Tag: morocco

thought spot: my experience with french in morocco

thought spot: my experience with french in morocco

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my stay in Morocco, it’s that to survive, you’ll need every word in every language you know. I came to this country with what I figured were passable skills in French and Spanish; though I’m learning Modern Standard Arabic and Moroccan Arabic, French has been my saving grace throughout this trip.

Last week, I was reading a chapter from Valérie K. Orlando’s Francophone Voices of the “New” Morocco in Film and Print for my Islamic Society and Politics (more specifically, Chapter 4: “Sexuality, Gender and the Homoerotic Novel of the New Morocco”) when I realized that I could read all of the excerpted French passages with few problems. I knew I had been practicing my French in overdrive since my arrival- it’s the only way I can communicate with my host mom or the people of Morocco- but it was only as I was reading this homework assignment that I realized my French has progressed significantly… dare I say I may even be semi-fluent?

Truly, there is no better way to learn a language than to become immersed in it. Coupled with some study, it’s a sure path to fluency. Once I had this revelation, I went to a local bookstore and purchased Abdellah Taïa’s Une Melancolie Arabe (An Arab Melancholy), a book that has been on my wishlist for years… in the original French. Being able to read Taïa’s words in the language he chose to write in is something truly special. Sure, I have to look up a word here or there, but it takes time and patience to absorb a whole new lexicon.

Writing down some vocab for memory... practice makes improvement!!
Writing down some vocab for memory… practice makes improvement!!

Two years ago, I read a brief article from the New York Times about Taïa; two years later, I am reading his words for my class in a Moroccan university. The coincidence unnerves yet soothes me. Though I’m not sure what the future holds, I feel confident in what I’ve come to accept as a simple truth: I am exactly where I need to be, studying what I’ve been destined to. That in itself is one of the fundamental reasons this study abroad experience has proven unforgettable. I move forward with no regrets, no expectations: just the knowledge that each day is another opportunity to learn something new.

photo spot, morocco: free as a bird

photo spot, morocco: free as a bird

Morocco is a photographer’s dream, for it is a land of mystery, contradiction, and enchantment.

For me personally, it means a new environment to photograph my favorite subject: birds. I’m by no means pursuing it to the depth of Eliot Porter, but I’m having a good time nonetheless.

In many ways, I have felt a growing companionship with birds as I travel around Morocco and the world. My home “nest” is almost 6,000 miles away, and I’ve flown away to find something new. I travel with my fellow flock of ISA students, and together we have the most bizarre and wonderful experiences. Yet even though we travel and learn together, there are times when I feel lonely, lost, and confused. For all the bad days, my good days outweigh my former feelings of dismay. I have no regrets about embarking on this experience, because Morocco has given me more than I could have ever dreamed of intellectually, culturally, mentally, spiritually…

I have so many friends and family that I can share my journey with; they walk with me through all the changes and new experiences. I’m free as a bird and unimaginably lucky. In 47 days, I will make my way back home, but for now, I will sing the praises of my travels, taking in the unexpected and finding contentment in the strangest of places.

Here are a few of my personal favorite photos so far.

Stork in Ifrane
Stork hiding in Ifrane
Bird perching on a cloudy Meknes morning
Bird perching on a cloudy Meknes morning
Birds in the Meknes countryside
Birds in the Meknes countryside


Birds at sunrise in Meknes
Birds at sunrise in Meknes
travel spot, morocco: a countryside visit

travel spot, morocco: a countryside visit

Morocco’s landscape diversity is simply incredible. In many ways it reminds me of my home state, California: there can’t be too many places in the world where palm trees, desert, snow, heavy rain, and forest can coincide in the same territory. Naturally, Morocco facilitates this odd mix with ease.

Alright now who thinks Morocco is a desert?? DO YOU SEE HOW MUCH GREEN THIS IS
Alright now who thinks Morocco is a desert?? DO YOU SEE HOW MUCH GREEN THIS IS

In the spirit of trying to explore Morocco as best I can, yesterday my roommate and I accompanied my host mom to her friend’s house in Khedrache, a countryside area about 30 minutes outside Meknes. Lydia (the roommate) likes to make fun of me because I’m very much a city slicker; the moment we stepped in the front yard of the country home, I noticed some wandering roosters and exclaimed, “now that’s free range!”

Look at them!!! Happy as can be!

For all of my city living, I often forget how peaceful it is to live simply. The home was old-fashioned yet utterly charming. I was introduced to farm animals: a chicken coop, and a cool hole with a rabbit hanging out. The bathroom was outdoors, and there was a “John Deere” tractor for planting assistance. Toto and I were definitely not in Los Angeles any longer.


Hay rides. Is that even hay? No idea.
Hay rides. Is that even hay? No idea.

I’ve come to the conclusion that individuals abroad are generally more hospitable and kind than those I’ve met in America. No offense, America, but Moroccans have you beat in terms of making you feel at home (though I must admit my roommate has been showing me the ways of Southern hospitality, which is a definite competitor). We were immediately sat in front of a gorgeous feast of tea and melwi (ملوي), a thick, crepe-like bread. Lydia and I ate and vocalized our gratitude with murmurs of appreciation (such is the way when you can’t speak much Darija), and stopped after a few melwi. Now, Moroccans love to eat. It’s a fact. So when Lydia and I didn’t continue eating, we were immediately asked if we were on a diet. Oh, Morocco.

Our feast. Guess how much of the food was homemade? A: All of it.
Our feast. Guess how much of the food was homemade? A: All of it. Down to the olive oil (from the olive trees!) And guess what: all that’s pictured wasn’t even all of it!!

My host mom’s friends were so kind and genuine- I couldn’t understand much of anything, but I was able to pick up fragments of someone telling me I was welcome to come by whenever I wanted, which was very sweet. Another fun part of the trip was meeting a little girl named Malikah,  who was a bundle of sass and joy. It had been quite a while since I’d been around children; in contrast, my roommate works at a preschool. I turned to her and muttered “I don’t remember what the protocol is for this!” when Malikah wanted to sit on my lap.

Isn't she adorable??? A: Absolutely.
Isn’t she adorable??? A: Absolutely.

After eating, we got a tour of the grounds and walked around. The highlight was definitely walking to the top of the house and finding a beautiful rooftop view. What do you hear when you climb to the rooftop of a building in Los Angeles? Traffic. Horns. Chatter.

Oh, sunsets.
Oh, sunsets.

Do you want to know what you hear when you climb to a rooftop in the countryside in Morocco? Silence. The chirping of birds. The laughter of a child playing next to you. It’s a scene that makes you pause, close your eyes, breathe in the fresh air, and quietly count your blessings for knowing what it means to experience a moment of serenity.

thought spot: language acquisition in a new country

I’m going to take a moment and level with you all about something: languages. Specifically, language acquisition, and how the rest of the world is putting America to shame. A 2006 survey by the European Commission revealed that while 56% of Europeans considered themselves bilingual, only 15-20% of Americans can say the same. [1] Studies have also shown that the earlier someone becomes bilingual, the easier it is to learn additional languages, because the brain creates a language processing network from having learned the first two. [2]

And in Morocco, knowing English is nice, but knowing French and Arabic is much more useful. Unfortunately, I can only claim 2/3 (English + French), but I’m working on the third (Arabic). And what a time it has been!

At Moulay Ismail, I take Arabic four times a week for two hours, in addition to two hours of the Moroccan dialect, Darija. According to my program directors, by the end of the semester, I’ll have had enough “contact hours” for a year’s worth of credit. Imagine that! Arabic is in the Afro-asiatic group of languages (specifically, Semitic), so it presents a stark contrast to the languages I already have a working knowledge of: English, French, and Spanish.

"Alif Baa," my textbook for learning the alphabet. We're almost done with it!
“Alif Baa,” my textbook for learning the alphabet. We’re almost done with it!

There’s so much to learn about this new language: a new way of writing (right-to-left), new sounds (emphatic consonants, anyone?), and built-in cultural phrases. For example, it’s very common to hear the phrases “hamdulillah” (blessings to God) and “inshaAllah” (God willing) in greetings or everyday conversations, something that was very different from what I’m used to. And I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a child again repeating the alphabet and doing dictation, but you have to start somewhere, right? Even if it means practicing sounds over and over again while your roommate (in her second year of Arabic) giggles at your rudimentary skills, not to mention embarrassing yourself by saying shukran (thank you) instead of salaam (a shortened version of hello).

The "copy books" our professor gave us. Yes, they are for children.
The “copy books” our professor gave us. Yes, they are for children.

What I’ve noticed, however, is how much easier it is to pick up this fourth language. It is my fourth week of school and already I can start to piece together the sounds for street signs and a word here and there during the news. And as my knowledge of vocabulary improves, so will my ability to speak Arabic. So far, I can introduce myself and tell people where I live, but I can already feel the world opening up many a باب (“bab” = door).

So, to all of my multi-lingual friends: keep rockin’ on! And to all of my monolingual pals: why not start learning a new language and possibly change your life, or at least your perspective of it?

travel spot, morocco: entering an unknown world

travel spot, morocco: entering an unknown world

Morocco. Al-mahgrib. the West.

This strange and fascinating land has been my home for the last 25 days. I’m going to attempt to describe what it’s been like- words might fail me at times, so I ask that you bear with me for the next two months and twenty five days as I work through it.

Prior to age seventeen, I’d never been on a plane. Though it seems that ever since my first flight, I’ve been taking full advantage of any opportunity to fly. Every semester I make the trip from California to Vermont for school (and have seen much of the Midwest from 35,000 ft. as a result).

View on the flight from Madrid to Casablanca. Amazing, isn’t it?

And now, here I am, in Meknès, Morocco. I’ve been a U.S. passport bearer for about five months now, and I have to admit, getting that first stamp was unforgettable.

Just to make things easier, here’s a quick stat report of what I’m doing/answers to FAQs I received before departing for Morocco:

  • I am a student at Moulay Ismail University, which, at 23,000+ students, is the largest school I’ve ever attended.
  • My course load consists of the following: Beginning Arabic (and the Moroccan dialect, Darija), Islamic Society and Politics, Three Religions/Three Peoples and The Representation of Geopolitical Conflict in Western and Arab Media.
  • No, I did not study a lick of Arabic before I left. I could maybe recognize two or three letters. (Proud to say, however, that I now know 25 out of 28 letters!) I do, however, have a working knowledge of French, which has proved extremely useful.
  • I do not have to cover my head here.

Orientation week was ridiculously cool: in a week, I visited Casablanca, Ouzoud/Beni Mellal and Marrakesh. I took pictures and realized that Morocco is extremely photogenic. Also, that I still really love birds.

Birds in a Casablanca square. Pretty sure every place in the world has pigeons.
Birds in a Casablanca square. Pretty sure every place in the world has pigeons.

Perhaps it’s just the way I am, but I’m starting to feel adjusted. My official motto of the year is “going for it 2014,” so I’ve tried to take as many risks and opportunities as I can while here. I think it’s a sort of mindset/attitude one acquires out of necessity while traveling: if you’re only in a certain place for a short amount of time, why not experience it to the fullest?

I will admit though, it’s an odd feeling realizing that I’m not in America anymore. If it doesn’t hit me while I’m walking down the street or around the city, the Internet is quick to remind me. Take, for example, when I was trying to watch the Superbowl, only to be met with this message:


It’s the subtle differences that make me realize I’m a long ways from home. Just yesterday I was watching the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony with my roommate… in French. On France 3. Because of course, our television doesn’t have English channels.

Regardless, I love being in Morocco. Like any experience, it has its ups and downs. Most importantly, every day I wake up and remember how grateful I am to be part of the privileged few who get to study abroad. Did you know that in the 2012-13 school year, ~283,000 students studied abroad? When you think about how many schools and students there are in the United States, that number seems absurdly small.

In summary: Morocco is wildly different from anywhere I’ve ever been, but it’s fun and exciting, and I have a lot of thoughts/feelings about it. So to all my friends, family, and whoever else may wander to this blog- I hope you’ll enjoy my travel spots and thoughts. There’s plenty more where this came from!