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Year Abroad Blog: Morocco

“Why on earth are you studying Arabic?” my Granddad asks, looking at me like I’ve just told him I’m going to live on the moon or that I’m planning on single handedly invading China. It’s a valid question I suppose, and one that I would ask myself a year later when staring blankly at an exam paper wondering what on earth  جملة اسمية meant.

Well, I suppose I chose to learn Arabic in part it because it’s important; there’s a lot going on in the Arabic world at the moment, and not just the negative things we see in the media everyday but in the business world too. There are also arabic speakers in every corner of the world, making it essential wherever I end up living. And finally, to be perfectly honest, studying arabic seemed more interesting than anything else on offer because it offered an opportunity to travel.

So, Morocco?

When I arrived at 8am, my first thought was “Hmm, it’s colder than I thought it would be”. Apparently anywhere can be cold, even the desert, although this changed pretty quickly when my friend and I decided to go for a 10km walk in the heat of the day. It turns out Morocco is actually quite hot, reaching temperatures as high as 35◦C (95◦F), a temperature I would not recommend sitting in, let alone hiking! Obviously I was very naïve about Moroccan culture when I arrived, despite my preparations during first year. The thing is, they can tell you all the information in the world and you can have a crystal-clear picture of the country in your head, but it will always surprise you from the moment you step off the plane. That’s why I love to travel. I mean, before I arrived here I didn’t even know that Darija (a wonderful concoction of French, Arabic and who knows what) existed; let alone how to speak it.

The second day brought more surprises as a group of us found ourselves lost in the medieval medina (pictured above), in which there are as many as 9500 streets. It was definitely more than a little overwhelming and I found myself panicking and saying things like“OMG I have no idea how to Morocco”. Needless to say, the locals looked at us as if we were crazy. Somehow loud-mouthed, British tourists always have a way of standing out. To help us to ‘blend in’ and understand Morroccan and indeed arabic culture a bit better, a couple of days later my friend and I moved in with a host family; the most wonderful, kind, welcoming people I have ever met. Our honorary sister is teaching us Darija and Arabic (in fact I’m learning more from her than I did in my first year at Uni) and we now live in the most beautiful riad (parts of it pictured below). To top it all off our Moroccan mama is a chef, so the food is incredible.

I’ve been here a month, and so far I’d say that if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that it’s all too easy to be a classic tourist, getting in the way and disrupting the locals in order to have a true “gap year” experience. I realised early on that if I was going to truly embrace my time here, I had to be willing to let go of Western habits and listen to local people, whether that be a passer-by or my wonderful host family.

On reflection, I think that’s what I would say to my Grandad if I could go back and answer his question again. I’m so grateful that I’m studying arabic because it’s a language that has so many stories to tell, and I have finally realised that all I need to do is listen.


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First year Russian and Arabic student who loves to travel.
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