Monday, May 2, 2016

My Thailand Adventure so Far!

What's up !

So my name is Quinn and I'm an exchange student with YESasia in Ubon Ratchathani Thailand. I've been here since November 21st so it's been a few months.

My initial experience of Thailand was mostly just me being in awe of everything and even after being here for a few months that feeling still hasn't worn off. I think the reason I have completely fallen in love with Thailand is mostly just the people here. Before coming to Thailand I was worried about how Thai people would react to me but I shouldn't have been because from the moment I got here people have been nothing but accepting and open.

Like any teenager I was worried about making friends in a new school, especially with not speaking the same language, now looking back all I can do is laugh since it was so easy and everyone here welcomed me with open arms. So open in fact that I now live with my friend and call her parents mom and dad. Thanks to my friends family I have been able to experience so many new and fun things like going to temples on Saturday mornings, going to Bangkok, to festivals and going to rivers to relax.

To be completely honest I'm having so much fun that I've never had the chance to be homesick so that was never even a problem for me. The only thing that I had to adjust too was the heat, coming from Germany I wasn't accustomed to the warm weather but even that hasn't dampened my spirits. All in all it has been a great experience and I've made so many amazing memories and I am sure I will make many more in the next few months.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Why I wish I had blogged abroad

Studying abroad is inspiring! With a blog, you can revisit these moments and give yourself a boost on a rainy day.

Study abroad was such a magical learning and growing experience for me. I found my second home in 2011 in the coastal city of Valparaíso, Chile. The experience was one of the most significant ones in my entire life, and I can still say this with confidence five years later. But starting out was tough, to say the least…

Even after years of college-level Spanish under my belt, I was lost in even simple conversations. Anyone who has been to Chile will confirm the difficulty of the accents and the very frequent use of slang -- I would estimate at least two or three in a one minute conversation! This made even a simple trip within the city feel like a mission worthy of a seasoned explorer.  Once I was ushered on to the wrong bus not one, not two, but three times before I actually managed to explain where I was trying to go.

Following classes was nearly impossible, and I was living with a family that I couldn’t understand. In my photography class, I was completely lost when my teacher explained the process of developing photos. Let’s just say I ended up with more than one set of overexposed, totally white photos! But believe it or not, I am nostalgic for this time of jumping into the unknown. By the end of the trip, I couldn’t believe how much I had been able to challenge myself and how much I had come to love Valparaíso. I was throwing around slang just like a young Chilean, and I surprised locals by striking up conversations with them.

Not only did my language skills grow, but I also grew as a person. I learned to be open to striking up a conversation with someone I didn’t know, and developed a curiosity for other people’s stories. I surprised myself as I began frequently chatting with shopkeepers and neighbors and learning about their lives. I was confident that I could try new things, fail a few times, and still try again and succeed. Let’s just say that I finally got a successful round of photos developed in my photography class. I became more independent -- I could navigate challenges by myself, like traveling alone. After awhile I became accustomed to wandering around alone in the safer neighborhoods of the city, looking at murals. Most significantly, I learned that “home” is more than just the place you grew up. I found another home in Chile, and moved back there after study abroad-- and hope to move back in the future.

I am not the type to keep a journal. I have notebooks from when I was younger with two or three days’ worth of journal entries followed by empty pages. Adults and former study abroad classmates told me I should really keep a blog while abroad, and I blew them all off. I told myself that it wasn’t worth it to start something that I would probably end up giving up after two weeks. Plus, who would want to read my blog anyways?

Maybe if I had had a blog, I wouldn’t have had to keep repeating: “I’m not kidding! The street dogs are so friendly it’s ridiculous!”

If only I had known how much I would regret this decision! So I am here to tell you, before you depart on your own adventure, or even if you are already there: write a blog while you are abroad! Your future self will thank you. Here’s why:

  1. Writing is an outlet. You’ll have tough times while abroad, just like I did. Writing about your challenges is a way to reflect and put things into perspective. I used to get embarrassed whenever I had a total language fail, which was every day for the first month or so. Like when literally every time I got on the bus and tried to tell my driver that my stop was “Reloj de Flores,” I would butcher the words so badly that the bus driver had to ask me: “Von Schroder?” “Reñaca?” “Recoleta?” Yes, it was that awful. I wish I could have written about these moments in a blog not only to get some perspective as part of my journey, but also to get some support from my readers back home. Suffering silently tends to make things worse, not better!
  2. You’ll please your people back home. You could spend all day talking to people back home, but the best times you’ll have will be when you’re living in the moment. Some personal messages are great, but it takes a lot of time and energy to stay connected with all of your friends and family. Rather than sending out individual messages about your incredible weekend trip and writing the same blurb 19 times, invite all your friends and family to read about it on your blog. They will be thrilled to follow your adventures, and they’ll also rest easier knowing that you’re doing well. You’ll get to show your friends what you are up to along the way, so you can catch up easily when you get home.
  3. You’ll record your victories, big and small. Give recognition to all of your accomplishments, from making your first local friend, successfully chatting about culture with a member of your host family, or participating in a class discussion (in another language!). Writing about this in your blog reminds you that you are reaching milestones. You’ve earned it, so give yourself some props on your blog.

Show off your photo-taking skills! You’ll impress yourself with what you can capture on your camera. This impressive shot of a helmetless and saddleless horse race during “patriot week” would have been up on my Chile blog right away.

  1. You’ll use all of those awesome photos you take. Photos are always attached to a story and shouldn’t go to waste. If you use social media, you know it’s easy to post a few pictures on Instagram and leave the others sitting in storage on your computer. I have thousands of precious photos from 7 months abroad. Photos are best when they are put to use, and a blog is the place for that... since I am pretty sure that no one is sitting at their host family’s house scrapbooking (though if you do, more power to ya!). Even if you are not big on writing or don’t want to share journaling on a public blog, keep a photo blog and let your pictures tell the story.
  2. You’ll have a keepsake that you’ll never lose. I have some pairs of llama socks missing their partner, some broken keychains, and a faded mug. Anything you buy in a market won’t do your trip any justice. I had a hard time leaving Chile and all the friends I made there, and I wish I had had a blog to reminisce about when I got home. Whether it is the day after your return or years after, you’ll have the blog to look back on for a little slice of the country you called home for a few months.

Everyday stuff is just as important and fun to write about as sightseeing. I could have done a whole post on just the many carnivorous cookouts just like this one!

  1. You’ll stay inspired! Remembering time abroad will remind you of the self-discovery and magic of living abroad and getting to know a new culture. Most likely after going abroad, you’ll be inspired to travel and expand your horizons even more. This can get lost in the transition to college, trying to get a job, and the humdrum of the day-to-day back in your home country. Even if you can’t travel for many months or years after, the blog will remind you of what you got out of seeing a new culture and will inspire you to keep on exploring the world.

To everyone who told me to keep a blog abroad, I’m nodding my head to your “I told you so’s.” All I can do now is try to convince all the future world travelers to keep a blog. You’ll thank yourself later, I guarantee it.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections on Hosting

This was written by Laura, a Quest Local Coordinator, who has also been a host family in the past. She wrote this with the intention of reminding her network of host families that while their impact of hosting might not seem immediate, it truly does make a huge difference in the student's life and overall experience...

I wanted to share something with you that was a huge encouragement to me. I hope it will be to you as well.

As you know, 10 years ago our family hosted a girl from Korea while she attended our school. Last Wednesday she came back and visited us. We had such a precious time with her back in our home. As some of you have experienced, often these kids that we "adopt" head out from our homes after graduation, seemingly never looking back. The world is their oyster, and they are hardly in a grateful or reflective time of their life. You might rarely hear from your student for a few years. Sometimes these young people don't know how to reconnect after they have let much time pass, and/or they may feel embarrassed if their college/career path doesn't go as they had planned. A host family is left to wonder, "did we make a difference?", " Was it worth it?"

Since I am at least 5 years ahead of all of you, I just wanted to tell you that you did, and it was.

I cannot tell you how sweet it was to welcome this lovely 27 year old woman (!) back into our home. It warmed my heart to see her join in as if she were just another sister/daughter. We sat around the table laughing and reminiscing about those years she had been with us. Later she sat on her old bed with my girls sharing pictures and stories. And when I dropped her off she gave me a beautiful heartfelt letter she had written to me. She was full of gratitude and very reflective of the impact we had on her life. As my youngest said "it was like having a big sister come back home."

In a nutshell: we did make a difference, and it was worth it. So as we gear up for another year I just want to thank you (past HFs) and encourage you (current HFs). Keep making those connections and building those memories, you ARE making a difference.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Guest Post by Quest Student Ignacio

Ignacio was an exchange student with Quest Exchange from Spain. He attended the past two years of high school in Green Bay, Wisconsin and graduated this spring. This is the testimonial he wrote about his experience...

Hi, my name is Ignacio and I have been and international student in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I had the opportunity to attend to Notre Dame Academy thanks to Quest. The last two years that I spent in the United States have been a total blast and an unforgettable experience.

At the beginning of my first year I was a bit scared about the new school in a foreign country but the people of Notre Dame welcomed me like they do with anyone no matter where they come from. People were extremely nice and eager to know about you and befriend you. Also I had some doubts about picking up the books or where to go to choose my classes but Quest is always there to help. Fortunately I had a wonderful coordinator called Miranda in Green Bay who was always there to help. At the end of my second and last year I felt blessed about all the friends that I have, my wonderful host family and all the stuff that I have learned out and inside of the school. Fortunately I keep in touch with my classmates and we are planning to meet again.

I wouldn't have minded stay in Spain but definitely I learned more in the States and made more friends. Also in Notre Dame I had the chance to be part of the IB Diploma, a very challenging two years course. The IB Diploma taught me new ways to think and learn and the Notre Dame teachers did a fantastic job teaching me and my other classmates. I didn't learn just to speak English but I also learned to write essays something very important in the United States.

Obviously one of the hardest things in the past two years was to have a good level in English but in matter of one month you could understand anyone and speak a very good English. Also the winter was very hard but people in Wisconsin are used to it so at the end you don't mind it like them. One of the biggest challenges were that many things I had to do it by myself such as studying without my parents forcing me too, managing a bank account or when the time came, fly alone. All those challenges were hard at first but anyone will end up overcoming there.

For future students I would recommend them to work everyday on school assignments and improve their writing skills. Also it is important to be calm at the beginning of the academic year. The teachers know that you are an exchange student and they will help you with your homework if you ask them for help. When I came for first time I was nervous about my host family but they ended up being one of the best things of my experience, you need to be very open with them so you can know each other. Talk to your host family a lot and blend in, it will be worth it.

Americans are very nice people and teenagers hang out like everywhere else, they listen the same music, watch the same movies and party. They are open people but you need to be open too to become friends. The social life is great and highly recommend to go to the sport events and also join sports and/or clubs. The weirdest things that Americans do are Root Beer Floats, Root Beer is an American soda that they sometimes have with ice cream! On the other hand they were surprised that in Spain people have cookies for breakfast.

This year my sister is going to Green Bay after me and my parents encourage her after my wonderful experience, she will go to the same school and host family as me and also two years. She is really excited about it and I am really happy she is going to a place that I enjoyed so much the past two years. 

I hope this refection is helpful and encourages many people to come the United States and have a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

China the Onion

China: the oldest continuous society in existence.  So much history.  So different than America. Though I studied the various dynasties end in “ang” and “ing” during high school and lived in the infamous Chinese-American city of San Francisco for several years, I knew very little about China before I started working at Quest in 2010. In my day-to-day life at Quest, I seem to learn something new about China and Chinese students every week.  Heck, it might even be everyday. Full disclosure: I don’t speak Mandarin, so my insights are heavily reliant on my smarter, Chinese-speaking colleagues or when our Chinese students quickly realize that I know next-to-nothing about China and take a few moments to explain something to me.  I’ve also learned a thing or two while helping some Chinese students and American host families to resolve certain issues, mainly related to our Chinese students’ extreme focus on studying above anything else.

I have had the good fortune of traveling to Beijing twice since joining Quest.  The first time was a quick trip for a conference. Because of a wedding, I had to quickly depart China once the conference ended, leaving little time to experience much outside of the conference room of the internationally branded hotel. However, I did briefly enter the Forbidden City, and my mind was completely blown by something so incredibly old, ornate, huge, and intact. I now know that my initial reaction to the Forbidden City on that trip is not much different than my overall conclusions about China: it is enormous, filled with infinite nuances, diverse beyond description, precise, and ever-evolving so that once I understand something about China, I should let go of it because it has probably changed already.

I want to share my most recent experience, in which I traveled with Quest’s Operations Manager, Tara Charles, to Beijing in March 2015. Besides realizing (again) that I have so much more to learn about China and probably won’t be able to successfully learn Mandarin in this lifetime, I was reminded of the incredible awe that one must have for Chinese society and Chinese people; their values, their commitment, their order.

Upon arrival Tara and I were met by our partner, Beijing International Center, OULU, and were swept off to a dinner fit for a king.  This is typical; if you are lucky enough to be received by Chinese people when you arrive to China, you must be prepared to eat your face off.

The next day, Tara and I started our adventure with a little tourism and headed to The Great Wall of China. Sure, I knew that The Great Wall was big – you can see it from space, right? (That is a myth, by the way). But to truly comprehend how mankind could have built a structure that covers so much ground…….well, truth be told, I don’t truly comprehend how this was constructed by man, so I won’t dole out advise here.  The Great Wall is not terribly high; I think the average height from the ground is about 16-18 feet.  However, the Great Wall of China covers over 13,000 miles.  Think about that: thirteen THOUSAND miles.  The entire equator is about 25,0000 miles which means that the total distance of the Great Wall of China is more than one half the distance of the equator.  (I will leave your brain to process that for a few minutes, but just keep in mind that the equator was not built by man). If you are reading this and you are a teacher, think about how difficult it is to coordinate and control a classroom of, say, 15-20 students (of any age really).  Now think about coordinating efforts and controlling millions of soldiers, prisoners, peasants and common people to construct something more than half the circumference of the planet.

The Great Wall was constructed by army units to protect the Chinese dynasties, headquartered in the Forbidden City in what is now Beijing, from Mongolians to the north.  My favorite fact is that they used sticky rice to bind the bricks together.  

My other favorite fact is that it is half the length of the equator.  (Did you catch that?)  The big point I am trying to make here is that not every society could have constructed something like the Great Wall of China.  Not every culture has the discipline, the perseverance, the unity, the humility, or the ability to serve what is perceived as the greater good in exchange for one’s own self-interest.  I am obviously omitting a million intricacies about Chinese history and society during the hundreds of years that it took to undertake this project.  However the simple fact that so many people could be mobilized to risk their lives and construct something so enormous will always astound me. And I think the miracle that is the construction of the Great Wall gives us, foreigners, deeper insight into the dedication and commitment that is at the root of Chinese civilization.

At Quest, we see this intense level of dedication from Chinese parents who, perhaps, are entirely devoted to the education of their children. Sure, as Americans, we go to school too, and our parents often force us to do homework. But the baseline assumption of how much one should be educated and how seriously one should pursue academic endeavors in China is something that is truly unparalled to any other culture I have known. This is not to say that the Chinese’s emphasis on education - above all and at all costs - is necessarily a positive feature in all cases.  This is to say that, maybe because of its Confucian roots (I’ll leave that for an anthropologist and a historian to explore), the value that Chinese people place on education is greater than the cumulative value of all of Donald Trump properties and probably greater than the cumulative number of bricks contained in the Great Wall, which spans more than half of the distance of the equator.

Tara and I spent much of the rest of the week visiting our partners, who recruit Chinese students for our inbound programs. We were wined and dined, and we even had the good fortune of meeting with some of the students that are joining our program this coming year. 
We chatted with parents, our Chinese partners, and even several American and British expatriates living in Beijing. There were some features of the education system in China that we already understood, and our conversations and experiences further underscored these points.

  •  Chinese parents will spend every single disposable dollar on their child’s education and will hire private tutors galore to further train their kids to perfect everything from playing the piano to acing the SATS.
  • Once a student leaves the Chinese education system, there is no going back.  So the decision to go to an international school or to go abroad is a long-term decision that will affect a child’s educational career path. It is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
  • A Chinese student can get straight As in all classes from the time they are in elementary school (yes they are graded in elementary school) through high school.  But, if they don’t do well on the gaokao, the one test that all students must take to enter university, they will not be admitted to college.  The gaokao is EVERYTHING for a student in China who wishes to pursue higher education, and I think it’s safe to say that every family wants their kid to go to university. In other words, the gaokao is the most important thing on a Chinese student’s life.
  •  If you ask a Chinese student what he/she likes to do in his/her free time, then the student will look at you like you have monkeys growing out of your shoulders.  There is no such thing as free time.  Chinese kids just study.
  • Though the Chinese government passed a series of reforms in 2013 to try and reduce anxiety in younger students, schools simply do not comply.  These reforms included a ban on homework for first graders and limits on homework for older, primary school students.  On a Friday, we met with a 7th grader who told us she probably had 8 hours worth of homework that was due on Monday, and, in addition was expected to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and another book I don’t remember. She pulled the books out of her HUGE backpack and showed me.  I felt so grateful to not be her, and I instantly recanted all my complaints about how much reading I had in college.
  • International schools are starting to pop up in China as an alternative to the Chinese system, which is known for its rigor and rigidity.  Chinese parents are starting to realize that the paradigm that shapes the traditional Chinese education system might not be the best fit for their own children, and hence, attending international school and studying abroad are growing in popularity among Chinese students. 
  • Despite the growing number of international schools, and their emphasis on developing the whole character of the student, there is still no place for the “average” academic student. Admission to international schools is still cut-throat. If your kid does not happen to be Einstein, then you are out of luck. You will need to hire an Educational Consultant (see below).
  • Educational Consulting companies are big business in China.  Consultants collect thousands of dollars from families and advise them on everything from where to send the students to school to where to invest in real estate overseas, and everything in between.
  • Unrelated, but maybe tangentially related, is this: cell phones are even more pervasive in Beijing than in US cities. Imagine that.  Hop on the metro and find a single person that is not on a smart-phone in some capacity. Impossible.

On this trip, we also learned a great deal more about education in China, detailed below

Even though the years of China’s crazy, double-digit GDP growth are behind us, China continues to change at a pace that no one can really keep up with. As this incredibly old, not to mention populous, society weaves more and more into the modern world, new traditions and cultural norms are constantly born and reborn into different forms. I think we Americans that work with or study China will always have to accept that Chinese society is ever-changing.  Like an onion, China is layered with thousands of years of history, and once you peel back one layer, you realized there are a hundred more layers to tackle before you can truly understand what is at the core. But unlike an onion, once you peel back one layer, another layer instantly grows back and it is unlike the one you just peeled off. 

This is China.  It’s a place where a small city that is not even “on the map” of China contains 4.5 million people. (Thank you Brother Orange and Buzzfeed for that). It is a place fast approaching 1.5 billion people: that’s 1,500,000,000 people for those of us who like visuals.  It’s a place that sends hundreds of thousands of students to the US and uses 80 billion disposable chopsticks very year.

Hate it our love it, China is indisputably fascinating. The Chinese quench for education is insatiable while their dedication to education is unwavering. It may be taking various new forms, but the commitment will never wane.  We at Quest will continue to travel to China and explore how we can best serve a market of students whose pressure to succeed academically is incomparable to anything we will ever know.  All I, personally, want to give these kids is the gift of free-time to explore themselves, but in lieu of that, we will continue to offer programs aimed at developing the full person and at supporting each student wherever he or she may be in his or her academic journey.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Post by Quest Student Bryton

Bryton is an exchange student with Quest International from Zimbabwe. He is attending high school in upstate New York and he visited the Quest staff in San Francisco during a school holiday. This is the blog post he wrote about his experience...

Studying in America as an exchange student is a dream come true filled with many expectations fulfilled and a lot of cultural experiences to learn from. However, there are a lot of things we may find weird when compared to our own cultures, which also makes the stay very interesting and even very funny at times.

I would describe America as a huge melting pot where every race has become present in the neighborhoods in various ways. What I really admire about it is the people’s right to express how they feel about the Government or about themselves, which is uncommon in most countries.

I found various things very interesting as I took a tour in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge; basically this bridge exists as a pathway which connects Marin County and San Francisco. It’s named after the strait it covers, ‘The Golden Gate.’ Some of the interesting facts about this bridge is that, generally this bridge looks red in color and actually it is painted in orange. One of the devastating facts is that many suicidal deaths have occurred at that bridge leading to very few survivors, it is estimated that approximately 1500 deaths have occurred at this bridge.

Homelessness in San Francisco is one of the things that the city is well known for, because of its climate and temperature many people migrate from other states to live or sleep in the streets or beaches. Homelessness has become common in San Francisco, which has resulted in too much drug dealing and abuse of drugs such as marijuana.

One of the strangest things in San Francisco is their freedom to express harmony, peace and love. These people refer to themselves as Hippies, engraved from a movement during the 1960’s. This has resulted in people walking naked as a way to freely express themselves and associating themselves with naturalism. There is an annual race called Bay to Breakers, which is the only race in which one can run with or without clothes and the winner gets $100,000.

San Francisco is one of the only cities which provides an open hand to many gay people compared with other states or towns, hence it has a very large population of gay people. There are many fascinating things we can find in San Francisco, which we may find very absurd, for example a law which requires dog owners to pick up their dog’s poop in the park. And a law which enforces people to cross within a crosswalk/zebra crossing, it’s considered an offence to cross outside of that zone and it is punishable with a fine of $75. Not picking up dog poop is punishable with a fine of $160.

Being an exchange student has allowed me to see the other spectrum of life, how it feels to be an American citizen and how life goes on a day to day basis here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Strange Comfort

As the newest member of the Quest International national office team, I figured it would be good to share some of my own international experience, and how living abroad changed the way I view the world. The following is an excerpt from my blog that I wrote during my two years of Peace Corps service in Morocco. Through sharing it, I hope to provide an example of just how different life can be when immersed in a culture that is not your own.

Thursday, April 30, 2009- Tinjdad, Morocco


I have now been in this country for more than 20 months. I know this because I have a calendar that helps remind of what it’s like to have a real schedule, and to live in a world where time is more than just a concept, indicated primarily by calls to prayer and the rising and falling of the sun. Yesterday, while I was leading stretches (in Arabic) for a group of 20 young women as part of our basketball practice warm up, I was hit with a realization. It struck me that at this point in my service I have become so comfortable with the foreign milieu that encompasses me that it has reached a point of sub consciousness, in which I pay no mind to just how different my life is to that of the average American. Allow me to illustrate with the other events that made up yesterday for me:

I wake up at
8:00 to a donkey braying right outside my window. I turn to my side, doing my best to go back to my now-hazy dream involving a Boy Scout camping trip from my childhood. Just as the wood-licking flames of the campfire begin to cascade into view, the fly arrives. That fly. The one that always lands on the most inconvenient place possible, at the most inconvenient time possible, and is just as adamant on staying there as I am on killing it. After doing my best to cover my head and other parts of my body, my efforts are deemed futile against its determination to annoy me, so I figure it is time to get up.

After a breakfast of eggs, cheese, and instant coffee, I get my papers together for the computer grant I am working on and head out to the post office to send them off to Peace Corps headquarters in
Rabat. After a final meeting with the association I am working on the grant with the previous evening, it appears as if I finally have all the materials together for grant approval. This is good because it means all I have left to do for this project is wait; something I have gotten very good at in my time here.

As I pull up to the post office on my bike, I see one of my hanut (small store) owner friends, Tijani, and walk up to greet him. Him being one of my better friends at the local market, I decide to go in for the classic cheek kiss greeting, starting with the right cheek “Allah aslamtik!” (Praise be to God for allowing me to see you again). Move on to the left. “Labas alik?” (Is everything good with you?)Move back to the right “Labas” (it’s all good. Back to the left again, completing the 4 kisses, which completes the standard greeting. “Wesh unta labas?” (is it all good with you?) “iyea, labas, lhumdullah” (yup, it’s all good, praise be to God).

Once we had finished our minute long greeting, Tijani was quick to remind me that later that day, in fact just a few hours from then, was going to be a soccer practice that he had been trying to get me to come to for months. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played soccer in 10 years, I had promised him that I would come out and practice some time just for the fun of it (or, moreover, to provide entertainment for the others who I would be playing with).

After killing the hours in between with reading on my roof (an aspect of just about every Peace Corps work day for me), I threw on some shorts and sneakers and took off. When I arrived to my town’s soccer field (which is essentially a giant field of dirt), I quickly realized that this was going to be no picnic. Once greeted by the coach, who was followed by a dozen other athletic guys in their early 20’s, it occurred to me that this was actually the practice location of the official local soccer team, which, it turns out, is one of the best in the region. Despite the town’s size, this team often competes against large cities like
Meknes, Fes, and even Rabat, so they indeed mean business.

Before getting a chance to back out, the coach threw some cleats and a jersey at me, and insisted that I get dressed immediately. I reluctantly did as he said (not that I had much of an option at that point), and started running laps around the giant dirt field with the rest of the Berber muscle machines that composed the team. The hour and a half that followed consisted of what was most certainly the most physically intense workout that I have experienced here in
. Like basic military training with a soccer ball. Never while in this country did I expect to do so many pushups, sit-ups, stretches, and ball busting drills while being yelled at in French. However, once the soccer ball drills began to get beyond my point of feasible completion, I had to check out. As I said I was leaving, and turned toward to the grimy locker room, the whole team communally turned to me and said “bsha!” (to your health!), and the coach yelled after me to come back again next practice.

After taking a cold shower and making a tuna sandwich for lunch (tuna makes up about 90% of my lunches here) it was time for basketball practice with the women from the neddy (women’s house). I rode up the front door on my bike, walked inside, and found all the women in their sweats and sneakers, ready for athleticism. This is always a great site to see, in that before my presence working with them, many of these women never got a chance to play sports or do anything athletic at all, given that all the sport areas in my town are very male dominated. The mudira (neddy director) greeted me and asked if I could lead some stretches for the women before heading out to the basketball court. This kind of request leads me to believe that the women I work with here see me as more than just a regular guy, in that normally doing stretches of any kind in front of men is considered to be highly shuma (forbidden). Perhaps they see me as the awkward adopted American brother they’ve always wanted.

After the brief aerobics session, which they appeared to be very receptive to (fortunately, given that I had just been led in stretches earlier that day, knowledge of what to do was still pretty fresh in my head) we meandered over to the basketball court. I know about as much about coaching basketball as I do about coaching rugby...not much. Fortunately, given that the neddy women are all neophytes to the world of sports, this is pretty easy to cover up. My usual drills consist of lay-up lines, dribbling, passing, and shooting exercises, followed by a brief game. Despite the fact that the exercises vary, at any point these girls are viewed during practice it looks about the same: loud, giggling, head- covered girls running around aimlessly like chickens with their heads cut off. Clearly, this makes it difficult to be taken seriously by the hoards of guys who flock to watch like a heard of hungry and critical hyenas. Yet fortunately the point is not to be taken seriously, yet for the girls to enjoy themselves and get a workout that they otherwise could probably not partake in.

Basketball practice was followed by my English class for beginners. Without time to change out of my then sweat covered clothes, I had no choice but to carry on and teach parts of the body, starting off with “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” as a warm up.

Class was followed by a meat sandwich, which was then followed by reading the rest of the night away. And so it goes. This day, despite the irregularity with the boot camp soccer practice, was not different from most days I spend here. It is what I have come to know of as life at this juncture, and, as with all routines, I have come to go through these motions without really thinking about them. If it weren’t for the point of reference given to me by the internet and speaking intermittently with friends and family back home, then I might even forget just how unusual my life has become shwya b shwya (little by little).