Emma is from Lakewood, CO and an alumna of the Arabic AY 2019-20 program in Rabat, Morocco.

Integrating into a new family can be difficult. I remember the first few days of living with my host family in Rabat, Morocco being stressful as I was trying so hard not to “mess up” or do something embarrassing while also desperately trying to build a relationship with the family I was going to live with for up to nine months. There was a lot going on during my first week in Morocco: a significant language barrier, culture shock, homesickness, and more. One day I was unpacking and organizing my room and I stumbled upon a plastic bag filled with old UNO cards that I threw in my bag very last minute. I took them out to the living room and asked my younger host brother to play with me intending to keep him from bothering his older sister who was trying to study. I tried my best to teach him with my very limited Arabic and we played a few rounds until his six-year-old self was onto the next activity. I put the cards away and didn’t think too much of the game.

sam playing cards with her host family

A few days later my host sister asked me if I wanted to play cards with her. I eagerly grabbed them from my room and taught her UNO. I eventually taught everyone in my host family how to play the game. I also had a deck of regular cards tucked away in my suitcase that I brought out after UNO was mastered. I taught them a few games with those cards and my host sister taught me a Moroccan card game. One rainy morning over a weekend I woke up and nearly immediately started playing cards with my host sister and younger host brother; eventually the upstairs neighbor joined in and we played for hours. I played countless games of cards with all members of my host family and it really brought us closer together.

Many months and card games into my exchange, I finished dinner with my host family and expected to play a game of cards before studying and heading to bed, but my family asked if I wanted to play their new Monopoly game with them. I was confused as they were pronouncing it in a French accent and I did not understand what they were saying. They eventually pulled it out and I quickly realized what was going on. It seemed like a long game to start that late in the evening when I still had some studying to do, but I obliged.

sam playing monopoly with her host family

My host sister, mother (with the younger brother on her “team”), and I started the game. I needed a lot of assistance with the French cards but my host sister was happy to translate them into Arabic for me. The game ended not long after it started, and very far from the actual ending, with all of the paper money all over the room and many tired players. It reminded me of the end of many board games in my own family back home.

Card games and board games were not something I thought much about before coming to Morocco but turned out to be a very useful activity to get to know my host family and a very common form of entertainment and bonding throughout the six months I lived with them. One of the very last things I did before I left was playing cards with my younger host brother, and I left all of my cards with them as a parting gift. If you're packing for an exchange experience, I would recommend a deck of cards; a small deck may lead to countless hours of bonding and fun.

view of the sunset in morocco