Africa in Our Lives: Sam Landes

“Morocco” by Victor via Flickr

Sam Landes is recent UW-Madison graduate. He has a certificate in African Studies and studied abroad in Morocco during the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Major: History

Field of Study: 20th Century History

Hometown: Pittsfield, Massachusetts

What brought you to Madison?

I wanted to leave the east coast, and go somewhere where I wouldn’t know anyone. I had toured several schools in the midwest, but loved Madison almost immediately upon arrival. To be honest, it was the city much more than the university that captivated me. I wanted to be somewhere with good music, good food, and a reasonable amount of nature around me, and Madison delivered those things.

Were you interested in Africa before coming to UW-Madison?

Indirectly. One of my interests at that time I graduated high school had been studying the histories of countries that had suffered from European colonization, a list which obviously includes many African nations.

How did you decide to study Arabic?

Having grown up around people who believed in varying degrees of Zionism, I had been presented an image of the Arab World that often times was ill informed, simplistic, or offensive. I wanted to learn Arabic so that I could talk to people from that world directly, and no longer rely on outsider perspectives and misinformation to paint a picture of Arabs and Arab culture.

Have you studied abroad? If so, where? Would you recommend it to other students? What was your favorite part of your study abroad experience?

I spent my junior year studying in Fez, Morocco, an experience I would suggest to anyone, especially those studying Arabic. The best part about my experience was the constant stream of challenges to my worldview and lifestyle living in Morocco. Where do I go to get vegetables? Who do I talk to on the street if I need help? How do I navigate these social cues I have no experience with? What does it mean to be a conscious consumer in a foreign country, and moreover, am I conducting myself with respect for the people, culture, and spaces of that country? Learning to ask these questions and answer them honestly probably was the most valuable thing studying abroad taught me.

What is your most vivid memory from the time you spent in Africa?

My most vivid memory of being in Africa is of a train ride my friend and I took along the northern coast of Morocco on the way to Tangier. As we moved farther north, the land got greener, and grassier, and we got occasional glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean out of the train window. After spending so much time in Fez, which is surrounded by brown, rugged, rock strewn hills, seeing that green was such a relief.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while you were abroad?

The most interesting thing I learned abroad is undoubtedly Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. It gets a lot of flack for being very far from its parent language, but is fascinating in so many ways. It draws linguistic elements from European languages like Spanish, French, and English, but also from the dozens of languages spoken by the Amazighi peoples, who lived in North Africa long before the Arabs invaded from the east. It is beautiful, fun to speak, and dynamic.

What are you reading now?

Right now I am reading The Kaiser’s Holocaust, a book about the German colonization efforts in Namibia, which resulted in the mass slaughter of the Herero and Nama peoples. It also discusses how many of the tactics used by the Germans in Namibia would later influence the men who perpetrated the Holocaust.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Consider other possibilities. This advice was given to me by Wyl Schuth, my TA from one of the classes in my Freshman Interest Group, Rock, Soul, and the Sixties. Put another way? Don’t accept the reality you’ve been given– fight for a better tomorrow for yourself, and for everyone around you.

If you could give potential freshman one piece of advice before going to Madison, what would it be?

Take classes that you think will be interesting! Don’t limit yourself to your requirements! Learn about the subjects that speak to you!

What was the most surprising part about college?

The thing that surprised me the most about college was the discovery that I can handle myself in times of intense stress. When the time came to write ridiculous amounts of pages, or to keep my cool when my travel plans went horribly wrong, or to cram for tests in subjects I knew little about, I was able to step up and do what had to be done. It was not an easy road, and there were certainly times when everything very nearly blew up in my face, but I made it through, and am a much more confident person because of it.