GETTING TO KNOW AFRICA EXPERIENCE GAP
Africa is filled with diverse landscapes, from stunning beaches to majestic mountains to inspiring deserts. During your Gap Year, you'll be welcomed by the kindness and generosity of the people as you quickly become part of the community.
Learn About Morocco
Like many of the countries in the region, Morocco was once a French colony. After gaining independence in 1956, Morocco quickly stabilized and has remained one of the most peaceful nations in Northern Africa. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, with both a king and a parliament. If you’re a history buff, check out everything you’ll need to know about Morocco’s ancient & modern-day history.
A country not much bigger than California, Morocco maintains one of the most democratic political systems in the Middle East. During the Arab Spring (the revolution that took North Africa and the Middle East by storm in 2011), Morocco responded quickly to the concerns of its people and worked hard to rectify them. The country is still struggling to overcome policies set down by previous monarchs, but great strides have been made since the current king, Mohamed IV, assumed power in 1999.
Tourism is one of the top three sectors of Moroccan economy and this is evident throughout the country. Whether bustling around Fes (which boasts the largest medina in the world) or gazing out in awe at the vast Saharan desert, the appeal of Morocco attracts adventure-seekers worldwide. In fact, the Washington Post reports that Morocco is also among the top three most welcoming countries for foreigners in the world!
Learn About Ghana
Like the majority of the African continent, Ghana was formally colonized. The “Gold Coast” (named by the British) originally attracted the Portuguese to the area. The Trans-Atlantic trade route became a popular export route for gold, but also for slaves -- Cape Coast was one of the largest ports for the slave trade in West Africa. After centuries of oppression, Ghana became one of the first countries in the African continent to gain their independence, and has been one of the most politically stable countries in the region ever since. If you’re a history buff, learn even more about Ghana’s rich history.
Today, Ghana’s economy is one of the fastest-growing in Africa. They are one of the largest exporters of gold and cocoa (hot chocolate anyone?), and this economic independence has enabled a focus on access to education and meeting the basic needs of the population. One of the most recent social issues that has been at the forefront of Ghana’s politics is child labor – children are being taken out of school at an early age to help with the family farm or business. The government recognizes that is preventing the advancement of early education, and has started to put measures in place to prevent the frequency of child labor.
Ghana is abuzz with celebrations and festivities throughout the year, but one that you can count on every weekend is a wedding or a funeral. Funerals in Ghana are treated as a true celebration of life and the perfect reason to get together with friends and family. Everyone dresses to impress and many times, professional mourners are hired! The funeral business is quite lucrative throughout the country, as many people will save up their entire lives specifically for their funeral celebration. Coffin-makers line the streets of the markets and create true pieces of art for friends and family to choose from. Don’t be surprised if you get invited to one or two while you are in Ghana – it’s an honor!
Learn About Tanzania
Widely considered the birthplace of mankind, Tanzania has since been home to a wide variety of cultural and ethnic groups. The country’s borders were formed in 1890 when the European powers divided east Africa into ‘spheres of influence.’ The name “Tanzania” came about when Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar after independence. If you’re a history buff, check out everything you’ll need to know about Tanzania’s ancient & modern-day history.
About 80% of Tanzania’s work force is employed in the agriculture industry. Coffee is Tanzania’s largest export, but they also grow tea, cotton, cashews, and other cash crops. Tanzania is also known for the precious gemstone, tanzanite, which is only found within its borders.
The largest tree in the world, the Baobob tree, is one of the most common sites on the Tanzanian landscape. This incredible giant succulent has also been dubbed the “Tree of Life” because approximately 80% of its trunk is made of water, a source that communities used rely on heavily during Tanzania’s dry season. To this day, the Baobab tree still has many uses. Its wood is soft and fire–resistant and can be used to make soap, rubber, glue, and various medicines. The fruit it produces contains tons of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, and antioxidants such as iron and potassium. In the UK, its flesh is now being added to gin. With its many uses, it truly is the “Tree of Life!”
Cultural Do’s and Don’ts
Entering a new culture is an exciting and challenging experience. And just as you bring your own culture to share, it’s important to be open and respectful to the culture of those you’ll meet during your travels. You’ll often find that you have a much more positive experience if you are aware of and take into account cultural norms when meeting new people and getting to know your new community.
Picture this: You’re living in a country far from home. You can’t understand the language, and you’re trying to order food, but everything seems to be moving so slowly! Why can’t it just be like in your home country: fast and efficient?
Sometimes, these and other frustrations can build up, and you may even become angry or annoyed at with this new and unfamiliar place, its cultural norms, and its people. If this happens to you, you might be experiencing culture shock.
Culture shock can be a normal part of traveling to a new country, but it might surprise you that you can also encounter reverse culture shock when you return home. While everyone experiences some degree of culture shock, the impact that it has on your experience depends on how well prepared you are to handle its different phases. Here are some tips and tricks to get you assimilated (and re-assimilated once you’re back home) so you can enjoy every moment of your journey.
- Have a sense humor.
Try to see something of value in every new experience you have. While it can be challenging in the moment, try to keep it all in perspective. The ability to laugh and go with the flow are two key tools to coping with initial culture shock.
- Expect differences.
In any new culture, there will be some differences. If you’re prepared for there to be challenges and differences before you arrive in-country, it can make a world of difference in how you adjust.
- ...but look for what’s the same.
You will likely encounter differences in cultures, but you might not immediately realize the similarities. Take a moment to appreciate those attributes that make us more alike than different.
- Keep learning.
Immersing yourself in a new culture is a constant education. So continue making an effort to learn and understand what you’re experiencing.
Living and working within your new community is a great way to learn the local language. Whether you’re an advanced speaker or just learning a few key phrases, you’ll enjoy CCS-organized language lessons during your time in-country to help you through your journey. Here are a few important phrases to learn before you depart for your volunteer program. Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect (yet), give it a try! Your attempts to connect with new friends in the local language will always be appreciated.
Click below to hear Country Director Mohamed Mhmmoudi begin your first Arabic & French language lessons.
Ready for the next level? Practice your Moroccan Arabic with these online sites:
Click below to hear Country Director Makafui Amenuvor begin your first Ewe language lesson.
Ready for the next level? Practice your Ewe with these online sites:
Click below to hear Country Director Mama Thea begin your first Swahili language lesson.
Ready for the next level? Practice your Swahili with these online sites:
Recommended Reading and Films
We believe that travel and firsthand encounters are the BEST education. But there are also plenty of resources to help you learn more about the history, travel opportunities, culture, stories, and language of Morocco so you can begin to immerse yourself even before you arrive. Here are just a few of our favorites to get you started:
Travel & Leisure: Tanzania »
CCS Blog: Morocco »
YouTube: Portrait of a Nation »
Between volunteering, cultural activities, navigating a new language, and immersing yourself in a brand-new culture, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the local area and even the country during evenings and weekends. Free time is an important part of your experience for independent exploration and self-reflection, and our in-country staff will always have some great, local tips to share.
Start your planning with a few of our favorite suggestions, but also remember that you can plan most of your trips once you arrive in-country (especially if flights aren’t required) with your fellow volunteers.