In 2017, I packed up my belongings and headed to Morocco with my children, who were four and six years old at the time. Although America was the only country I knew, I was strongly inclined to raising my children abroad even before becoming a mom (for more info on why, check out Why I Chose to Leave America & Raise My Children Abroad). We spent four years abroad, namely in North Africa and the Middle East, which afforded incredible benefits not just for myself, but for my children.


While it was certainly no easy feat raising my children in foreign countries, especially as a single mother who doesn’t speak the local languages well, in my personal experience, the benefits far outweighed the cons. I will expand on the cons in a separate blog post, but what follows is five of the greatest benefits of raising my children abroad.


1. Total Immersion in Other Cultures and Languages.


Both of my children were born and raised along the east coast of America, and most of the friends we had were first- or second-generation immigrants from countries all over the world. This meant we were constantly exposed to a bit of their cultural practices, norms, and foods, yet I yearned for something greater than mere glimpses. Living abroad enabled us to adopt some of the positive aspects of the various cultures we were immersed in, not the least of which were the two additional languages (Arabic and French) that both kids learned to some degree. They also adopted a higher level of respect for their elders, and the ability to entertain themselves rather than always expect to be entertained.


In addition, my children have no practicing Muslim family members on either side of their parent’s families, so it was also incredibly beneficial for them to spend a part of their childhood immersed in Muslim-majority countries, which strengthened their identity as Muslims and provided a sense of belonging.



2) Building Greater Resilience and Flexibility.


Though we set up a home base in each of the countries we traveled in, we also traveled quite extensively throughout that country, or its neighboring countries. Needless to say, we were frequently on the move. This frequent travel meant constantly adjusting to different places, cultures, environments, languages, etc. Fortunately, perhaps because they were still so young, they became accustomed to going with the flow and making the best out of our changing environment. In the case of frequent travelers, you either learn to accommodate, or you spend most of your time miserable and frustrated.


There were numerous instances where we didn’t have access to particular things that we were used to having, leaving us no choice other than to make due with an alternative. Many of the playgrounds we had access to lacked the usual playground equipment they were used to, so the kids began developing their own ways of playing that didn’t require swings or slides. They also became accustomed to making new friends everywhere we went. A lot of my baking necessities were either nonexistent or incredibly overpriced, so I developed recipes for baked goods using whatever I had access to. In the end, we discovered we could do without a lot of the same things we once considered essentials.



3) Becoming more appreciative of things we had previously taken for granted.


Like the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Although we always opted to live in modern, developed cities abroad, the conveniences found there paled in comparison to the conveniences found in America. Without online shopping, I no longer had the world at my fingertips, and I frequently found myself scouring the entire city in search of a single product.


The comfort of life in America was even more pronounced when we'd visit friends in their homes in remote villages, where most homes had old-fashioned toilets (holes in the ground) and 1 running faucet for in the center of the home to be used for hygiene, cooking, and cleaning. Poverty and homelessness were evident nearly every city we lived in or visited, and was a sobering reminder of just how fortunate we were to have easy access to what we had. During our extended stay in Damascus, Syria, to visit the children’s father’s side of the family, the electric was cut for several hours each day, so life was typically planned around when you knew you'd have electricity.



4) Experiencing the beauty and diversity of the world firsthand.


One of the most important things I seek to instill in my children is the understanding that they are part of a world much greater and diverse than they ever could have grasped from the comfort of our middle-class, predominately-white suburban neighborhood in America. Of course, there was no shortage of exposure to diversity even in America – my children went to a Church-based preschool, have family members from several religious backgrounds, and have participated, to some degree, in many of the holidays traditionally celebrated in America. Yet, I wanted them to experience the diversity within our own religion.


Our adventures abroad included visiting with the indigenous Nubian people of Egypt, dining with Berbers and dancing to traditional Gnawa music in Morocco, touring the Christian quarters of Old Damascus, and marveling at ancient cypress trees while learning about the beliefs of our Druze tour guide in Lebanon. I hope that their experiences abroad have opened their minds and will prevent them from ever adopting a narrow-minded, superior mindset when dealing with others from different walks of life.



5) Access to quality, cheap food and reasonably-priced conventional and alternative healthcare.


This benefit in particular has made it very hard to willingly resettle in America again. In America, junk food is far cheaper than fresh, organic foods. Combine this with our hectic, over-scheduled lifestyles, and it’s obvious that we’re systematically set up to fall into unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. On the contrary, fresh produce and meats are reasonably-priced in each of the countries we’ve lived, and typically, things run much slower, leaving time for homecooked meals. By the time the kids and I left America, we were spending several hundred dollars a month on healthy foods, and even more on health insurance, and seldom did it cover any of the alternative practitioners that we turned to for most of our healthcare needs.


Though medical technology is far more advanced in American than it is in many other countries, for healthy individuals with no major health problems, the healthcare offered in most developed countries is more than sufficient, and offered at a fraction of the cost. In most of the countries we’ve lived, conventional doctors’ visits were $20, alternative healthcare practitioner visits were $30, dental cleanings with x-rays were $35, and my one-day stent in the hospital due to severe food poisoning was $200, which covered everything including medications and an ultrasound to rule out gallbladder issues. Medications are also available without a prescription, which was convenient for me, as I was able to order my own blood work and determine if my medication for my autoimmune disease needed to be adjusted.



Raising my children abroad was definitely one of the most challenging feats of my adult life, but with immense benefits that made it well worth the effort. In fact, truth be told, if it weren’t for the educational benefits afforded in America, I would admittedly be inclined to permanently settle abroad. Oddly enough, it simply feels like home.

Updated: Jul 26, 2020


I was raised in a small city in Central Florida with very little diversity and almost no exposure to people of various cultures or beliefs. So what’s the story behind my decision to pack up my belongings into 6 suitcases and move abroad with two small children and little idea of what to expect?


After my conversion to Islam in 2007 (full story here), I eagerly became involved in my local Muslim community and began making friends from all over the globe. I was intrigued by their various cultural beliefs and practices, and even more so by the amazing cuisine they’d prepare during our Holy month of Ramadan. Growing up, I always knew there was so much more to the world than what I could even imagine, and now I was finally able to explore it through the friendships I was forming with others from every corner of the world.


For most of my 20's, my traveling was limited to the US. My (now ex) husband and I took a two- to three-week vacation at least once a year, even after becoming parents, exploring at least a dozen different states. I traveled frequently with my young children, often making the 8-hour drive to Florida to visit my family and eagerly scoping out places in Central Florida to explore. My international trips were limited to visiting my (now ex) husband’s family in Damascus, Syria every year until the start of the war.


After becoming a mother, one of the most important things I wanted to provide my children was the opportunity to not only explore the beautiful diversity in the world, but to afford them the opportunity to immerse themselves in it and adopt the positive aspects of various cultures while observing and learning from the negative ones. There were numerous things within my own culture in America that I wanted them to adopt, but there were aspects of it I wanted to protect them from as well. Similarly, there were aspects of other cultures that I truly admired, and others I did not.


Having made so many friends of Arab decent, I appreciated the importance they placed on family ties and socializing, for example, which was often undervalued in American culture. I also noticed how respectful the children of my Arab and Pakistani friend often were to their teachers and parents, which became even more enticing after my son began kindergarten and brought home shocking words and habits from his classmates at school. Suffice it to say, my observations are definitely limited and certainly don’t reflect the values or behaviors of all people of a certain race or nationality.


I had also grown tired of constantly feeling ostracized after moving to a city with a small Muslim community and few covered Muslim women like myself. More concerning than this was the fact that my oldest son was approaching school age and was also becoming increasingly aware of how “different” he was, being from an interracial Muslim family. And though I am confident that my children will eventually embrace their identities whole-heartedly, I constantly worried about how this may affect my children in their early years when children are so naturally driven to fit in. I wanted to provide my children a sense of belonging, where they could feel just as comfortable being Muslim as they feel being American.


This was made even more difficult by the fact that I was the only Muslim in my family, and their father was the only practicing Muslim in his family. Yes, I was determined to explore and embrace the diversity that surrounded me, but not at the expense of watering down my own beliefs and identity. The lack of support and community that my children were being raised in was of fair concern. For years, I tried my best to make our celebrations in Islam as memorable as possible, but they seemed to always pale in comparison to those that we only took a limited part in, like Christmas and Halloween. I feared my children would grow up resenting Islam, feeling as though it prevented them from fitting in and “being normal,” which isn’t as much a concern for those living in a sizeable, active Muslim community.


I was also adamant about them learning the Arabic language, the mother tongue of their father and the language of our Holy Quran, and knew that the chances of them becoming fluent in a second language while immersed in an English-speaking environment was slim to none, even with their father speaking Arabic with them at home. Although not impossible, I was the perfect example of how difficult it was to learn a language without being immersed in it daily. Before I became a mother, I spent years learning Arabic, but could hardly make it through a greeting. Yet, after just a few months of living abroad, I began speaking enough to get by.


Another driving force behind my decision to raise my children abroad was the desire to expose them to the reality of life outside of the bubble we inadvertently lived in. God blessed us with a nice home in a gorgeous subdivision, and I often toted them around in my mini-van to their private preschool and extracurricular activities like music class and karate. Yet, I was also a passionate activist and volunteer, and often had them join me during my volunteering and interfaith events. We also talked about the plight of people around the globe, and ways we may be able to help them. However, I wanted more for them than this limited exposure from the comfort of our home. Although they were young, I wanted them to truly grasp the wildly different levels of comfort and privilege experienced by people around the world, and felt that life in a third-world or developing country would provide that.


There is no perfect way to raise children, and you can undoubtedly raise amazing children of any faith or ethnicity in America. Yet, for me, personally, I felt called to explore life abroad, and knew that if I didn’t take the plunge, I would likely always wonder what if I had.


So, how have things worked out for us in the three years we’ve lived outside of the US? Has it been everything we dreamed, a total and utter nightmare, or something in between? Find out soon in the second part of this blog post, coming soon!

From the bustling Jama El-fena square, to the palaces and gardens, there is certainly no shortage of things to do or places for families to see in Marrakech. Yet, for those seeking some solitude, and a change of scenery from the hustle and bustle of city life, there are several hidden gems within a 1-2 hour drive of Marrakech, oftentimes accessible by micro-buses or private cars. Here are just 7 of our favorites:



Ourika, Morocco

The Atlas mountains, which can be seen from the city of Marrakech, are more than just a glorious backdrop to this bustling city. Just an hour drive southeast will put you in Ourika, well known for its restaurants that feature outdoor seating just feet away from the river. My personal favorite is a town just a bit further into the mountains, Siti Fatima, which also feature a small but beautiful waterfall.


What to do

In the fall and spring, grab a light sweater and head to one of the riverside restaurants to enjoy grilled meats and sweet mint tea. In the summer, the kids can bring their swimsuits and wade around in the small pools that are created between the large river rocks. The river's current is weak and the water is shallow; nevertheless, parents should be within very close proximity of their little ones. Do note that decent bathrooms are hard, if not impossible, to come by.



Anima Gardens

Also on the way to Ourika, you'll find Anima Gardens, considered one of the most unique gardens in the world. It's not just a garden, but a sensational fusion of art and nature. André Heller's Anima Garden is home to 250+ types of plants, from bamboo to palms to cacti, with pieces of art by Pablo Picasso, Keith Haring, and undiscovered local talents intricately placed throughout the gardens. This garden would likely suit older children who appreciate creative art and botany, though my children, then 6 and 8, enjoyed wandering the premise.


What to do

Anima Gardens is an easy walk for both children and the elderly. The paths are clearly marked, and the size of the garden, covering roughly 2 hectares or 1/2 acre, isn't too vast for most to handle. The springtime is the absolute best time to visit the gardens, as the snow-peaked Atlas Mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop, but the gardens are still worth a visit in early fall. The summer heat can make this outdoor activity quite grueling, and I can't comment on how it is in wintertime, nor confirm if it's even open then. For information on hours and pricing, visit their website at http://www.anima-garden.com/.



Amizmiz Mountain Village

Just over an hour southwest is the village of Amizmiz which lies at the foot of the High Atlas. With a population of just 11,000, predominately of Berber lineage, the main hallmark of this small village is the wonderful hiking trails that begin here, which are suitable for beginner hikers and children who are relatively experienced in rough terrain.


What to do

This is an especially beautiful venture in the early spring before the snow melts on the mountaintops. In both the spring and fall, be sure to dress in layers, as it can get quite cold. The weather varies in the summer and winter, so check the temperatures before traveling to ensure you dress appropriately. If you take a private car, simply ask anyone where to begin your hike, and you'll most certainly be pointed in the right direction with a smile. There are various trails and levels of difficulty, but again, locals are more than happy to help. Just expect to pay a small tip if they guide you for any length of time. The trail that leads to the waterfall is relatively easy and suitable for children, but further up offers spectacular, breathtaking views.


After your hike, stop by one of the riverside restaurants for a tagine and tea. Better yet, head to Amizmiz early on a Tuesday morning to catch their weekly market, which is well-known in the area and chock full of fresh, local produce and inexpensive merchandise that makes great souvenirs (at a fraction of the cost of those found in Marrakech).




Agafay Desert

While the Agafay Desert cannot be likened to the sandy dunes of the Sahara desert, it's a happy medium for families who aren't able or interested in making the trip to the Sahara desert, which typically requires 1.5 day traveling there and 1.5 day traveling back. The Agafay desert is a rocky desert located about halfway between Marrakech and Amizmiz, only 40 minutes from Marrakech.


What to do:

Pack a suitable-sized picnic and to enjoy in a picturesque spot, where you can marvel at the vast rocky mountains surrounding you. Enjoy hiking through the rocky terrain -- the level of difficulty is completely up to you, and you'll find plenty of paths suitable for both beginner to intermediate hikers.


There are also coordinated tours and quad bike companies here, as well as desert camps and other accommodation options, but my visit here was limited to an all-day picnic and hiking with my two children, then 6 and 8, and friends.




Lala Takerkoust

Roughly 2/3 of the way to Amizmiz Mountain Village is also gorgeous man-made lake where you'll find activities to suit everyone's taste. In the vicinity is numerous trails for walking, mountain biking and horse riding, as well as both public and private beaches used for picnicking and swimming. Jet ski and kayak rentals are available, as are pedal boats and quad bikes.


What to do:

Keep it simple by packing a picnic to enjoy on the shores while wading in the water, or go all out by booking a lakeside riad and exploring the surrounding beauty on quad bikes. The choice is yours! There is no shortage of activities to do here, so you can easily customize it to your family's wishes and budget. I have done both simple day trips and overnight stays with quad excursions, and can attest that both were well worth the short drive out of the city.



Jarjeer Donkey Refuge

Located shortly before Lalla Takerkoust is Jarjeer Donkey and Mule Refuge, a haven of rest for working animals, many of whom have suffered a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of their owners. Founded in 2014, Jarjeer rescues old, oftentimes abused, donkeys and mules, provides any necessary medical treatment or therapies, and offers them a safe, loving forever-home. The equines here are accustomed to human interaction and enjoy the company and attention of visitors.


What to do:

Contact the facility ahead of time to ensure they are receiving guests. Contact info and hours can be found at https://www.jarjeer.org/. This facility would likely be enjoyed by children of all ages, as long as they are not particularly fearful of equines or dogs, who roam the premise freely but are very docile. Avoid wearing anything that hangs, such as clothing that is very loose, purses, or necklaces, as the equines tend to pull at this. This facility relies solely on donations, so do consider donating in person or via Paypal.



Les Terres D'amanar

An hour south of Marrakech lies an outdoor adventure park in the small town of Tahannaout. Les Terres D'amanar is located in the mountainside but is easy to reach by car, and boasts a wide range of outdoor activities for both children and adults, as well as a restaurant, pool, and on-site eco-lodges available for overnight stays, all of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountaintops.


What to do:

There are numerous zip-lining adventure courses suitable for children ages 5 and up. For adults to dare, there is a zip-lining course that includes a swinging ladder and zip lines that take you flying over the canyons. They also offer horseback riding, archery, hiking trails, and more. You can also purchase a pool pass and meals at the restaurant on site.




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