In the summer of 2011 I used the FLAS scholarship I was awarded by CSME to study Arabic abroad in Fes, Morroco.
I arrived in Fes at the very end of May, after a grueling series of flights and layovers which took me from Indianapolis, to NYC, to Paris to Casablanca. I studied in Arabic for six weeks at a school called the Arabic Language Institute in Fes (ALIF) with more than 100 other students from various universities all over the country. Twenty of us (those lucky enough to arrive early) were able to live in the school’s residence, a sprawling, white, airy villa surrounded by a garden with lemon and fig trees. We studied Arabic for four to six hours per day, five days per week and generally had several hours of homework exercises each night. It was very intensive program but it helped the students learn a lot very quickly.
Fes is a great city, and it’s seen by a lot of Moroccans as their spiritual and cultural capital. It was founded by Idriss the First, the great-great grandson of the cousin of the prophet Mohamed, and the person who supposedly brought Islam to Morocco. Fes’s old, walled city or medina qadiima is its most famous landmark and the oldest medieval city in the world: it’s a winding, labrithine series of stone houses, buildings and shady paths all piled on top of one another. Inside the medina walls people sell everything you could possibly need- gorgeous traditional crafts, jewelry, shoes, beautifully embroidered clothing, artwork, electronics, bright rainbows of fresh fruits and vegetables – the list goes on.
One interesting (and sometimes frustrating) thing about Arabic is that the official, formal version of the language (the one taught in schools) called fus-he – is not the language which people speak on the street. Instead, Moroccans speak a dialect which they call dariija,and when you try to communicate with Moroccans in fus-he you’ll probably be met with reactions ranging from pleased amusement to complete bewilderment.
It comes as no surprise that one of the most enjoyable things to do in Morocco is eat! Don't be fooled - Moroccan food is much more than the cous-cous and tajines (meat and vegetable stews) you might find at a Moroccan restaurant in the US. In fact, most restaurants in Fes only make cous-cous on Fridays (the Sabbath). The rest of the week one finds delicious food for rather cheap prices: lentils, whitebeans, chickpeas (all in a spicy red-brown sauce) chicken and fries, fried sardines, cucumber, onion and tomato salads, and goat stews. And that's leaving out the ubiquitous Moroccan bread (khubz) - at first glance, it is bread, bread, bread everywhere.
Since I had weekends free, I took the opportunity to travel throughout the country. Most major Moroccan cities are connected by an excellent rail system, so it’s easy to get around to places like Asilah (beautiful Atlantic beaches) Chefchaouen (where the city walls are painted a beautiful azure blue) Rabat (the calm and cool capital on the ocean), and Casablanca (frenetic, haphazard, and exciting).
I passed a wonderful summer in Morocco – I had the opportunity to study at an excellent school with a group of smart and dedicated students in one of the most intriguing countries in the world. I’ll remember the experience for a long time.