As she began her sophomore year, medical biology major Morgan Hill ’16 had never imagined she would spend the spring semester living and studying abroad. The Dudley, Mass. native had enjoyed a foreign languages club trip to Europe in high school, but had assumed the demands of her major would preclude her from any international learning experiences during her time at UNE.
Then, during the Fall 2013 semester, Hill watched a video about the impending opening of UNE’s campus in Tangier, Morocco. “With my major,” Hill explains, “you have to take all of your sciences. I’d always thought studying abroad sounded like a neat idea, but honestly never thought it was something I could do. Then I learned they were offering all the classes I needed, and I thought, ‘What if I did go abroad?’ So I talked to my parents, and then ran to the Global Affairs office and put in my application.”
Shortly later, Hill found herself packing for a four-month adventure overseas. She was nervous and even wondering—as she said goodbye to friends and family members—whether she had made too hasty a decision. By the time she touched down at an airport in Spain, though, along with 22 other pioneering students who had signed up for UNE’s inaugural semester in Tangier, her anxiety had turned to excitement. “I realized that in an hour I was going to be in Africa,” Hill remembers. “Then, when our plane landed in Morocco, Anouar [Majid] was waiting. He was so happy to see us. He had a bus waiting at the airport, and people were jumping up to help with our luggage. It was a great welcome.”
Hill and her fellow students did a lot of walking that first day, as Majid, UNE’s vice president for Global Affairs, led them on a tour of Tangier that eventually brought them to a traditional Moroccan restaurant.
In the days and weeks to follow, Hill and the other students became familiar with the campus, the city, and the Moroccan people. They studied, made new friends, and spent time on the beach. On weekends, they took excursions to places like Morocco’s Blue City of Chefchaouen, which is situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, and Fez, home of the world’s oldest leather tannery. They also visited Seville, Spain, where they reunited with friends and classmates from UNE’s campuses in Maine who were engaged in UNE’s semester abroad program there.
The experience, Hill says, was life-changing.
“I wanted to know what a typical teenager does in Morocco,” she explains. “I wanted to know what it was like to grow up there. Americans can be very closed-minded in the sense that we only really know about life in America. In Morocco, the people are exposed to so many different cultures that they know a lot about all different people, religions and places. They put a lot more priority on knowing what’s going on in the world. I’ve opened my mind.”
By the time her four months in Morocco were drawing to an end, the young woman who had once briefly doubted her decision to spend a semester abroad was beginning to plot her return.
“I made a lot of personal connections there. I really fell in love with Tangier,” she says. “It became my second home. I loved seeing the different styles of family and tradition. Four months is a long time and I learned a lot, but I really want to immerse myself there again. Leaving my friends was very heartbreaking—from the staff on campus who would do anything for us, to my friends from the AST [American School of Tangier] and the other students in the program. We had become like a family, so the last week was waterworks for us. There were a lot of tears.”
In the summer of 2014, Hill took four courses on UNE's Biddeford Campus, in hopes of aligning her course schedule to allow for a return-trip to Tangier as a Resident Assistant during the Spring 2015 semester. She hoped to continue her own exploration, while helping to introduce a whole new group of UNE undergraduates to the enchanting country that won her heart.
“I just thought it was so beautiful,” Hill says. “I want everyone to see it."