Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Amazing Race 30, Episode 3

Antwerp (Belgium) - Amsterdam (Netherlands) - Tangiers (Morocco)

This week’s episode of The Amazing Race 30 gave the contestants on the reality-TV show a test of their dead reckoning ability in a souk in Tangiers. After having a destination pointed out to them from one rooftop to another, how quickly could they find their way there on the ground down below, without a smartphone or GPS?

Completing the task required mentally integrating how far they had gone, in which twisting and turning directions, to keep track of their position and orientation (which way am I facing now, and which way am I trying to go?) relative to their starting point and destination.

Some people have more natural aptitude than others at dead reckoning, but it’s a skill that can be improved by practice. In “The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World”, I recommend taking a day trip to a city or town you don’t know well, preferably one with a dense and complicated network of streets, alleys, and paths, and ideally one with streets that aren’t in a grid. Pick a destination, or have an accomplice pick one for you and tell you its position relative to yours: “You are facing east, and your destination looks like [visual description not name, so you can’t rely on signs] and is six-tenths of a mile north and three-tenths of a mile west from here.” Try to find your way to the specified landmark without using a smartphone, GPS, or map, or asking for directions, and while trying to avoid reading any street signs.

Different people use different mental methods for dead reckoning. I visualize my position as a point, moving as I move, on a mental map of my course that I can visualize in my mind’s eye. If I close my eyes, it’s as though I were looking down from above in an out-of-body experience. My partner, who grew up near the seacoast, has a subconscious compass that keeps track of “Which direction is the water?” and “Which direction is the North Pole?” That can break down when there is no large body of water nearby, or when crossing between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Hotels in Muslim-majority places often have a more or less discreet arrow or pointer on the ceiling of each room to indicate the (great circle) direction of Mecca, so that you can tell which way to face when you pray. That doesn’t help when you are on the street, but checking the “Qibla” (Mecca-pointer) in your room before you go out may help you start out oriented with respect to the cardinal directions.

Practice this sort of navigation before you go to a place where you don’t speak the language and there are few street signs or they aren’t in a writing system that you can read.

If you’d like to Rock The Casbah yourself in Tangiers, Nick Andriani, who’s spent more time wandering further off the beaten path in North Africa and the Middle East than most people I know, has an introduction to Tangiers in his blog. Nick’s “Insiders Tip” on getting lost in Tangiers? “Street signs are often missing, street names often don’t match your map and very often are misleading…. Tangier is a safe city, and a small city, so getting lost is actually part of the fun” — if you’re not in a race. I met Nick at the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference in Cancún in 2014, and I look forward to seeing one of his novels make it into print.

Morocco is not a monolingual country. It was a lesson for the racers — and for real-world travellers — that wherever you are, it’s worth trying any language(s) you know. In Morocco, French serves as a language of education and government and as a link language between native speakers of several varieties of Arabic and of Berber languages. Despite scapegoating of immigrants from the Maghreb (North Africa) for problems in Europe, many Moroccans have worked or have family ties and have lived in Europe, especially in Francophone Europe and in Spain, just across the Straits of Gibraltar, where many Moroccans work in agriculture. Some of the racers were able to get help with directions in French, others in Spanish.

Surprisingly, two of the racers knew some Arabic: One had been in the US military in Iraq, while Evan (one of the Yale University debate team partners in the cast) had lived in Morocco for a year as a high-school exchange student.

Study abroad for a year in high school? In Morocco? How do you do that? Isn’t a year of study abroad something you do in college, and more likely in Europe or Latin America than in Africa?

More people study abroad in college than in high school, and most of them go on group programs from the USA to “First World” countries. But there are a surprising number of high school study abroad programs that provide opportunities for (structured and supported) immersion in a surprisingly diverse range of countries around the world. Here are some of those I know of that are available to high school students from the USA:

  • Rotary Youth Exchanges: Rotary International is a service club with thousands of chapters in communities around the world. The Rotary youth exchange program is by far the least expensive major high school study abroad program for students from the USA. Rotary exchanges also offer opportunities in by far the largest number of countries of any study-abroad program. Most are full-year commitments, with portions of the year spent with three different families and in three schools in different locations within one country. You apply through the Rotary chapter in your community. The application process can be more or less competitive, depending on how eager your local Rotary chapter is to sponsor an exchange student, and how many other people from your community are applying that year. If your local Rotary club decides to sponsor you, they will arrange for you to be hosted by a Rotary chapter in a destination country. I have heard consistently favorable feedback on Rotary youth exchanges from participants and their parents.

  • AFS (American Field Service): School year, semester, and summer programs. Homestays with local families and enrollment in local schools, as well as other activities.

  • Youth For Understanding: School year, semester, and summer programs. Homestays with local families and enrollment in local schools, as well as other activities.

  • The Experiment In International Living: 3-6 week summer programs only. Participants stay with local families but travel and are involved in their own educational program with their own group, rather than being enrolled in local schools.

All of the programs above have been in operation for years and have generally good reputations. But they are all different, as is each participant’s experience. No program is perfect or best for everyone. A totally structured and “protective” study-abroad program would be self-defeating. Living and studying abroad and with temporary host families inevitably presents adjustment and culture-shock challenges. That’s part of the learning and personal growth opportunity, and you shouldn’t sign up if you don’t want to take that on.

If you have experience with these or other high school study-abroad programs, please share your feedback in the comments.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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