Fellows' Reflections: Katherine Butler-Dines

I expected returning to Morocco would feel like coming home. The four months I spent studying abroad in Rabat were some of the happiest of my entire life. I was welcomed wholeheartedly by an incredible host family, my Arabic proficiency skyrocketed, and I developed a new passion for surfing. When I returned to the States, I made it my mission to find a way to move back to Morocco.

So when my start date in October for the fellowship at Experience Morocco finally rolled around, I was undeniably thrilled to be returning to the land of syrupy-sweet mint tea, year-round beach weather, and incredibly hospitable strangers. What I didn’t expect was for Morocco to feel so different the second time around. Sure, I was moving to a new city as a young professional, not a student, but Morocco is Morocco. Or not.

Turns out Casablanca could not be more different than Rabat. Where Rabat is quiet and maybe a little stuffy, matching the lifestyles of its mostly politically and diplomatically employed residents, Casablanca is chaotic, crowded, and runs on a frenetic energy. Everywhere you look is wild traffic and construction cranes. This isn’t to say Casa doesn’t have its charms, it just didn’t feel homey.

Now, as I end my third week here, I am still feeling a bit discombobulated and unsettled, but I also am determined to adapt. Of course, it is not just Morocco that is different, it is me too. I am no longer a student or part of an organized group. This time around I am an expat, a working professional, an individual who must craft her own community.

My priority now is to get to know my new home, instead of pining for the one I left at the end of study abroad. This week, I have managed to find a burger joint better than any of those in Rabat and nearly as good as my favorite back in Washington, DC. Another welcome observations is that I receive significantly less street harassment here than Rabat. Maybe it has to do with Casa’s more “cosmopolitan” identity or that everyone is always busy going to somewhere so they don’t have time to make a little comment here or there, but it is a development I won’t complain about.

Periods of transition personal, professional, or otherwise are never easy and to have one of these while also navigating language barriers, cultural differences, and wild traffic patterns only adds to the challenge. But in the little moments like surfing at sunset, understanding something a colleague says in Darija, sipping some mint tea, I am finding that same happiness I experienced my first time in Morocco. Everyone at work tells me that Casa is a city you either love or hate; I am still hopeful that it’s a place I’ll come to love and make home.