What I Learned When I Arrived in Morocco

Shaylyn Berntson is a student at Boise State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.

Traveling to North Africa has been a dream of mine from the time I was eight years old. The culture and people who thrive in this region of the world have fascinated me for numerous reasons, hence my decision to study abroad in one of the most unique places in the world – Morocco. Though my experiences in Morocco thus far are limited, I feel I have formed a generally accurate consensus on a few topics which I would love to share in the event that my knowledge may benefit future students.

Jemaa el-Fnaa" Here in Marrakech at the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square we had the opportunity to play with some of the world's cutest animals - monkeys!
Jemaa el-Fnaa” Here in Marrakech at the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square we had the opportunity to play with some of the world’s cutest animals – monkeys!

1. You won’t always get sick. 

This certainly doesn’t mean you should chug a gallon of tap water once you arrive in Casablanca, but I want to point out that easing your body into your new diet will do you a world of good. You might add a little bit of tap water to your bottled water so that you are slowly acquainting yourself to the new bacteria, or you may eat little bits of meat and vegetables at a time to avoid an upset stomach. These simple precautions could prove invaluable on your long bus rides and excursions. Just some food for thought.

2. Skinny jeans are not necessarily a no-no.

Though this point is primarily directed toward females, I felt it was important to address. Dressing conservatively in a Muslim country is important, but no one says you need to be walking down the street in a djellaba. Prior to coming to Morocco I was under the impression that even t-shirts were inappropriate. After a few days here, however, I quickly realized this was not the case. There are several different styles. What is important to understand is what kind of attention your wardrobe may warrant. Here in Meknes, dress is more conservative than say, Casablanca. But for future Meknes students, don’t shy away from some t-shirts (that aren’t low cut) or a couple pairs of skinny jeans. They are actually great for layering!

3. Speaking even broken French can get you anywhere you need to go. Almost.

Arabic is the official language, yes, but French is spoken by a very large proportion of Moroccan people. If you are a student like me who came to Morocco with a couple of semesters of French under their belt and no Arabic, don’t worry. If you’ve studied neither language, perhaps brush up on some simple phrases in French – because teaching yourself Arabic may prove a bit more daunting. A little bit of simple preparation before departure could be all you need.

4. The call to prayer is one of the most beautiful experiences one can witness while in Morocco.

I had heard that many students found the call to prayer to be annoying, but if you come in to Morocco ready for the new culture, it should prove to be a special experience. One moment all you hear is the bustle of the streets, and all of a sudden the call to prayer begins and it washes over all the static of the city. In a place where it seems you are going a million miles per second, the call to prayer completely calms you. It is worth learning to appreciate.

Want to read more about studying abroad in Morocco? Check out “4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Studying Abroad in Morocco”