Virtual travel – as bad as it sounds?

It goes without saying that our freedom to travel has been warped, pushed aside and, frankly, banned in recent months. For some, even travel across one’s hometown is no longer so easy. What I want to know, though, is how the world is going to adapt. Sure, I hope that one day true travel will recommence in the way we know it, but it seems as though every aspect of our lives has been digitized – online shopping, online lectures, working from home, you name it. How, I wonder, does the world of travel adjust?

As a modern languages student, like many others I am currently facing a slightly unexpected ‘Year Abroad.’ Gone are the images of me travelling around the middle east, talking to locals and exploring local cuisine; instead, enter me, snuggled in pyjamas in front of my laptop, a cup of (instant) coffee in hand. I could complain – it’s undoubtable that the experience isn’t the same. But I was lucky enough to take an incredible online course in Arabic through Qalam wa Lawh in Morocco. The school not only went above and beyond in terms of their classes and curriculum, but they adapted rapidly to the changing circumstances, really pushing for an immersive experience for each of their students, Covid aside.

On the first day of classes, we were given a virtual tour of Morocco’s capital city, Rabat. Whilst I’m sure it would have been even better in person, the knowledgeable teachers and engaged students really helped to make this experience as fascinating as possible. No-one expected it to be the same, and it certainly wasn’t, but I think it was everyone’s willingness to participate, and respect the staffs’ desire to show us their hometown even in sub-par circumstances, that made the experience so interesting. I might not have been able to feel the energy of Morocco itself; but the guides really allowed us to understand their vibe, the city’s personality, the history, all from the comfort of my bedroom.

Then, there was the attempt to replicate a fully immersive study semester which gave the course such a rigorous and intense appeal. On top of our daily two hours of classes and 2/3 hours of preparation, we were given 30 minutes of free tutoring per day if we wanted, meaning we could have our specific individual needs met in a way that most university study does not allow. The school, in lieu of their weekly café visits, organised a similar online version, where we could discuss various topics in an informal manner – some highlights for me were the changing roles of women in the Arab world, and the depiction of women in the media, as well as how food can be a pathway to access the culture of a country.

And, as if to satisfy the demands of all my family asking for me to learn how to cook real Moroccan food, the school organised online cooking sessions. A real highlight for me, learning how to make a traditional Moroccan chicken tagine with couscous meant that I can still claim ultimate language student bragging rights when I head back to university next year – hungry? No worries, I can easily whip up a quick Moroccan meal…

I guess what the experience taught me was that every travel experience, virtual or otherwise, is what you make of it. It may not be exactly what I expected, but I don’t have a negative word to say about my experience – I learnt so much, and not just more grammar.


Featured image by slon_dot_pics on Pexels. 

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