Plenty of people dream of travelling outside their native country, but due to expenses involved and other issues, both real and perceived, many never do.
Among those that undertake international travel, the destination of choice is different for each individual, for a variety of reasons.
Crystal Valdez, a senior majoring in business marketing with a minor in studio art, first dreamt of travelling to Africa when she was a child.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a doctor, so I really wanted to help the people that were suffering in Africa,” said Valdez. “I don’t know why, I just wanted to go to Africa when I was five.”
After initially becoming interested in studying abroad, Valdez was awarded the Gillman Scholarship, which focuses on offering undergraduate students the chance to do just that.
Valdez set her sights on Morocco, both to fulfill her childhood dream of visiting Africa and also to choose a location that would offer her something that other European countries might not, an experience vastly different than what the was used to.
Valdez would be the first of her family to travel outside the country and while she became more and more excited, many around her tried to discourage her.
“They said, ‘well aren’t you afraid that you might get killed? It’s part of the Middle East,’” said Valdez.
Valdez’s trip was set to take place over the course of the fall semester of 2013, a very tumultuous time for the region. Syria and Egypt, both nearby Morocco, were experiencing extreme political upheavals.
“They’d ask me every day, ‘are you still wanting to study abroad?’ Yes. ‘Do you still want to study abroad?’ Yes I want to study abroad!” said Valdez.
The resolve with which she dedicated herself to the idea comes from a very basic philosophy.
“If you always live in this fear, you’ll never get to do the things that you want to do,” said Valdez.
Valdez made the journey and ended up studying at Al Akhawayn University, a school largely based on the American system of education and offering courses in English as well as in Arabic and French, located in the city of Ifrane.
Valdez spent a lot of time travelling around Morocco by train, which allowed her to see many different sides of the country, not all of them those that are advertised by tourism boards.
“You would kind of see more of that tarp, shed, kind of falling apart area, I guess house and there was a lot of trash on the side of the roads,” said Valdez. “You just see that gap and that divide. The school that I attended was the only school that you had to pay for, the rest of them are free.”
Spending time in a market in Marrakesh, Valdez experienced the level of poverty on a much more personal level.
“I was buying some pieces of coconut and pineapple. I had these in my hand and these four kids ran up to me and they were holding their hands out,” said Valdez. “You see kids on the street that are either sleeping outside of a shop or just don’t even have anything to eat or are just begging for money.”
Valdez gave the children what she had and proceeded to purchase the rest of the children food as well.
Morocco is considered a third world country by international standards. One U.S. dollar is the equivalent of 8.71 dirham.
According to Valdez, a glass of orange juice there would be four dirham, or roughly 50 cents. A stay at a luxurious hotel ran about 460 dirham, or about $50.
Differences between Morocco and the U.S. in Valdez’s eyes do not end with the level of poverty.
“Moroccans are a lot more appreciative and grateful than people here in America are. Something so little and so small is just so meaningful to people in Morocco. Here in America I feel, sometimes, we always want more,” said Valdez. “In Morocco I feel they’re not as materialistic and not as demanding.”
Valdez describes visiting the Sahara Desert and participating in a holiday called Eid al-Adha, a celebration of Abraham’s sacrifice of his firstborn son as her favorite experiences.
Part of the Gillman Scholarship requires that upon the completion of the student’s time abroad, they are to complete a follow up project.
Valdez chose to teach a short course on Moroccan inspired art to middle-school students in her hometown of Jerome, Idaho.
One of the most unexpected events during her trip involved running into a Moroccan student who had gone abroad herself.
“When I was in Morocco, I was wearing this Idaho State shirt and she goes, ‘are you from Idaho?’ and I was like ‘yeah I am. Why?’ and she’s like, ‘I studied abroad at ISU!’ and I was like, ‘you did?’” said Valdez.
Now back in the U.S., Valdez frequently thinks about travelling would like to someday travel to India, Uruguay or Argentina.