Capital One All American
Ten days…Nine major landmarks…Eight different cities...Seven minutes of fear in a wild taxi ride…Six hours of skipped time…Five modes of transportation…Four different languages…Three countries…Two foreign continents...One amazing trip…Countless memories that will last a lifetime.
When I was presented with the chance to take a trip with my classmates to Spain and Morocco, I could not pass up such a wonderful opportunity. I had never traveled outside of the United States during my 21 years of living. In fact, I had never even traveled to the West coast. My most adventurous vacation was a road trip to the city of Chicago, with daring bus drivers swerving in and out of bumper to bumper lanes of traffic, serious businessmen rushing to their next meeting with coffee in hand, high-pitched sounds of sirens in the distance, and of course, the smell of well-known Chicago-style pizza lingering in the air. If I thought Chicago was exotic, boy was I in for a shock!
Despite my curiosity and lack of familiarity with the unique Spanish and Moroccan cultures, I could not contain my excitement. After never experiencing another culture outside of my native American home, I was offered the chance to immerse myself within not one, but TWO diverse countries on two completely different continents...talk about a two-for-one deal! Summer break was already off to a perfect start. Traveling the globe and all six continents (born and raised a Floridian, I’m a tropical girl. Antarctica would be way too cold for me!) has always been a priority on my bucket list. Thus, Mission World Travel was now underway and the countdown to departure began…
The day had finally arrived. After learning about the history and customs of Spain and Morocco in the classroom, I was ready to embark on the journey and see for myself the scenic landscapes, people and monumental attractions I had seen many times before in pictures. Our first part of the trip focused on exploring Spain, or as the natives say, España. After two plane rides and a few power naps, the words “Bienvenidos a España” sparked some energy into me as we touched land and reached Madrid.
From Madrid, a train was taken to Seville, or Sevilla, where we would be staying. It was at the train station that I had my first taste of an authentic Spanish ham and cheese sandwich…and my first test at communicating with the locals. Despite several years in Spanish classes, my speaking skills are not the greatest, but with some broken conversation and help from Chloe (a classmate on the trip, my friend and our personal interpreter, as we all deemed her!) I managed to survive my first cultural experience…and a delicious sandwich. Little did I know that I was going to learn to love ham by the end of my visit in Spain.
Seville was a beautiful city with old-style architecture of intricate detail. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the cobble-stone alleyways, horse and buggies roaming the streets, the local people engaging in conversation while eating tapas (small lunches/appetizers…yes, pork of all forms was on the menu!) and the authentic design of each building that gave the city a cozy and comfortable feeling of a past rich in history and pride.
Perhaps my favorite site we visited was the Plaza de España. The Plaza was designed with individually crafted ceramic tiles representing all cities of Spain that wrapped around the entire building and a large common area where entertainment consumed the atmosphere. Pathways outlined beautiful scenic areas for walking. This was a site where I could have spent all day and been perfectly content. I had never been left speechless by a building before…I was awestruck by my presence at what I believed to be the most amazing site we visited on our trip. I only hope to come back here one day.
We also visited the Alcázar, where the King of Spain resides, and La Catedral, the world’s third largest building and home to 110 grams of Christopher Columbus’ body. Our tour guide cleverly referred to this as the “tapas” of Columbus. He is simply an appetizer now in what once formed the pieces of a full human body. Parts of Columbus’ remains can be found in a tomb that ironically sits above ground, as he is ready to continue to his sails amongst the ocean blue and never truly at rest. Thirty-five flights of ramps led to the top of the Cathedral, where I witnessed a beautiful panoramic view of the city. I even spotted the Plaza de Torres, the bullfighting ring, in the distance.
If I ever wanted the full Spain experience, I sure got it at a Flamenco show. While I had absolutely no idea what the two men in the background were saying as they sung, their voices flowed with the music and the dancing was so entertaining. I could only dream of ever dancing with such rhythm, passion and grace. If only I didn’t have two left feet…or clumsy tendencies!
Seville wasn’t the only city we saw in Spain. We also ventured out to Córdoba. While only three hours apart, these cities couldn’t be more different. Córdoba once had a strong Muslim influence up until the Reconquista, at which the Christian powers took control of the city; however, ties to the Muslim community can still be found and are held together by Casa Arabe. It was here where I learned about the connection between the Spanish and Muslim world, as well as the ongoing efforts to keep these two separate cultures united and informed about one another. Casa Arabe is still trying to break Muslim stereotypes and while I didn’t know at the time, I would soon come to find my own stereotypical thoughts to be proven wrong.
It was now time to say adios to Spain and marhaba (hello in Arabic) to Morocco. I was beyond excited. Not only was I headed for Africa, but my mode of transportation was quite unique as well. Who needs to ride yet another plane when you can take a boat?! After one hour of sailing across the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects southern Spain to northern Morocco, we arrived in Tangier. Extreme culture shock had now begun. Looking around the city, nothing was familiar to me. Women were covered from head to toe and I could not understand a single word anyone was saying. I could feel myself being stared at amongst the crowd. After all, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Yet, the people seemed to love Americans and were so friendly. In fact, any chance they had at practicing their English, they took advantage and interacted with us. It was amusing. Unfortunately, I could not offer any attempt in communicating in return as my French and Arabic expertise consist of bonjour and, well…bonjour.
The very first place we visited when we arrived was the DARNA women’s center, a place of refuge where women could become educated and keep themselves busy with activities throughout the day. My classmates and I brought all kinds of paint to offer the women. We met two ladies who work at the center and the smiles on their faces when we offered them these gifts touched my heart. It truly was a rewarding moment in my life I will never forget as I had the chance to give back and make a difference. As I was taking a picture with one of the women, I noticed that she looked up at me and said “taweela.” I quickly learned that translated to “tall” and I really did feel like a giant compared to the Moroccan women!
My second experience in culture shock soon occurred at a local restaurant we stopped to eat at after the visit to DARNA. Mother Nature was calling and many of us needed to use the bathroom. I quickly learned bathroom breaks were going to be an adventure in themselves during our stay. It was a celebration when we actually had toilet paper or soap and the combination of the two found together was a miracle! Some places didn’t even have toilets, but rather places to stand. Needless to say, we all gained some very strong bladders. Hygiene expectations were quite different here.
We continued our Moroccan adventures in Rabat, where I ate what was probably some of the best food I have ever had in my life. There was no ham in Morocco, but they sure do love their bread. I don’t think I have ever eaten so much bread in my life. Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be anymore bread left, another basket was delivered at our service for consumption. I was skeptical about the dinner at first. We took many alleyways to get there, but I soon discovered it was simply a diamond in the rough, and those are often the best places to eat! My two favorite dishes were the chicken pastilla and couscous. I also tasted mint tea, a staple in the Moroccan diet. I was impressed by Morocco, despite the significant cultural differences I had encountered within the first twenty-four hours, and the adventure had only just begun.
My eyes were soon opened to the world of the market in Fes. No, this is no Food Lion or fresh market on Highway 74. I am talking about a maze of narrow, winding alleys that split off into multiple directions for miles and miles amongst walls that tower over heads and present the feeling of entrapment with no way out. The Medina, as it is called, was intense. I felt like I was Waldo, lost in a puzzle of locals passing by with their carts full of produce and handmade items, bikes trampling over toes and donkeys brushing by my side in all directions. Two words described my encounter…complete chaos. I kept saying I wanted to witness something completely out of my comfort zone while on my trip. This was it. To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed. The smell was not the greatest and locals would crowd on all sides, relentlessly trying to sell their items. “No” may be a universal term, but not to those determined to sell, especially to a large group of vulnerable Americans. My strategy was to just keep on walking and to avoid eye contact at all cost. It seemed to work successfully. I made it out alive, with some handmade silk scarves, engraved gold plates, and authentic sheep skin wallets in hand! Oh, and a classic Henna tattoo. When in Morocco…right?! This was one moment in my life I am glad to have lived through and seen, yet I have become very thankful for the markets I have the privilege to shop in here at home.
While my encounters within the marketplace were probably my most memorable of my trip to Morocco, we also visited many other interesting places, such as the Hassan Tower in Rabat. This is where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day. I also saw the ancient ruins of Chellah, the palace of the current King Muhammad VI. We entered a mosque in Meknes, where we embraced the culture and took off our shoes before entering as the Moroccan people believe shoes are dirty and disturb the cleanliness of a praying atmosphere. We even had the chance to tour inside a typical Moroccan home as a family saw us in passing and invited our large group into their living area. At this moment, I realized how humble the locals truly are and these feelings were exemplified even more when I had the opportunity to meet some local Moroccan college students and interact with them. I still keep in touch with them to this day and have made friends who will last a lifetime!
Overall, my experience abroad was truly rewarding and I hope to return to Spain and Morocco someday. I am so thankful Wingate University has provided me with this opportunity to go out and see the world beyond my backyard. This simple, suburban girl is now a culturally-educated explorer…I cannot wait to see what adventure awaits next!
In May, Ferguson was named to the Capital One Academic All-District III women’s at-large team. On the courts, she had a standout regular season for conference regular season and tournament-champion Bulldogs. She compiled a 15-3 mark at the number five singles position and an 8-3 ledger at number three doubles. She was the Most Valuable Player at the 2011 Food Lion SAC Tennis Championship, helping Wingate advance to the NCAA Division II play-offs.
In the classroom, Ferguson carries a 3.83 GPA as a Chemistry major. Ferguson won the 2012 SAC Scholar-Athlete Award winner for women’s tennis. The SAC Scholar-Athlete Award recognizes athletic excellence, academic achievement, service and leadership. The daughter of Mark and Julie Ferguson, Kelli Ferguson played number one singles while a student-athlete at Northwest Cabarrus High School.