After day one of our trip to Morocco, we stopped following the provided itinerary. Each day we would board the bus and drive until we found a farmer working close enough to the road for us to walk to them. After a short introduction from our faculty advisor, the farmers were more than willing to tell us all about their life in agriculture.
We stopped a farmer working a horse drawn plow in a sugar beet field and learned about the irrigation systems, land ownership, and the risks of large scale farming without contracts. Stopping along the road where a family was harvesting olives not only taught us various methods for olive harvest but also about family dynamics and small farm income diversity. Each random stop taught us the agricultural practices we had planned on but, the personal connection with small groups of farmers taught us the political, social, and economic factors involved. We continually traveled off the beaten track to markets and facilities that tourists were clearly a novelty to witness. We even traveled to a nomad camp and learned about the minimalist life of a travelling, herding community. These homes were made of sticks and cloth with ovens that were simply holes in the ground with a metal covering. We were miles from civilization sharing tea and learning about the daily lives of a woman and her mother.The more we learned, the more I was thankful I had studied abroad instead of traveled independently. Travelling with an advisor that spoke the language allowed me to understand the challenges and systems that shape life in Morocco. The tourist days in cities and the desert were great photo opportunities but every story I came back with started along the side of a road with a farmer happy for an excuse to take a well deserved break. I can always google better pictures of Morocco than I will ever be able to take personally but I have stories and connections like no one else in the world. The personal connection is the difference between study abroad and personal travel. The difference between witnessing a culture and letting that culture forever change you.