Sarita Hira is a student at Baldwin Wallace University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying and participating in service-learning abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.
- Morocco is a very safe country. Many people assume that since nearby countries such as Libya and Syria are currently experiencing political unrest, Morocco is also a risky place for students to visit right now. In fact, Morocco is a very safe country for tourists of all kinds. As one of our program directors was telling us, gun violence is extremely low in the country, as evidenced by the fact that even police officers do not always carry guns here. Especially while studying with ISA, there are many measures put in place to ensure students’ safety. For example, all students in the ISA Meknes Program participate in an orientation of the city before classes start. Many restaurants and cafes are owned by friends or acquaintances of the ISA directors, and in these businesses the owners will ensure that no one bothers their ISA student clients.
- Sexual harassment experienced by women in Morocco is often irritating, but almost never threatening. While harassment does occur in Morocco, it should be emphasized that the majority of the time, this harassment is not carried out in a menacing fashion. Most comments made to women use vocabulary ranging from “beautiful” to “pretty” to any celebrity the individual knows. So far our group has heard Shakira, the Spice Girls, and Beyoncé among others. That being said, women should definitely take caution when walking at night. Walking in groups and with male friends is highly recommended when possible.
- Many Moroccan women dress very modernly. While this is definitely true, the extent to which women must dress conservatively is sometimes exaggerated. So far in Meknes I have seen many local women dressing more modernly. Pants or long skirts are definitely recommended, as are longer shirts. Although pants should not be very tight, more slim fitting jeans or pants from home will also do here. Shirts should definitely not show cleavage, but shirts which go down to the elbow are perfectly acceptable.
- Morocco is very technologically advanced. Morocco is definitely not on the same level of technological development as the US, but students will be surprised by how many Moroccans have smartphones here. 24-hour movie channels are becoming more popular here, leading to the diminishing relevance of local movie theaters. Additionally, WiFi is available at many cafés throughout Meknes and other major cities in Morocco.
- Morocco is a gateway to other destinations for students. While Morocco is a truly amazing country, it is also a very convenient country for students. With Spain just across the Strait of Gibraltar, flights to European destinations such as Paris and Italy are very cheap and should definitely be taken advantage of by students. A word of warning though, many of the cheapest airlines, such as Ryanair, only fly out on particular days. This means that although flying out on a Saturday may seem fine, students should keep in mind that the next available return flight may not be until Tuesday.
- You’ll find many of the same Moroccan souvenirs throughout the country. While that rug, lamp, or bag may seem tempting as it sits calling you from a small shop in the medina of Marrakech or Casablanca, know that you can find a very similar item in other, less tourist-driven cities (and often for half the price). Luckily for ISA students and service-learning participants, Meknes is one of those less tourist-driven cities. The medina here should definitely be explored for souvenirs, clothes, spices, and even musical instruments. The traditional Moroccan oud can be found in some shops, and music lessons are available for interested students at a local music school.
- Moroccans love to speak English (and not just when catcalling).
As one of my Moroccan professors explained to me, English is currently being increasingly chosen as a first or second language in Morocco. Moroccans such as my host family learn English through watching films and television, but primarily through talking to foreigners. Most Moroccans will be very excited to speak English with you, however you shouldn’t let that deter you from answering in French or Arabic to practice your own language skills. Especially in Meknes, where tourists are not as common, English-speakers are a rare and treasured commodity by Moroccans.
- French is often easier to use when navigating Morocco than Arabic. Although I personally did not learn Arabic before coming to Morocco, I know many other students in my program who have taken years of Modern Standard Arabic. These students often find it difficult to use their Arabic skills in the streets of Morocco due to the variations in language that accompany Darija, the Moroccan Arabic dialect. For this reason, taking an introductory course to Darija or brushing up on your French skills can be a great resource for you while you’re studying abroad in Morocco.
- All Moroccan oranges are good oranges. While I normally love eating fruit at home in the US, fruit in Morocco has a very special place in my heart. If you’re a foodie and considering studying abroad, then I would definitely suggest that you consider Morocco. There is nothing sweeter than a Moroccan orange after a delicious meal of tajine or couscous. Walking down the street, you’ll see orange trees decorating the sidewalks. Although I initially missed having dessert, the Moroccan custom of oranges as a substitute for artificial sugar after meals has definitely grown on me. My only regret is that when I return to the US there’s no way I will ever be able to savor an orange again.
- Morocco is an extremely diverse country, full of a multitude of opportunities for students and tourists alike. In my first month of life as a student and service-learning participant in Morocco, I have walked in the Atlantic Ocean, explored the hectic medina of Marrakech, swam in the water of Ouzoud Falls, and driven through the Atlas Mountains. To label Morocco with a single adjective would be to diminish the value of all this extraordinary country has to offer. With the exception of the tundra and the tropical rainforest, Morocco contains every other biome within its borders. Students who want to study abroad in Morocco should be ready for the experience of a lifetime, full of adventure and cultural immersion.