Top Five Reasons to Select the Program
- The program director, Oussama El-Addouli is excellent and very responsive to the needs of the students. He was educated and lived in the United States so he understands American culture.
- They work hard to foster positive relationships between fellow students. Studying abroad can be very scary at first, and having bonds with your fellow students makes the initial transition much easier.
- The professors are brilliant. All the professors I encountered were incredibly smart and well respected within their fields. They were willing to spend as much time with their students as needed.
- The school is in a safe location. Being in a third world country can be a little scary, but the school is in a safe location and has 24/7 security, not that I ever felt it was needed.
- The excursions are so much fun. The school will take you from the desert of the Sahara to the snow capped Atlas mountains and everywhere in between. Take advantage of this in-country travel.
What I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Went
- Pack lightly, no one cares what you are wearing while you are abroad. Sweating is a natural part of living in Morocco and no one is judging anyone. You become so close with your classmates that you could care less how many times you wore the same T-Shirt.
- Bring only things that you are comfortable leaving in country. This allows you to take home as many souvenirs as possible. It also allows to leave things with your host family, things that we might look at as trash they could value greatly.
- Save as much money as possible, and be happy spending it. I went to Morocco knowing that I would blow every dollar in my bank account, and I came to peace with that. This might be your only opportunity to do many things, so don't let costs stop you.
- Bargain for everything in Morocco. EVERYTHING and
EVERYWHERE. There is no such thing as a fixed price on anything. When a seller tells you a price offer him half or even a third, and you can always walk away (chances are he will immediately agree to your price).
- Travel everywhere, but do not neglect your host country. In the four months I was abroad I spent 18 days in Europe and visited six countries. I simply ran out of weekends and did not get to do everything I intended on doing. Plan everything out and get as much done as possible.
A Funny Story or Situation
"A Night of Sawdust and Fire"
Rabat, Morocco is broken up between the "Medina" and "Villa Nouvelle" or the new city. The Medina is the old city, an amazing maze of markets and houses all surrounded by a huge sandstone wall. In the Medina, people dress more traditionally, donkeys pull carts down the cobblestone roads, and chickens replace alarm clocks. Nearly all the students lived with host families in the medina.
One night a group of friends and myself decided to head to a bar in the new city, a neighborhood called "Agdal". A very modern location where Arabic is replaced by French, used even by Moroccans to speak with each other. After a long and fun night we hopped in a taxi and made it back to the Medina. Not ready to head to bed yet, a friend and I decided to wander the Medina and we came upon the furnace of a hamam. A hamam is a public bath house where the water is heated by an oven burning sawdust. We in our infinite wisdom decided to check it out for ourselves, and we began climbing down this mountain of sawdust that led to the basement oven. When we reached the bottom of the hill, covered in saw dust, we discovered three Moroccan men whose job it was to feed this oven.
Instead of questioning what we were doing, they immediately brought out tea and cookies and treated us as their guests. This to me summarizes how Moroccan culture works, it does not matter who you are or how you got there, but a Moroccan will always strive to make his guest comfortable.
An Embarrassing Situation
I personally never felt very uncomfortable with the locals. That being said, there are significant cultural differences. Morocco is a conservative, Muslim country. While tourists are usually left alone, public displays of affection and immodest clothing are met with disapproval by the locals. It is also illegal to openly proselytize Christianity, however you should anticipate having many conversations during your stay about why you should convert to Islam. Sometimes these are initiated by random people on the street. It is important to remember that you are no longer at The Catholic University of America, and respect that.
The Teacher From Whom I Learned the Most
I had amazing professors while abroad, one that stands out is Fatima Amrani who taught "Gender Studies in Morocco and North Africa". Now I never pictured myself as taking a gender studies course but she made it fun and interesting. The majority of students who study abroad are female, and this was true for my program as well; many of these students had different political persuasions than me, and the professor facilitated interesting and meaningful dialogue among the entire class.
I opted to stay with a host family, as did all but one of the students on my program. I would highly recommend staying with a host family. The one student who stayed in student housing felt ostracized from the other students, as she did not have the same experiences to relate to as we did. I was incredibly lucky that I was placed with a relatively well-off family. I had three host brothers, a mother, a father, and a cleaning lady. While you might have your own room, knocking on the door is not a thing in Morocco, so expect visitors at any time. There is also no air conditioning in homes, but it was never really unbearable as the houses are designed to allow heat out during the summer, and keep it contained during the winter. Most homes are not equipped with WiFi but the school provides you with an internet modem, common in Morocco. Staying with a host family is the only way to truly develop a feel for the Moroccan culture.