Weekend Trip to the Sahara

We decided as a group to go to the Sahara Desert over the weekend. The drive was incredibly long. It took about 15 hours to get there and another 15 to get back. We went so far east that we were about 50km from Algeria! Along the way we stopped at different cities, and one of them was Ouarzazate to visit the Atlas Corporation Studios where some Hollywood movies were filmed. After a few more stops we arrived at the Sahara just in time to watch the sunset from the top of a sand dune. It was also my first time to ride a camel! It was very uncomfortable, but still a great experience. The highlight of visiting the Sahara was getting to lie down on a sand dune in the middle of the night and look up at the starry night. It is a rare opportunity to be in a large open space with such clear visibility, so it was even more special. This week my volunteer program ends, which I feel a bit sad about because it has been fun teaching English to my students. I appreciate their passion to learn and I will have to figure out how to spend the last two days of class with them. I am also looking forward to seeing the difference of Morocco during Ramadan and how it is afterwards, as Aid Al Fitr (celebration to signify the end of Ramadan) is this week.


Visiting Casablanca

I had my first quiz on Friday and I did surprisingly better than I thought, but I have to wait to receive the grade on Monday. Today my group and I went to Casablanca to see the Hassan II Mosque, and then we went to the beach. After that, we checked out the Medina (old square) of the city and tried to find a restaurant to go to for ftour/iftar, but most of them were closed. We ended up splitting up to go to KFC and McDonalds near the train station. Even though these are American food chains, I was still curious about the menus. Although I didn’t go into KFC (and never have back home), the menu at McDonalds was nothing different, except that it was halal. I’ve also been dizzy for the past few days and I really hope it’s only dehydration, so I’ve been trying to drink more water. I think a part of it can be that I’m not getting enough rest and enough fresh air. I live in a riad, so my host family lives above another family, but because both families live in a riad, we hear everything from the bottom floor since there isn’t a wall or ceiling that keeps out the noise. On my homestay questionnaire, I said I was not okay with little kids, but the family below has around 5. I wake up every few hours because of all the noise or because it gets really hot in my room since I have to close it to keep out the cigarette smoke from the host father. I intend to ask him on Sunday to not smoke in the house because I’m very sensitive to chemical smells, and I think it’s partly why I get dizzy so much. At least I get my own room.



Blog by Esther Wambui Ndungu, Pre-Major (Business), Critical Perspectives on Ecotourism in Tanzania

Esther IASA 2

As I was looking through the Study Abroad program countries listed on the school website, I knew I was interested in studying abroad in Africa, particular Kenya, where I am originally from. However, the program in Kenya had to do with medical work, something not in my field of my interest. So I looked for another Study Abroad opportunity in a different African county, Tanzania.

The name of the program I will be participating in is Critical Perspectives on Ecotourism in Tanzania. Although we will focus on Ecotourism implications on the Tanzania, we will also focus on Community Development. That is where my field of interest is. I am currently starting my sophomore year this summer quarter. My intended major in Business Administration. I want to focus on Community Development as a Social Entrepreneur. Study Abroad is a great way for me to travel and get insight on how people work to make the world a better place. During the program, we will be meeting with different grassroots organizations and leaders of the community. I will get an hands-on education, beyond the textbook. When I come back to US, I will continue getting hands-on learning through Community Based Learning.

Another valuable part of this Study Abroad experience is the fact that I will be able to experience a different culture and perspective on life. This is paramount in order of me to be a well rounded person. It will be so refreshing to be outside of US for a few weeks, about one and a half months. I will also be able to go back to my country Kenya before and after the program. Nairobi, Kenya is about four and a half hours bus ride away from Arusha, Tanzania. I plan on landing in Kenya five day before the program, spend time with family, then bus to Tanzania for the Study Abroad program, the bus back to Kenya, visit family for six days, then fly back to US. I am so exited to see my extended family again. Kenya will be so different than I had left it almost nine years ago. It is going to be wonderful! I get to travel to two different countries, that is a big plus! I will be back a day before school starts, I know I will be exhausted from the flight, but I don’t want to come back any earlier.

I will make friends with the Tanzanian host culture very well. I already know Swahili, because I am Kenyan, and so it will be much easier for me to connect with them at a deeper level. I do not have any fears or anxiety for participating in this Study Abroad program. I am looking forward to the trip of a lifetime!

Volunteering at the NGO

Yesterday was my first day at the NGO that I have to volunteer for to teach English. So far I enjoy it more than I thought I would because I have 2 students that I work with. One is 9 and the other is 10 years old and both of them have a strong basic knowledge of English. I’ve been using some French with them when I have to explain, and then try to translate it to English, and I’m still surprised by how much I’ve had to use it, even though my ability is pretty weak. I am supposed to get to the NGO by myself, so of course I had trouble getting there the first time and I was an hour and a half late, but today there wasn’t any problem. I still have to cross a lot of streets, and I don’t think I will ever stop feeling nervous about that. Anyway, after I volunteered and then had my Arabic class, I decided to go with a group member to Marjane, but within our group we call it the Moroccan Walmart. Instead of returning an hour later, we got home 4 hours later because there were no taxis going in our direction. In fact, there were very few cars at all, since it was around ftour. We ended up walking the whole way back, so now we must finally start homework and I’m worried about the quiz I have on Friday because I still don’t have the whole alphabet memorized. Overall, I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed with what I have to know for the quiz and by the fact that it feels like there are too many things to do during the program than what I have time for. Every night I have been falling asleep doing homework and I feel tired all the time. I hope to manage my time better.


Meeting My Host Family

Today was my second day of staying with my host family. They are pretty cool and they are able to speak English, which is very comforting to me, considering that I still only know a few words in Arabic. They live in a traditional Moroccan house, which is called a riad. The family is made up of a mother, father, 25 or so years-old daughter and the mother’s niece who is 18. Today was also my second day of Arabic class. I have to study Moroccan Arabic, called Darija, as well as standard Arabic, called Fus’ha. Both are difficult for me because it’s hard to get the alphabet and pronunciation. I have also ended up using the little French that I remember from high school, so I regret not brushing up on that before coming here. After class I came home and I hung out with the mother in the kitchen as she prepared for ftour (Darija)/ iftar (Fus’ha), or the breaking of fast. After we had dinner, I left to join my group and venture out into another part of Rabat, a rather sophisticated section. We took the tram, which is a train, and it goes through the city relatively fast. I will have to take it to the NGO starting Monday that I was matched with for the community service project. Something that makes me nervous about being here is crossing the streets, because they are wide, so I try to walk with a pace, even though I think I’m the only one in the group who gets this nervous. Sometimes I just walk with them without looking ahead. Oh well.


First day in Morocco!

Blog by Helen Kapitonenko, Society, Ethics and Human Behavior, CIEE Summer Moroccan Studies

June 14 
I’m not sure how to describe my first day being in Morocco. Before the trip I still couldn’t believe that I was coming here, but now this realization is quickly setting in. My first day here has been overwhelming to say the least. As I was driven to the hotel, I noticed that lanes aren’t really used by drivers, they exist mostly as a guide for the general direction of traffic. The cars move in and out of each other’s lanes, and use their turn signals half the time and pedestrians cross heavy traffic without using crosswalks. This made me feel worried because it seemed so easy to get in a car accident, either with another car, or with a pedestrian. After I settled into my hotel room and was immediately escorted to the learning center a few blocks away, I faced a fear that I have had for a long time, which was getting lost in a completely different country. Sure enough, within about 2 hours of arriving to Rabat, I decided to explore the Medina (old square of the city) with another group member as the other students were taking their Arabic placement tests. Along the journey, we met 2 guys who arrived today and there were also from Seattle!  Anyway, I wasn’t alone, thankfully, but being lost for 2 hours and navigating through the crowded maze of streets of the outdoor market where motorcycles drive through pretty fast, expecting you to get out the of way definitely wore me out. That’s why I slept through an evening hangout with the group to go to a café. I have to wake up at 6:30 tomorrow morning, so I will continue to post updates and pictures of the trip, and here’s some pictures from today.

helens 1 Helens photo helens phto helens

So long, South Africa!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back in Seattle for almost a week now.  My time in South Africa felt like it lasted months.  There were so many new experiences had, new foods to try, and new friends made.  When I left, it almost felt like I was leaving home.  It’s amazing how such a short time in a place can make you feel so connected to it.

The lectures at the conference were very stimulating, but the real immersive part of this experience was getting to know the people and cultures of South Africa.  I will always remember my new friends trying to help me pronounce “Xhosa” or “Qwaqwa” with the correct click sounds from the Xhosa or Basotho languages, respectively.  I never did get it right, but I sure had fun trying!  I’ll always remember the drums they welcomed us with at the Qwaqwa campus, as well as the spontaneous dancing and singing that erupted every so often at different events.  What a beautiful culture!

While I was in Bloemfontein, many South Africans I spoke with recommended that I visit Cape Town while there.  I figured, “When else will I be here?” and went for it.  Cape Town was amazingly beautiful.  It was like stepping into a postcard.  One of the great things about study abroad is that it brings you to these amazing places, and often-times you have the freedom to explore wherever else you would like to on your way to the place, or before going home.


On the flight home, I flew over the North Pole.  I never really thought about it, but it is actually shorter to fly from Seattle to the Arabian Peninsula (I had a layover in Dubai on both my outbound and inbound flights) by flying over the North Pole.  It was very cool to see the ice covering that part of the world.  I almost half-expected to see some polar bears down there!


It’s good to be home, but I left a little piece of my heart in South Africa.  I hope to return there at some point in the future.



experience experience 3
experience 2 experience1

Where do I even begin? I’ve been so busy experiencing the many wonderful things that South Africa has to offer that I can’t even decide what experience to share. For that reason, I will share a little bit of everything. The top two photos are the Golden Gate Mountains located in Free State, South Africa. I was able to capture these beautiful pictures on my way to Phuthaditjhaba where the University of the Free State (UFS) QwaQwa campus is located. The QwaQwa campus is one of three UFS campuses, which requires me to write another blog post because I can’t even explain how amazing that campus is! The bottom left picture is when I attended a TEDx on the Bloemfontein campus. Various presenters spoke on the subject of asking the question why. What made this evening memorable is that I experienced load shedding for the first time of my life. For those of you who don’t know what load shedding is I will give a brief explanation. Load shedding is when the electricity company does not have enough electricity to provide to the demand of all their customers. In order to meet demand, the electricity company interrupts supply to certain areas during a specific time. In my case, I experience load shedding on a Thursday from 6-8pm. Load shedding in South Africa is important in order to balance electricity supply and demand, including to avoid the collapse of electricity supply. Even though load shedding happened during the TEDx event, we continued the presentations and had dinner in the dark (picture on the bottom right).