I am making a few videos of helpful phrases and vocabulary for students who do the NAU program to NAU.
Being away from home for a month is hard. You’re living out of a suitcase, you’re sleeping somewhere completely different than where you’re used. Not to mention, the food is different than what you’re used, no one speaks your language and you don’t really speak theirs. Even though we had been studying Arabic at NAU and were going for an intensive program, we’re not proficient in Arabic. Even when I tell people I’ve taken two years of Arabic, they’re first response is “Oh, you speak Arabic?”
No. Two years of any foreign language does not count as being able to actually speak it. I know some grammar (Arabic grammar is very different from ours and very vast), I can conjugate verbs, I can order you food, ask for a bathroom, talk about my class schedule or the weather, and describe some historical events and places we went to.
My first piece of advice: 1. Don’t go on this trip (or any faculty-led, month-long program) and expect fluency.
It’s completely unrealistic. Two years is quite a bit of time to stick with a language and study it, don’t get me wrong. However, anyone who has gained fluency in a language other than what they speak at home will tell you it will never happen that quickly. You have so much work you have to put in not only in class, but outside of class as well. And even if you’re working really really hard outside of class, it still won’t happen in two years. Being in a different country and just hearing other people speak the language and having to use it regularly does help. It really does. Almost everyone on the trip said that their listening skills improved just from hearing Arabic used around them frequently. You can benefit from a trip like this, but in order to be proficient and eventually fluent, it takes years of classes and a lot of extra studying on your part individually. Your teacher wants you to eventually be fluent, but it doesn’t happen in four semesters.
Like I was saying, you’re in a completely new and different place and it’s going to be a month. This may seem obvious, but 2. Pack lightly. Pack as lightly as possible!
Anytime you travel, it’s good to pack lightly. You’d rather forget something than to not have room to bring a gift back. When you’re gone for a month, bring the bare minimum. I had 7 shirts, 3 bras, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 dress and 3 pairs of shoes (I don’t know how many pairs of socks and underwear), and that was kind of a lot. One of the shirts, bras, and jeans were what I was actually wearing when I got to Morocco, so that wasn’t even taking up space in my suitcase. I was able to get my smaller carry-on bag into my larger suitcase, intentionally so, that way when I got back I was able to bring more gifts (and as I would find out, it helped on the train to be able to have one suitcase and a backpack as opposed to having to carry the two suitcases). Also, you have a place to hand wash clothes, so it’s fine if you don’t have a ton of clothes. You also have to remember that you need to bring your books and notebooks, any medication you need and you should bring toiletries. You can buy basically everything once you get to where you’re going, but sometimes it’s easier to have your own stuff, especially if you’re going to be there early. But again, packing lightly may seem like a pain but it will make your life easier once you’re trying to get back home.
While you’re on these awesome adventures, it’s important to recognize you will be out of your comfort zone sometimes. It could be just trying new food or it could be getting used to hugging and kissing everyone you just met, but remember 3. Try everything.
You may never have the opportunity to travel to certain places that you will go on a study abroad program, so take it all it. Try everything at least once. Sure food may look weird or you may be nervous, but you’ll regret it later on if you don’t a chance.
Along with that, 4. Take pictures of everything.
I’m not photographer and I actually forgot my little camera and so I took all of my photos on my phone, but you want pictures of everything. My pictures don’t do a lot of what I saw justice; I can’t capture all of the colors and the details of everything I saw, but to have pictures of everything is still amazing and people will love them regardless of how good they are or aren’t.
5. Create a routine
For the first few days, we were all getting used to things. We were in a new place and we had just finished traveling for a long time (I had about 20 hours of flights and a little over 3 hours on a train before I got to Meknes). Our sleep schedules were messed up and so you feel like you’ve been there forever and it’s only been a few days. Once class started, it was a little bit easier. But class is only 3 hours a day. Making a routine helps you not only get used to the time and keeps you busy, but it helps you see things. Instead of taking taxis (despite it being cheap), I walked everywhere. By the time we figured out a couple different paths from the hostel to the medina, we realized that our side of the city was smaller than we had originally thought (Meknes is about the size of Flagstaff). You see cool houses, find new coffee shops and tea parlors and all kinds of graffiti. I was only gone for a month, so it’s not nearly as dramatic as studying abroad for a semester or a year, but still. When you’re only in class for 3 hours and you’re only there for a month, you need to fill that time and explore.
6. If you need help, ask.
Whether it’s class stuff or you need meds from a classmate because you’ve been in the bathroom every hour, on the hour, you need to ask for help. When it comes to class, you don’t want to fall behind. You’re trying to do a semester’s worth of work in a semester and that would be challenging for any class, let alone a foreign language. You need to talk to your teacher or classmates when you need help. Especially when you paid the money to go study in a foreign country; you want to make the most of it and actually get the credits you went for.
7. Always put the effort in.
It was really common for waiters and other people to speak French to us, even when we were trying to communicate in Arabic. You just have to keep trying. That’s the only way to practice and get better. Even just listening to other conversations around you will help. Almost everyone said that their listening skills improved after being in Morocco. Even when you’re at ‘home’, don’t say please, thank you, yes, or no in English. Say it in Arabic (or if you’re learning a different language, then that language). It just helps you get used to speaking and keeps you practicing.
8. Don’t second guess yourself.
No one enjoys being wrong, but if you are, someone will correct you and help you. You’re learning and you shouldn’t be embarrassed. If you’re pretty sure you know the word for weather, go ahead and use that word. If people get confused, you may need to do some charades. But they will help you and then you will get used to taking a risk and working on improving.
That’s all I’ve got for right now. Remember, if you study abroad for anything, you’re going to learn and experience new things, not stay in your comfort zone. You have to make the most of that experience. Even if you have the opportunity to travel in the future, it still won’t be the same as this.
اطلب ذوي الخبرة بدلا تعلمها
Ask the experienced rather than the learned.
Casablanca is a city that feels so wrong that it’s right. It doesn’t really feel like the rest of Morocco; it’s actually kind of out of place. It’s weirdly European and there was tons of construction while we were there. But it’s also kind of cool. It’s a port city that was used by the Spanish and Portuguese (hence the name) and when the French controlled Morocco, they wanted Casablanca to be the the city. Now, they’re really trying to build it up as a huge business hub. They’re working on making the ports filled with businesses and new offices. There are all kinds of car dealerships and fancy hotels. Unfortunately there are still slums in Casablanca, but they’re hidden.
The medina in Casablanca was a lot smaller than in the other cities, perhaps to replace the old with the new. Despite that, in the distance, is the seventh largest mosque in the world, Hassan II Mosque. It was completed about 10 years ago and it sits right on the ocean.
The city is fairly young compared to Fes or Rabat, but it does have a history. If you look up, you can see what the French left behind.
New businesses and lightrails are operating in the city and like I said, there was tons of construction. Casablanca is a busy city, with cars and trains running constantly. It’s history is shorter compared to the other cities we went to, but it looks like it will continue.
The day finally came for all of us to pack up and get ready to leave Meknes. Part of me was kind of ready to go; a month doesn’t feel that long but everything is different. We don’t have our own beds (I didn’t even bring my own pillow), our bathroom was a communal bathroom (kind of like in a residence hall), food is different, water is different, your sleeping schedule is messed up from having to change time zones and by the time you get on regular schedule, you have to change again. But part of me was sad because I loved the food, I loved having the opportunity to go see new places and meet new people, and no matter how bad things seemed, 6 other people were going through the same thing I was.
We had a nice dinner planned at a riad, which are amazing. If you ever go to Morocco, even if you don’t stay there, try to go to a riad for dinner or something. They’re amazing. We had dinner on the roof of the riad and got to look out over the medina. And we had this creation.
It’s called bisteeya and it’s a meat pie. It had a chicken-almond mixture in the middle and it’s wrapped in filo dough and there’s sugar and cinnamon on top. It’s seriously magical. We had tajines and discussed what we’re going to miss and what we’re not going to miss about Morocco.
Not going to miss
1. Squat bathrooms (not as big of a deal for the guys, but no one was really a fan)
2. Men harassing you (this wasn’t a big deal for all of the girls – I usually just ignored it – but some were really not into it)
3. Paying for a hot shower (that wasn’t even really a Morocco thing, but just a hostel thing)
4. 4:30am call to prayer (it really wasn’t that bad but the first week I was in Morocco, I always woke up to the call)
Going to miss
1. The food (despite there being little food variety, everything was good. I think the only thing I didn’t like was olives and I knew that before even going to Morocco)
2. The people (everyone is so friendly and helpful. It’s honestly ridiculous)
3. Historical cites (it was really neat to be able to walk to the medina and Bab Mansour, which are from the 1600s, and they just blend with the modern parts of the city)
After dinner, our hostel threw us a going away party. They got a gnawa band to perform there and it was so awesome.
It was an awesome night and then we all had to cram for our final and final projects that were due the next day.
By the time we all packed and went to catch the train, everyone had mixed feelings about leaving. We were going to be in limbo for a little while because we weren’t leaving right away and we were going to be in Casablanca for a few days, so it was weird because I either wanted to be in Meknes or at home. A month doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a very long time, but it kind of is once you get into your routine and you get used to being in one place.
I just left and I already can’t wait to go back.
Ito is a Berber name and is just a really awesome view of Morocco. It’s north of Azrou and south of Ifrane
Wow, Ifrane honestly looks like Switzerland was just kind of transplanted to Morocco. It was about an hour away from Meknes, so we drove and we got to attend a lecture at Al Akhawayn University. The campus is really strange, just a bunch of little buildings with red roofs and then a mosque right in the middle of campus, which looks really out of place.
The lecture we got to attend was about the Arab Spring and media. The lecturer was really interesting and his perspective was a little different than I think what we’re used to hearing in the US. He said that social media didn’t start these revolutions, it just helped them organize better. People had a lot of the feelings about their government and even in Morocco, the bombings that occurred in Casablanca in 2003 were a response to the poor conditions in the slums.
He also discussed different laws in Morocco in regards to media censoring. He said that laws have been less strict and that people who write negatively about Islam, the government or the king, will receive shorter jail sentences, but still. Jail doesn’t make sense. He said jail time for saying what you think is absurd. We were a little late so we didn’t get to hear the whole discussion but it was pretty interesting.
Since it’s Africa, we went to this cool park where there are monkeys! Yes! You can buy peanuts and feed the monkeys and it was awesome!
NAU has an exchange with Al Akhawayn for studying Arabic, and Ifrane’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t really feel like Morocco. It’s pretty separated from everything else (I don’t even think there’s a train station) and it really just looks like Europe. I liked it but I also hated it. It’s really pretty but it doesn’t feel like you would get the experience of being in Morocco.