On our second day in Moroccco, our guide, Mohammed, started our morning off with a thought-provoking question: "Are you a tourist or a traveler?"
My first reaction was, "Well, what's the difference?"
After a few seconds of pondering, Mohammad explained that tourists go to a new place, take some photos, see the top-rated sights, and then leave. Travelers, on the other hand, visit a new place and immerse themselves. They go off the beaten path to experience the culture. They interact with locals and learn. Travelers have minds like sponges, eager to soak up everything they come in contact with. They don't make comparisons to their own culture or judge the new place as "better" or "worse" than what they know. They dive in and become submerged.
We all decided that we were travelers and wanted to continue to work on that mindset; we were ready to learn.
Our adventure as travelers started with conversations with locals in Azzrou and questioning Mohammad about life in Morocco. I really enjoyed talking with our guide whenever possible. From the education system to religion, our conversations never ran out of topics and I never ran out of curiosity.
Having the traveler mindset in Morocco completely altered my perspective of the world. As a communications major, international studies minor, and a social person in general, I rarely hesistate to interact with locals. I am now even less afraid.
I've found that I can only learn so much from plaques at a historical site or robot-like guided tours. The real information lies with the people. Everyone has their own story, just like I do. Interacting with others is the best way to learn about a place.
Each place I've traveled to this semester has been unique. The experiences that have reasonated the most have been the interactions with locals. From chatting with elementary students at a primary church school in Malta to listening to an Irish man's rant about American politics, I keep meeting unforgettable characters.
As I listen to their stories, they become a part of my narrative as a traveler — not just a tourist.