Before going to another country as an Exchange student or as a volunteer, the sending organization arranges meetings and other events to inform and familiarize you with the cultural shock you will experience. But one thing I can tell you (with the due respect to the people who invest their valuable time in giving those seminars) is that you won’t understand how the cultural shock feels until you are here and experience it by yourself.
So picture this: you arrive to Marrakech and outside the airport is almost 50 degrees; you have two big suitcases and the guys from AIESEC pick you up and drive you to the Medina; it’s almost impossible for you to walk through these narrow streets, crowded with people, sellers and countless motorcycles. All covered in sweat and boiling under a merciless sun, you try to make your way through it and you arrive to a hostel, to share a room with three tunisian guys, Baha, Amine and Mohammed, who were super helpful the first days. But, after walking for five minutes through the Medina, the first thing that comes to your mind is: what am I doing here? What will I do here for almost two months? I’ve seen that expression in the faces of many volunteers that arrived after me, from many different countries. Arriving to the Medina of Marrakech knowing that you will stay for a long time is an impact you have to experience to know how it feels.
So there I was, in the middle of a city where nothing is similar to Spain. Just by walking around the first day I learnt that I was not going to see anything alike, that the way people work and live here is completely different than the one I am used to. Questions and doubts start coming to your mind: will I be able of making it? This is definitely not a trip nor holidays and it is going to be a challenge to adapt, to learn how to live here.
The third day, we visited the Bahia Palace; guided by the fantastic Aiesec members Oumaima and Hafsa, we discovered this beautiful palace and the amazing happened: after three days, I felt like I was at home. The palace’s architecture, decoration on ceilings and floors, the arcs… everything carried my mind back to Málaga, back to Andalucía. It was a place extremely and strangely familiar, a place where I have been before. La Alcazaba de Málaga, el Castillo de Gibralfaro, la Alhambra de Granada… and now Bahia Palace. It was a feeling I never had before: being in a completely different country and culture, sorrounded by people with different lifestyles, a city where nothing looks like anywhere I’ve lived in before… and suddenly, in that castle, feeling like I was at home, that I was somewhere I’ve been before. It was a warm feeling, like a hug, but something I cannot describe.
I could end this article in a melancholic and poetic way; I could tell you something like: and now, in this part of the world, everytime I miss home I know where I have to go to find it… The Bahia Palace. But that would be lying. The truth is that more days came by and I started realizing something. I felt comfortable walking around the Medina and Jma el Fnaa; I was always invited by the tunisians and the moroccans to share their food; the kind and warm people from Morocco would always ask how I was and gave me recommendations. I was walking on those streets, crowded with different people, but it felt now familiar. I took the bus to the appartment, and there, while the bus was driving through narrow and narrower streets avoiding hundreds of motorcycles I realized that I was now at home. So, at the end, maybe it’s true that home is where your heart is.