Olivia Loomis studies Arabic, experiences entirely new culture
Olivia Loomis, senior, spent seven weeks of her summer in Morocco on a language-based scholarship trip.
“I began to take Arabic lessons because I got involved with the refugee community on the South Side through a church organization … I got really interested in the Arab culture. I also love languages, so I started Arabic with a tutor,” Loomis said. “It’s always been one of my dreams to study abroad.”
This love of language and community involvement opportunities are what drove Loomis to apply for the same program as one of her cousins had. Because of her prior understanding of Arabic, she was sent to Morocco.
Loomis stayed in Rabat, the coastal capital city, in an area called Hay Riad.
“The people are really proud of their history, and it’s the administrative cities. I stayed in a more Westernized area with my host family,” Loomis said.
Through her host family, Loomis was able to put her Arabic to use and further develop her skills with that language. Her host father spoke English well, but her host mother only spoke a little English, mainly being able to communicate in Arabic
“[The fact that my host father spoke English] was great because it helped us have depthful discussions that I couldn’t have had if they were in Arabic. My host mom didn’t really speak English, which was good because I had to use Arabic with her,” Loomis said.
In addition to improving her Arabic, Loomis also said she gained a greater understanding of Islam.
“[My host mother] was way more religious than the rest of the family was. She actually made a Hajj journey to Mecca, so it was interesting to see Islam that close up, through her lens,” Loomis said.
On weekends, Loomis and her host family went on trips to other parts of Morocco, including Fez, Chefchaouen, Tangier, the Sahara area and Meknes, where she gained an insight into other parts of culture in Morocco.
“[Those trips were] really nice because we got to see the variety of life,” Loomis said. “In Morocco, there’s this huge … spectrum of lifestyles … In Rabat, there were definitely areas that were very Westernized, … and even within Rabat there were people who were still holding on to that conservative lifestyle and others who were totally embracing and even idolizing the European way of living.”
One of the most memorable experiences for Loomis was the time she and her host family spent in the Sahara.
“It’s hard to express,” Loomis said, “[but] just to be around these huge piles of sand [in the Sahara] was very humbling.”
Other moments that stuck out to Loomis were those in which she no longer felt like a tourist, but instead felt comfortable with the culture and customs.
“Living in Rabat long enough to get to the point where I felt comfortable going to the grocery store and riding the public bus and feeling not like a tourist, those moments were really special,” Loomis said.
Upon her arrival in Morocco, Loomis did not experience much culture shock.
“It was hard because we were there during Ramadan so no one was eating during the day and everyone was just slightly restrained in their actions and they were all really fatigued.” Loomis said.
However, Loomis did find her return to the United States slightly jarring, requiring her to readjust.
“I remember the first night when we stayed in our hotel rooms in New York, they just seemed so luxurious, and it was like, “What the heck! How can we afford this?” But there were some not so nice things, like, you can’t pay for amazing 20 cent bread in the street,” Loomis said. “There are things that you miss.”
Loomis encourages others to take part in similar programs.
“It is important to reach out to people that are different from you and not be afraid to make those connections with strangers whose culture and language and backgrounds don’t reflect your own, and you can learn so much from other people,” Loomis said.
Loomis also reinforced the importance of languages and the opportunities and connections that are made possible through language.
“Even if you’d speak five words of Arabic to somebody … they’d be so excited and open their heart to you. The Moroccan population … is just super hospitable and communal and welcoming and giving and loving,” Loomis said,
“Language is a great way to access those values, and to learn from the people there, and hopefully bring those [values] back to America.”
by Janneke Bannink and Eli Frank
Molly Eder finds solitude and challenge on solo hike
Molly Eder, senior, hiked the 240-mile John Muir Trail this summer — on her own.
The John Muir Trail goes from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, with three quarters of the trail being on the popular Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, which stretches from Mexico to Canada, with most of it in California.
“It is a hugely popular trail to hike so I was meeting new hikers every day. That was really cool, meeting people that felt the same way about backcountry and backpacking. This is my fifth year backpacking and there were people who had only been backpacking for one year,” Eder said.
The John Muir Trail goes through the Sierra Nevada and includes many lakes, cliffs and canyons.
“A lot of the areas I was passing would usually be snow covered, but because of a lack of snow this year, I could see all this aged rock in the Sierra Mountains,” Eder said.
Eder started the trail on July 3 and finished by summiting Mount Whitney on July 24.
Hiking, backpacking and camping are an important part of Eder’s life.
“I have been backpacking since I was very small,” Eder said.
Last year, Eder decided she wanted to do a challenging hiking trip in the summer.
“My incentive to get through the school year is what I will do the next summer, so I like to do a lot of these camping trips,” Eder said.
“I was looking through all these trails, and my cousin gave me the idea … when he was visiting for Thanksgiving … because … he had hiked the John Muir trail in the past. So he was like, ‘Hey look at this trail. It’s a calm thru-hike, it is on the PCT, it is a beautiful area and well kept,’” Eder said.
This was the first backpacking trip Eder did by herself.
“I was completely by myself,” Eder said. “It was just really hard mentally because I was completely on my own devices. I was around other people, but at the same time they were all self-sufficient.”
Being on her own brought new freedoms, but also new challenges.
“I learned a lot more about how I function hiking by myself this time. I could control how fast I’m hiking,” Eder said.
Eder travelled an average of 13 miles per day. In the beginning of the trip her mileage was less because she had to gain elevation, while towards the end of the trip her mileage increased.
“I’d walk for like four hours straight. A 20-mile day was my longest day and I took a total of two breaks on that day. I’ve never had that kind of freedom before,” Eder said.
The most challenging aspect of the hike was the weather.
“There were a couple days were it did have a ton of rain, hail, sleet and snow,” Eder said. “My personal philosophy is the bad days were worth doing because it makes the good days better. So even the bad days … were good because they made everything else so much better.”
Eder said she plans to continue hiking in the upcoming future.
by Madeline Wilson