About 200 Elmhurst students study abroad each year: they build their career plans, learn new languages and immerse themselves in different cultures. Many start with a January Term class or a summer program, and then get an appetite for spending a full term abroad or even a year. This is the first in a series of articles on students’ study-abroad experiences in locations off the beaten path.
Jacob Hug’s study-abroad experience in Morocco enhanced his résumé and helped him land a job in his field of international business before he graduated in May 2011.
A native of Bloomington, Illinois, Hug chose to study in Morocco for a year to help him fulfill a language requirement for his international business major. He’d previously studied Arabic in a January Term class, his first exposure to the language.
Hug spent his junior year in a new program offered through the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) in Rabat. He took Arabic language courses through IES, but for his business courses, he enrolled directly in the International Institute for Higher Education, Morocco, where classes are taught in English. He was the only foreigner.
Most of Hug’s Moroccan classmates spoke a mixture of Arabic and French, which made learning an already difficult language even more tricky. “The dialect that Moroccans use is very different than the Arabic you learn in school,” Hug said.
Before his IES program began, Hug lived with three Moroccan roommates in a small apartment in Marrakech. “I have seen closets here in America bigger than our apartment. We had no door and one rug to sleep on. The whole apartment complex shared one toilet—a hole in the ground. This was also our shower. We used the water spout next to the hole to fill small buckets,” Hug recalled.
Hug landed in Marrakech two days after the start of Ramadan, a month-long Islamic observance during which Muslims fast from sun up until sundown. Because Hug’s roommates were Muslim, he also followed Ramadan rules.
“During the nights we would go out to the large market, where we would eat, drink and meet with locals,” he recalled. “This living situation was the biggest adjustment I went through during my travels.”
Hug braced himself for a tough transition because he knew living in an Arab country and an Islamic culture would be different from what he was used to. “Because I was expecting it to be so much different, finding similarities stopped me from having culture shock,” he said. “I adjusted very easily.”
One striking difference, though, was the lack of upward social and economic mobility for many Moroccans. “You begin to appreciate the ability we have to move up in social classes and also to travel around the world. Many Moroccans aren’t able to leave. It’s difficult for them to get visas,” he said.
During his year abroad, Hug used his freedom to travel as much as possible, not only in accessible Western European countries, but in Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt and Jordan, and in Eastern European destinations such as Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia. Hug’s foreign travel—and speeches he gave upon his return to entering freshmen, to potential College donors and on behalf of IES Abroad—also added to his résumé. That caught the eye of the hiring manager for U-Freight America, a Chinese logistics company with offices in Wood Dale, Illinois.
“It definitely helped me land the job,” says Hug, who now works as an account executive for U-Freight. “They said that once they read that I lived in Morocco, they wanted to interview me.”
Hug said the year in Morocco clarified his career goals. “I realized I wanted a job where I could travel internationally, where I could deal with people in different countries,” he says. So far, most of Hug’s business travels have been in the United States. Next year he expects to head to China for his first international business trip.