Travel tales: moving to Morocco with a passion for photography

During this period of time when we cannot travel, let’s look back and share stories of past trips – ones that have come about so we can make life changes or holidays where we had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This article tells the story of Leonie, who moved from the Netherlands to Morocco with her camera and has now built a successful new career by building her hobby into something more.

Turning hobby to profession

I would like to introduce you to Leonie. She moved from the Netherlands to Marrakesh, Morocco for the sake of love. For her, especially the decision-making process before the move was an intense phase in which she went through a major identity shift. In Marrakesh, she quit her job and discovered something completely new for herself by building a successful business as a photographer.

Morocco city wall

Photo credit: Leonie Zaytoune

When the decision process demands everything from you

It was 10 years ago that Leonie met the love of her life. She was on a city trip to Marrakesh when she met her now husband. Despite the cultural differences and the distance, they lived for 6 years in a long-distance relationship that, looking back, was not as difficult as it might seem. Though, it was clear that at some point a decision had to be made. Leonie worked as a Spanish teacher in the Netherlands. She really loved the responsibility she had for her 25 students and enjoyed the actual teaching process a lot. However, at the same time she came home every night to an empty apartment while the love of her life was in another country. She felt trapped in a daily routine that was not fulfilling.

Morocco interior

Photo credit: Leonie Zaytoune

A sense of responsibility towards her family held her back from making the move. She did not want to leave her parents alone and suppressed her own needs.

In her mind though, her home was always with him in Morocco. Of course, he could also move to the Netherlands – but for him it would mean a certain social decline. He had also built up an existence in Marrakesh and that could not simply be packed up and taken with him. She just knew, no she even felt it for sure, that her home would be with him in Marrakesh. After 6 years of long-distance relationship and a time full of hardships, she finally packed her suitcase and freed herself from the ideas of others. As soon as the decision was made, a weight fell off. She was at peace with herself.

Moving to Morocco

Leonie comments: ‘Before deciding on my next steps, I felt annoyed, stressed. I felt guilty for letting down my family, colleagues and students. After making the decision I was at peace with myself.’

For many expats, the change in their own identity takes place after they have left home. For Leonie, this intense phase happened a little earlier, before she even moved abroad. She freed herself from outdated ideas and opinions of others and prioritised herself for the first time. This is a long process with a lot of reflection but at the same time a very enriching process at the end when you manage to liberate yourself.

Finding the answer to ‘What is it that you do?’

So, she travelled to Marrakesh at peace with herself. She was very positive and relaxed about the whole adventure, even though she didn’t have a new job waiting for her on arrival. Of course, she also had difficulties adjusting to the new country. Even with the best preparation and mindset, a culture shock cannot be completely avoided. After an initial honeymoon phase, Leonie also had to realise that she now had to build a new life here and that cultural differences and planning a new existence were part of it.

Morocco doorway

Photo credit: Leonie Zaytoune

Due to her western appearance, she is easily mistaken for a tourist everywhere she goes, especially in the more touristic parts of the city. She meets other expats who have built a life for themselves and all have something great to contribute professionally. Since Leonie left her old job behind, the answer to the typical question ‘What is it that you do’ is very challenging. She realises what an important part her job has been for her: it was a part of her identity that gave her recognition and appreciation. Her first reflex was to consider taking up her old profession again but she quickly dismisses this. Slowly she becomes impatient. The numerous questions from others are getting to her. She has to do something! Her husband is the one who helped her the most at this particular moment. He encouraged her to let life come to her. He supported her idea of taking language courses and she was able to help him with his work, managing the country’s typical riads. Above all, he took the pressure off her shoulders. Many expats want to quickly find an answer to the essential question ‘What is it that you do?’ – but such a big question can’t be answered overnight. It takes time and also requires you to simply sit back and let things happen. Her husband was right. The wait was worth it and life showed her a way. Quite organically and without any pressure.

The magic of rediscovering a former hobby

Leonie the photographer in Morocco

Leonie in Morocco

For Leonie, the answer was in the rediscovery of a former hobby. She has always loved taking pictures with her camera. In fact, her father taught her a lot of things back then. She bought her first camera after graduation and even took courses to understand the variety of settings. Her goal was always to take photos like the ones in the magazines. Once in Morocco, it was obvious to wander the streets with her camera. Marrakesh is such a photogenic city. There is something beautiful on every corner – the colours, the people. Leonie really gets into high spirits when she talks about it. Being rather introverted herself, photography is also the ideal way to get out of her comfort zone. The camera forces her to explore the streets outside her home. She meets new people and corners in the city and thus blends in more and more.

In my coaching sessions, I meet women over and over again who have interesting hobbies but often dismiss them as unimportant. They want to do something recognised. Something that represents a real profession. As much as I can understand this desire, it is often a hobby that provides the trigger for change. A hobby can grow a lot if you give it your time and full attention.

Leonie had not planned to become a professional photographer at that time. She had only found a way to get to know her new environment. Then, a former colleague contacted her and asked if she could take pictures of her in Marrakesh during her upcoming vacation. She had shared a few pictures on Instagram and her colleague liked them. She agreed and gradually other friends and then friends of friends got in touch. One day, a request came in for a shoot and the potential client wanted to know how much it would cost. At that moment Leonie became aware that this could be more than just a hobby. What a realisation!

A hobby can be a trigger for change if you give it your time and full attention

Leonie eagerly furthered her photography knowledge, watched endless YouTube videos, read books, tried new settings on her camera and experimented further. From that moment on, Leonie says, everything just happened…like getting in a certain flow. Without much thought and marketing, more and more people approached her. They liked the visual world Leonie creates and the quality of the photos. Companies and retreat organisers ask her to photograph products for them, models and female entrepreneurs want to document their stay in Morocco.

Take your time

Morocco market

Photo by Leonie Zaytoune

When she looks back, Leonie says she is amazed at how much has happened in just 4 years. I know that a lot can change if you make decisions and stay calm.

I ask for her advice for other expats and in line with her own story she says: ‘Stay patient and learn the language. Do not rush – take your time to discover and soak up your new surroundings.’ For her, the language course was the ideal way to become independent. It gave her something meaningful to do and she also met great new people and built her first network.

Being patient sounds easy, but anyone who has set themselves the big task of finding new professional fulfillment will know that patience can be very difficult. It doesn’t feel good not knowing what’s next. Leonie was lucky that her husband always reminded her to take her time and took the pressure out of it. It takes a lot of trust to let go and allow things to happen without directing them. At the same time, being patient does not mean doing nothing and lying on the sofa all day. Rather, it is about actively taking the time to explore new things and to question the familiar.

Today, Leonie can be proud of the path that she has taken. She has built something of her own. Something that fulfills her and gives her a sense of belonging. Even if it still feels a bit strange to call herself a professional photographer, when asked the question ‘What is it that you do?’, it easily comes over her lips. She looks forward to everything that lies ahead and looks to the future with optimism and vigour.

 Do not rush – take your time to discover and soak up your new surroundings

I want to thank Leonie for sharing her story with us. It was a great pleasure to meet her and I urge you to check out her work. I love the effortless feeling her images create and I’m excited to see where her journey will take her! 

Instagram: @leonie.marrakech

Where have you moved to follow your passion? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!


First published on Share the Love.


Top image credit: Nicolas Cool

Read the first in our Travel Tales (taking a trip to Iceland) here!

Katharina von Knobloch
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