Name: Nadia Hecker-O'Brien
Hometown: Eugene, Oregon
Varsity sport participated in: Track & Field
Study abroad semester and location: Fall 2013 Rabat, Morocco
What was the best meal you had abroad and why?
I loved tajine with prunes and beef. I was a vegetarian prior to going abroad so when I went to Morocco I decided to eat meat; I didn’t want to miss out on cultural opportunities! I should also mention I’m a vegetarian whose favorite food is meat, so I was pretty excited! Besides the beef being perfectly tender, I also loved the different uses of dried fruit, and the sweet-savory combination. The way one eats a tajine in Morocco is also very communal, with everyone sharing out of one tajine dish and scooping with bread, and I really liked that.
What was your proudest/most exciting moment abroad?
I came to Morocco having studied a year of Arabic, however, I had studied modern standard Arabic, and did not know a single word of Moroccan Arabic, or Darija. There was this little store next to my school that I would buy snacks from or refill my phone card. The first few weeks I struggled through asking the man who worked there to refill my phone card until one day I finally asked in Darija! Even though I only said one sentence, I felt very accomplished and like my studying was starting to pay off. It was especially satisfying because the man in the shop was equally proud of me.
How were you able to stay in shape or stay prepared for your sport while you were gone?
One of my favorite places in the city I lived was “Hilton Park.” I have no idea what the real name was but that’s what everyone called it. It was this enormous park that had a path that went for about 4km. I would go running here 4-6 times a week. The difficult thing about Morocco was that this was really the only place I felt comfortable running, and although there were lots of gyms I cannot stand running inside, especially with such consistently good weather, so I was a bit limited. But I got my runs in and even did little track workouts on the path. I definitely wasn’t what I would consider “in-shape” but I did maintain regular exercise.
Has the time you spent abroad changed the way you think about your athletic experience or your sport in general?
I think sports and athletic experience are incredibly important but I also think, at Beloit especially, it’s easy to get caught up in what we’re doing. What we’re doing usually involves school, our social circle, jobs, internships, clubs, and sports. Going abroad is a much needed reflection period and escape from the usual. Being an athlete is the equivalent to a part-time job, even out of season (which a lot of us athletes don’t ever experience) it occupies a lot of time, which is great but there is still something to be said for stepping away from our Beloit world for a semester. This is really what I have felt, at least. Being in Morocco, pretty much challenged every belief I’ve ever had or been sure of, it called every activity I’ve been engaged with into question, and allowed me to look at all of this from a somewhat removed perspective. I really value this about being abroad because it’s good to question and be critical, isn’t that what liberal arts is all about? I still love sports and will continue to be involved in them but being in Morocco allowed me to think of why it was important to me; what I get out of it; and what I want to get out of it in the future.
Did being an athlete provide you with any advantages while you were abroad? If yes, what were they?
I think athletics are just another thing to connect with people about. Sport is one of the most universally valued activities or interests, so being an athlete really bridges cultural gaps. I also think abroad can be difficult just because there’s so much to adjust to, so having something comfortable like exercise/sports to depend on is really nice.