Since the moment I found out that the COP 22 was going to happen during my NSLI-Y year abroad, I knew that I somehow had to gain entrance. Environmental justice is a passion of mine that I imagined could be in no place better embodied than at one of the largest environmental forums in the world. Through a connection with the sustainability-promoting NGO that I intern with, I giddily walked through the gates into the massive complex filled with politicians, scientists, environmental activists, and ambitious amateurs alike. Here, they congregated to discuss how the ideas set forth in the Paris Climate Conference would be this year more effectively put into concrete action.

At first I felt intimidated, for I’m not often in places with people who are all wearing matching pantsuits. My contact with the environmental science world has been confined to isolated, wild areas where muddied cargo pants are the style of choice. I was energized by the urgency with which people scurried from meeting to meeting, dramatically voicing their qualms with the injustices they perceived around them. As time passed, I started recognizing a recurring plea in people’s speeches. The technology and the ideas for projects are very well developed, they would say, but what are lacking are people who can connect scientists to community planners. This urgent need for implementers working at the local level presented a side of sustainability work that I know realize is often overlooked in the midst of the excitement that national and international projects can create. Ironically, COP 22 itself became an example of an international coalition that does not solve the need for hands on, local workers.

It was also exciting to see how Marrakesh itself was transformed by the surge of newcomers. In the weeks leading up to the conference, flowers shot up in street planters, colorful lights suddenly appeared lining the streets, and additional buses were installed to accommodate the anticipated crowds. Starting on the first day of the conference, the air buzzed as taxi drivers shuttled visitors from the conference to cafes and national monuments during their breaks. I realized I had reached a turning point when I was able to translate a Spanish-speaking woman’s request into Arabic for the taxi driver that we both shared one day. More importantly, however, I watched the city became more patriotic. I found myself feeling like less of a visitor and more of a Marrakchi as I watched swells of people staring up in awe for the first time at the landmarks that I now look at and recognize as part of my home.

Kyra is a current student on the 2016-2017 NSLI-Y Academic Year program in Morocco.