I can barely believe that this is my second-to-last blog of my time at Al Akhawayn Univeristy. Next week, I will post of video of all of the photos my friends have taken during our time here.
For today, I wanted to offer advice to the future AUI Exchangers. Here’s the scoop, what you need to know before and during your time in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Please, please discover the magnificent souk before I did. I have just over a week left, and last weekend was the first time that I went. It is huge. And you can find whatever you need there… including turkeys. It is also so much cheaper than the marché. For example, I am a huge fan of tangerines. I usually buy two kilos at the beginning of each week, costing me around 2 USD in the marché. I bought two kilos in the souk for 60 cents! If I would have known about it earlier, I would have done a lot more cooking at home. I suggest making a trip each Sunday morning and stocking up for the week.
In the beginning of the semester, you spend a lot of time discovering downtown and what it has to offer. Walk as much as you can. I wouldn’t suggest using the petit taxis to go to the marché and downtown to eat out. There is, of course, nothing wrong with using them to travel in town. I just think you’ll be happy at the end of your time having spent time getting to know the city. Save those trips in the taxis for when it gets colder. Once the snow comes, you will wish that you could spend more time walking in Ifrane.
3. Dr. John Shoup
Why do we study abroad? We do it to learn about a new world, to experience first hand what life is like in another country. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I chose Morocco. I have learned so much, and it is because of Dr. John Shoup. I took two of his classes: Arab Society and Popular Culture in Africa. Dr. Shoup is one of those professors that knows so much about many things, that it is just so interesting to talk to him. He also takes his classes on field trips around Morocco. And are you ready for this?… His classes don’t have exams! It is all essay based. You simply have to write 5 short (8 page) essays for his class! That’s it. The best part is that because you have to do research, you learn so much more from the class. I wish so much that all classes were essay based rather than exam based. We would learn so much more. If you want to take away as much as possible from this experience, Dr. Shoup is your guy.
4. Be Open Minded
Okay, okay. I know this one isn’t Moroccan specific, but it is still important. On my way here, I had four connecting flights and was exhausted heading into a four-hour train ride east. Even though I speak the language, I was overwhelmed and had some trouble getting to the train. (I missed my first one, btw.) Once I finally found a train car that had an open space for me and my luggage, I sat down to take a breath. I looked out the window and noticed so much trash–everywhere (Morocco needs litter laws in the worst way). I was so sad. And after the travel day I had had, it simply added to the top of the stress. Even though I had a not-so-good first experience on the train that day, these past four months have been absolutely amazing. Culture shock can come gradually, or it can slap you in the face like my trip on the train. Rest easy, stay calm. You’re embarking on an amazing journey.
5. Travel Often
Repeat after me: RyanAir is my friend. RyanAir is my friend. Once you’re here, you have Europe at your fingertips through the discount airline RyanAir. My roundtrip ticket to Spain was 60 USD. My roundtrip ticket to Germany was 40 USD. You’ll find that you will have a lot of extra time from the university that you can spend away. Don’t be afraid of extending your horizons. I do have to say, make a good effort to see lots of Morocco before you go to far in Europe. Now that I am close to leaving, I feel like I have been able to see a lot of Morocco, and those trips have been so valuable to my experience here. Morocco is so cheap too; you would be silly not to take up all the opportunities to travel that you’ll have.
6. Don’t Be Shy
Let me let you in on a not-so-secret secret: Exchange students at AUI have always had a reputation of sticking together. I have heard this from a lot of Moroccan peers. Don’t let this deter you. Your cohort is your best defense against culture shock and homesickness. They know exactly how you feel because they’re in the same boat. (I suppose the Moroccan equivalent would be something along the lines of: they’re in the same grand taxi.)
On the other hand, don’t limit yourself to hanging out with only exchangers. I have made amazing friends here. Even though I haven’t been here too long, they’ve made a lasting impact on my life. Make as many friends as possible. Never burn your bridges and always be kind.
7. Avoid the School Store
For my Moutaineers, AUI has something similar to Mounty Bounty. You have money loaded onto your ID card that you use for laundry, food, and whatever you need at the school store. At the beginning of the semester, you are given 6,000DHS. In my case, this definitely wasn’t enough to cover your food for the entire semester. In fact, I am not sure how it would be. I don’t always eat lunch and hardly ever eat breakfast. With that said, I have been reloading money on my card for a while. The School Store is so expensive. It is convenient, but you’re so much better off going to the marché to get your toiletries and other items.
8. Buy Juice
Please, take every opportunity you have to buy fresh juice from the vendors. If you go to Marrakech — which you must — you’ll be so happy with all the juice stands. It is the most delicious juice that I have ever had. I don’t know how in the world I am going to adjust back to juice in America. My favorite is banana juice. At the restaurants, it is about 1.5 USD. But you can find orange juice stands in city centers and at taxi stations for 60 cents. Don’t pass this up my friends. (:
9. Plan Ahead
Time is not money in Morocco. This was a big adjustment for me. Often, there are delays in the trains, so plan ahead. Same thing for on campus. Students are always coming in late to class. Don’t expect the restaurants to open at posted times. Instead, plan to show up around thirty minutes after their posted opening time. Embrace this change. Take some extra minutes to enjoy life. Take some deep breaths and remember that you’re studying abroad! How freaking exciting!
10. Buy Local
Some of the best food that you’ll ever eat in Morocco is from the little, tiny shops and villages. In the desert, we had a fabulous dinner of tajine and soup. In Tamirlat, we stuffed ourselves on chicken, couscous, and freshly baked bread. You’ll quickly find Diafa’s restaurant in the marché. It is cheap and I love their shwarma (shwarma hassan is my favorite). There is also a little shop in the marché that makes fresh yogurt every morning. You can buy it to go or dine in and add pomegranate juice for flavor — it is my favorite dessert! Don’t pass up on the msemem, harcha, or petits pains while you’re here!
Check out Aimée and I with our yogurt. Did I mention that it is only 20 cents?!
11. Learn Some Arabic or French
Being able to speak French has been such a valuable asset for me. I love it when people ask me to go places with them to help translate. I also enrolled in an Arabic class while I was here. You’ll always find people who are very excited to practice their English with you — the first thing you’ll get asked is if you’re from England. But there will be times when you won’t be able to find an English speaker and it will become very difficult for you. Some of my friends here have told me that not knowing either of the languages has hindered some of their experiences. At the very least, it would be extremely wise to learn numbers in one of the languages. With this, you can bargain and you can talk to the taxi drivers. These two points will prove very important for your time in Morocco. But fear not, you will pick up on some phrases and be using them freely by the time that you leave. In true Moroccan way, my French now has Arabic phrases mixed in that I use every single day. “AFEC!”
12. Enjoy Your Experiences
There will definitely be times where you are homesick. There will be times when you aren’t so happy with Morocco. Take whatever time you need, then get over it! You’re having totally amazing experiences, so don’t waste your time harboring bad mojo. Be thankful that you are enjoying what North Africa has to offer. I went through the phases, but the end has crept up on me too quickly. I am so thankful for my time here. My heart is full.
As always, stay savvy my friends!
With much love,