English, Women’s and Gender Studies | 2019
Agatha, originally from Cedar Falls, Iowa, is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is majoring in Political Science with minors in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. This summer, she will be going on the Vanderbilt Office of Active Citizenship and Service Trip to Rabat, Morocco, to work with organizations advancing human rights and women’s rights in Morocco. She is very excited and grateful for this opportunity to learn and serve.
To read more about Agatha’s experiences in Morocco, please visit her page on the Morocco 2017 Cohort blog.
Blog Post One:
One week ago today, I left the cornfields of Iowa for Rabat, Morocco. We left at 5AM, embarking on the five-hour car ride to O’Hare International in Chicago. The most beautiful sunrise greeted my mom and me as we drove east, with streaks of pink and orange lighting up the sky. I arrived in Morocco about 26 hours later, after gleefully meeting up with other Vanderbilt students in the Paris airport. The six days since have been a whirlwind of new customs, adventures, and awe-inspiring moments. “Immersion” is a buzzword at Vanderbilt, but it is truly the best way to describe this experience so far. Every morning, I take the tram with Lucija, another Vanderbilt student on this program, to Organisation Marocaine Des Droits Humains (OMDH, or Moroccan Human Rights Organization). We work as interns, compiling documents and reports from the United Nations and learning about the mission and work of OMDH. Afterward, we go to the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning (CCCL) in the Old Medina of Rabat for lectures and seminars on various aspects of Moroccan history and culture. Yesterday, we learned about women in Moroccan politics, which touched on multiple areas of my interests and studies. The CCCL is the Vanderbilt program’s home base, a stunning building with a rooftop terrace overlooking Rabat and the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting on the terrace, chatting, and taking in the breathtaking view, I feel a sense of calmness and contentment along with the frequent feeling of challenge and personal growth.
In addition to working at our organizations and attending seminars, we also stay with host families, and thus get to learn about Morocco in both formal and informal settings. In my opinion, the knowledge gained from each experience compliments the other. My host family and the experience of living with them is easily one of my favorite aspects of this program so far. Three of us Vanderbilt students stay with our family (Raquel, Rita, and me), and we have a really great time. We taught our host family the Cha-Cha slide last night (which was quite amusing), and they taught us about Moroccan dance. It has been Ramadan since we have been here, so the three of us have been fasting all day with our host family. While we learned about the traditions of Ramadan before we came, seeing and taking part in them is obviously much more meaningful. Our host mom prepares Iftar, the meal at sunset when you break fast, for most of the afternoon, and then we all drink homemade juice and eat bread, tajine, and other delicious foods together. It is truly such a unique and wonderful experience to become intimately acquainted with such a lovely family and their way of life.
Lastly, I always say that it is important to not just step outside your comfort zone but expand it, and I definitely feel I am expanding my comfort zone here. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to form relationships and engage with a country and culture so different from my own. Yesterday, we had Iftar on the beach as our first group dinner. All of us sat in a circle on the sand, reflecting on our time here while eating fruit, digestive biscuits, and Nutella. The most stunning sunset was the background of our real-life painting, bringing my first week full circle.
Final Blog Post:
The capstone project of my spring 2016 Commons Seminar was creating a “life plan,” in which we had to map out where we wanted to be in 5, 10, 25 years, both personally and professionally. I shaped mine around two main, cliché goals: creating positive change and living the fullest life possible. In my pursuit of the first, I study Political Science and want to have a career in public service so that I can make our world more just and fair. For the second, like most people, I love traveling. I try to save money so I can travel more, and I have an endless list of places I want to go and things I want to do. While I am only a year removed from creating that plan, and as cheesy as it is to say, I really think this program is helping me move toward both of those goals.
For the first goal, I think traveling and experiencing new cultures like we are doing is important to being an active, global citizen. I am so grateful for the opportunity to come to Morocco not just as a tourist, but as someone who gets to live with a host family, work at an NGO, and share this experience with other Vanderbilt students at a similar stage in life and with shared interests. While this is a simple generalization of a much more complex belief, I do believe that the more you understand the world, the more you are able to contribute to it. Knowing about something helps you change it for the better. I am gaining a greater understanding of Moroccan culture, history, and civil society in addition to appreciating the other unique individuals on this trip. The conversations and reflections we have as a group and that I have with the women I work and live with have helped me develop my topical observations into substantial understandings. I hear insightful perspectives in casual and formal settings, about both Morocco and our experience of being here, and those have really shaped my own thoughts. I think an often-overlooked step toward making change is becoming the person you need to be to create that change. Traveling to new places, having meaningful conversations, and forming relationships all help you expand your comfort zone, better understand yourself, and develop the skills to create change in your own life and in the world. In addition to becoming a “global citizen,” I am working toward the first goal in a more concrete and direct manner by interning at an organization that works to advance human rights, even though I am at the very bottom of the organizational food chain.
As I reflect and think about my second goal, something my housemate Rita said keeps coming back to me. At each reflection dinner, three students give a “TED talk,” speaking for about five minutes on something that is important to them, an idea worth sharing. Rita spoke about her love of books, ending her talk by urging us all to be our own protagonists. I loved this wording, and it spoke to me on many levels. We all want to live a good story, to have a memorable life in which we are the protagonist. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that for me, I feel like I am most “living life” (whatever that really means) when I am going on adventures with people I love. That combination of experiences and relationships is what I value most about my personal life. Those adventures can take simple or elaborate forms: baking cookies without measuring cups or swimming on the western coast of Africa. While I used to think of this value as separate to my generic goal of making the world a better place, the past two and a half weeks have affirmed an idea that was on my mind a lot sophomore year. That these two life goals aren’t really two separate goals. That they compliment and support one another in many different ways. When we live our fullest life, going on adventures, expanding our comfort zones, and working for the causes we believe in, we are the best versions of ourselves. These are the “selves” that make change. Change through relationships, as we show others how to be the best versions of themselves. Change through stories and conversations at home and abroad. Change through the work we do, and the more developed perspectives and lenses we bring to the work that we do. Living a full life means that you are changing and embracing things that will most likely change you. I use the word “change” here as a synonym to grow or develop. Not being an entirely different person, but becoming the best version of yourself. Sometimes this means challenge and discomfort, and other times it means eating Pizza Hut and dancing to Party in the USA on a beach in Rabat to celebrate the Fourth of July. By living our fullest life, we become the best versions of ourselves, our selves that have the most understanding and the most to contribute, and that is how I believe we create change.