Tag Archives: languages

“Our Class Excursion To Zawiya Ahansal” by Derek Denton

Hello again readers!
To call this last week a busy one would be the understatement of the century. My classmates and I just had our first excursion out of Rabat, which has been a whirlwind of adventure. We had the opportunity to visit an Amazigh village in the mountains of Morocco called “Zawiya Ahansal.” A settlement dated over 700 years old, the people of this town offered my friends and I a warm welcome as we were hosted in the guesthouse of the Sheikh (a village elder and governor). When I was on our way, I truthfully did not know what to expect. I have visited villages and settlements before, but I don’t think I have ever been somewhere quite as beautiful as Zawiya Ahansal was.
Our bus ride was brutally exhausting. Eight hours on the road where I was constantly shifting from fatigue to discomfort was absolutely draining. The discomfort is particularly unfortunate because it spoils what is otherwise a great chance to view the Moroccan countryside. I cannot speak for all of them, but I think my classmates share my opinion that the ride was rougher than we expected. However, it was near the end of our journey did it seem to become worthwhile. When we entered the mountains, the landscape became something that drew my attention and purged my anxieties. This is what we saw when we looked out our windows.And then we actually got within view of the village.

We arrived at sundown, and I’m thankful it wasn’t any later. Pulling up at that minute gave us the perfect opportunity to view the sunset over the mountains of Zawiya. Any later and it would have been too dark to realize the beauty of the landscape of where we were residing.

The architecture of this village complimented the environment wonderfully. The next morning we went on our first hike. An interesting note about the environment of Zawiya is that it seems that the village experiences every season in one day. I left the guesthouse at sunrise wearing a heavy jacket (for its useful pockets) and a long sleeve shirt and expected to overheat. Fifteen minutes later, I was… Then fifteen minutes after that, it was chilly enough I was thankful I wore it. Fifteen minutes after that… Etc.

Zawiya is the first vertical village I have ever been to. Built into the side of the mountain, we had to walk up and down to get from building to building. Running through Zawiya, and into other villages, is a river that acts as a lifeblood of the village. At its mouth exists this interesting mythical spring where it is believed that women may drink from its water to earn good luck in finding a husband.  A lot of the people in the village live as subsistence miners. The mountains are rich in resources, including raw clay. The villagers extract this clay and use it to reinforce their homes’ structure.
This picture here is a great opportunity to see the size of the mountainside. Our guides explained to us an interesting development in recent events that involve these mountains: in addition to offering clay, the mountains are rich with metals like lead that mining companies are seeking to harvest. There has actually been some debate over opening the mines, citing environmental concerns.

On the final night of our stay in Zawiya, our hosts surprised my class by inviting us to a traditional Amazigh feast and party. It was an honor to be invited, of course, but being offered this traditional dress made it an unforgettable experience. A party-goer yelled as I walked out in this robe “now you are a Sheikh”. I don’t think I’ve ever received a greater compliment on my attire than that. After the festivities had concluded, I was certain to thank the real Sheikh for hosting us. A kind and informed man, I learned quite a bit about his role in administrating Zawiya Ahansal from him.

thank the Sheikh
I don’t think I’ve ever hiked quite so much in my life. But for all the physical exhaustion we endured, it was made up for by the unforgettable experiences that we had. This included what we had the opportunity to do on our last day in the village: assist in teaching English in a local school.  This was a fun, but challenging experience. My partner and I opted to teach the local children English body parts by a game of Simon Says, but before that, we had to go through a crash-course of the one of the dialects of the Amazigh language called Tamizeagh. Speaking some basic phrases helped our students understand us better, and I hope we were both fun and informative teachers for our short stay.
And so that my readers can share in this adventure, I have included a list of a few phrases we learned!
Hello: Azool.
My name is…: Isminu…
Thank you: Saha.
Where are you from?: Mani zigtigeed?
I am American!:Nkeen Merikan.
Yes = Eeeh.
No = Oho

I didn’t exactly have a strong command over the language, being limited to about seven phrases, but I like to think body language and prolific usage of “Saha” allowed me to convey our lessons.
We departed Zawiya on Saturday, and left for a short, one-night-stay, in the city of tourists: Marrakech. While I am certain my classmates had an excellent time exploring the city, I- regretfully- did not. Somehow during my time in Zawiya, I contracted bronchitis- leaving me bedridden in the hotel. It was nothing to mourn over, however, I was thankful my illness did not come during the stay in the village, and that exhausting week of hikes, dancing, and teaching left me in tremendous need for some R&R.

Saha for reading!



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“Defining the Moroccan Experience” by Allison Brady


On my first day of our Arabic Fusha class, my wonderful Usteza (teacher) Khadija began the class with a question: What expectations had we brought about Morocco?  Apart from the linguistic difficulty of answering this in Arabic, my classmates and I struggled to list our own concrete expectations.  I could easily think of stereotypes I heard from those around me leading up to my departure; I spent most of my time reacting to others’ expectations of the Maghreb, and neglected to reflect on my own internalized biases. Despite my previous studies of the MENA region within my minor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and my carefully developed stock answers for all curious or worried about my choice of study abroad location, I had trouble answering more complex questions on what Morocco would be like.  After only two weeks here, I am learning every day why they are so difficult to answer.  The more time I spend in Morocco, I witness and experience more complications to any generalized answers.

For instance, many asked for a categorical definition of Morocco, geographically or economically.  Is it an African country, a Middle Eastern country, or “Western”?  Is it a “developing” country, or “1st World”?  I use quotations for particularly loaded terms here, but won’t be dissecting them in the short space of a blog post.  Instead, I’ll just try to illustrate a few of many moments of observation into how Morocco resists this kind of reduction.

Regarding the first question of regional affiliation, by language Morocco demonstrates its rich history as a crossroads of the African continent, the Middle East, and Europe.  When asked what languages people speak here, before arriving here I would say that most speak French and Arabic.  This expectation was misleading.  Most people that I have met have diverse degrees of proficiency in many languages.  First, almost everyone speaks Darija, the Moroccan Arabic—except many in or from the rural countryside (a significant portion of the overall population), who often only speak an Amazigh language (of which there are three main ones) local to their region.  Then, proficiency in a second and third language depends on schooling and family origins.  Many speak some Amazigh by function of family roots in a particular region.  Some go to private schools that teach only in French, others to schools that teach in Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), or even others to more expensive schools that offer English.  In my own host household, everyone speaks Darija.  My mother knows Amazigh and a large amount of French, and both parents know Fusha.  My host siblings do not speak Fusha, but are fluent in French and speak English very well.  My host sister Zubida raps along to Maghrebi hiphop all day long, while Baba Muhamed plays the crooning Arabic melodies of Fairuz when cleaning, and Mama Karima often lounges to classic French music like Charles Aznavour and Joe Dassin.


One of my favorite places to walk near my home is along the Rabat Marina.  It is always bustling with Moroccans enjoying the same beautiful walk with friends and family.  The marina strip follows the Bou Regreg river that opens into the Atlantic Ocean.  The fortified walls of the historic Kasbah (built in the 12th century and once home to the infamous Barbary pirate republic) rise above the river’s mouth, and it faces the sister city of Sale, which is the fastest growing city in Morocco and whose shoreline is full of construction of brand new buildings.  Right at the end of the marina, at the foot of the Kasbah’s hill, merry-go-rounds and bumper cars and assorted carnival rides run all afternoon.  I like to sit on the edge of the marina and watch the fishermen and ferries work on the old little blue rowboats of Morocco, while an occasional jetski zooms through the otherwise still waters.  These images illustrate common associations of “modernity” and “development,” rich history and constant change, which exist here not as contrasts in tension, but as natural parts of the daily life.


These observations reveal only a fraction of what makes Moroccan society so rich, complex, and difficult to define.  The list of the common “expectation questions” I heard pre-arrival could go on: What do Moroccans wear? What are the roles of women in Morocco? How do Moroccans practice religion?  Already, I could reflect for many more pages on the many diverse experiences of daily life, identity, gender, clothing/dress, race, and religion which I have so far encountered.  It is widely accepted that the “American experience” depends so greatly on factors of identity, income, family, and location, and I am beginning to discover that the only universal factor to the “Moroccan experience” is layers of complexity.


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“Arriving to Rabat: Relief and Excitement” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam from Rabat, Morocco!

I have traveled across the ocean-with two flights and a layover and have arrived safely in my host country! These past few days have been a true whirlwind. This is my first time on the African continent and my first time in an Arabic speaking country. I have said goodbye to my natural family and friends in the United States. In turn, I have already started to build my community here in Rabat. I have met the other AMIDEAST students and moved in with my host family. I am so happy to receive messages and encouragement from home and also excited to connect with people here in Rabat. I am feeling such much relief and excitement and I am so happy with my decision to study abroad in Morocco.

My experience here has already started expanding my comfort zone and allowed me to be more independent. After leaving my family and my hometown I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts where I flew alone to Lisbon, Portugal for a long layover. I am happy to say that I am now comfortable navigating the airport in Lisbon and I enjoyed having the opportunity to explore a new place by myself. From Portugal, I continued onto the airport in Casablanca, Morocco and then by car to Rabat.

While I was so excited in my newfound independence traveling across the world, I felt so much better to arrive and meet people from AMIDEAST. So, far, I have pushed through the jet lag to try my best at communicating in Arabic with my family. I am a complete beginner in Moroccan dialect so gesturing and acting out vocabulary has helped in communicating with my host family. I live with another AMIDEAST student and a host mother and father within walking distance of the program center. My host parents have two adult children who both live in London and are so kind! I am looking forward to when I can communicate myself to them more clearly, and that I will grow lots in the language learning process. Here is a photo from my daily walk to the AMIDEAST center.

walking to AMIDEAST

Even though I have been here for only two days, I find it useful to remind myself of why I decided to come to study abroad in Rabat. Why have I decided to leave my home and move across the world? What are the benefits of leaving home and going to Morocco to study abroad? I respond to myself and to concerned family back home with three points. First, I am here to become part of a new community. To connect and bond with my host family, become friends with Moroccans my age, and to meet like-minded students from the U.S. Second, to become more independent and comfortable exploring and traveling. Third, to adapt and grow to understand a new culture and dialect of Arabic. Morocco is an incredible setting to build community, grow and adapt, and to become more independent. Also, Rabat is beautiful! This is the view from the top floor of the program center.

view from roof

Until next time!


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“Learning and Teaching Language” by Sofia Deak

Before I came to Morocco, I knew that “improving my Arabic” was one of my major objectives, but I didn’t imagine what that would actually look like. Through the extreme patience of my host mom and our daily discussions in Arabic after dinner, I have become confident enough to have conversations in Arabic without relying on English. Using a combination of Standard Arabic and Moroccan Darija (as well as a fair amount of pantomiming) I am improving beyond my previous expectations.

Photo 1 - Deak, Sofia.JPG

While I am really proud of the progress I am making, that does not negate the fact that I am realizing how incredibly diverse the Arabic language is, and how truly difficult it is to master. I get discouraged when I spend two hours poring over my vocabulary homework, only to forget the majority of the words the next day. Also, I always knew there were different dialects that were significantly different— however, I did not realize how much the language might differ WITHIN a dialect. In Morocco, diversity is one of the only constants. For example, a Moroccan from Tangier in the north might have a difficult time understanding a Moroccan from Ouarzazate, in the south. Tajine, the famous Moroccan staple food, is pronounced “tajouane” in the north, and this is just one of countless examples of dialectic differences that exist within the Moroccan dialect, completely ignoring how foreign Darija is from Standard Arabic and all other Arabic dialects!

It is easy to get frustrated in trying to learn Arabic, and sometimes I feel discouraged that I will never be able to be as comfortable with the language as I would like. (This happens especially when an earnest Moroccan is trying to explain something to me in Darija, whether at a restaurant or in a taxi or on a train— and all I can offer them is a confused look and a sorry smile.) However, there are shining moments that remind me to keep trying, and that the experience of learning the language is just as amazing as being able to use it. Last night, I learned the word for “tickle” in Arabic and Darija, thanks to my host mom starting some impromptu tickle fights — during dinner!! Lots of spilled water, fits of laughter, and sprinting away from the table later, I don’t think I will ever forget the word, or this moment.

Photo 2 - Deak, Sofia.JPG

Another thing that encourages me is the weekly English teaching that I have been engaged in since my arrival in Rabat. My students are beginners, so really new to English. They have so much to learn, but they are so eager and dedicated. Most are adult learners, which itself is a challenge, but being able to say simple sentences excites them so much. This project really reinvigorates me with the understanding that learning a language takes time, and that is sometimes boring and full of flashcards, but also can be really memorable and full of laughs (and not only when learning the word for “ticklish”). Ultimately, I know that I am making huge improvements thanks to being in Morocco, and I cannot wait to learn more!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Sofia Deak

“Can I get you something?” by Elyse Desrochers

“Can I get you something?”

I wake to the sun filtering in through the window pane above the spot of my friend’s couch where I had fallen asleep the night before. The bright sunlight and the snores of my other friends piled around me are alarming. Where am I?

M_Taksheta_Sp16_Elyse Desrochers

AMIDEAST threw students a farewell dinner where we dressed up in Moroccan clothes.

Only having returned to America two days prior, I was particularly prone to confusion of my whereabouts upon waking in addition to jumbling up the trois languages that were running through my head. Where was the bright pink walls of my bedroom in Morocco? The sound of my host mom in the kitchen preparing tea? Arabic soap operas playing on the television? I may no longer have been in Morocco, but my mind certainly was.

I roll over and check the time- 5 in the morning and I show no indication of being able to fall back asleep. So one hour passes. Then two. Then four. Finally, one of my friends emerges from beneath her covers. Eager to be somewhere we can speak without disturbing those still sleeping and famished after waiting four hours for my friends to wake up, I convince my friend to make a coffee run with me. We head towards the closest coffee and donut shop, thankfully just a short drive away.

I walk in and go up to the counter, confident in my ability to successfully order a coffee and donuts. I make eye contact with the lady as she says “Can I get you something?”. It was harsh. Direct. To the point. And for a girl that just got back from Morocco, completely astonishing.

I freeze. My mind goes blank. This was not part of the dialogue I had created in my head. How rude, she didn’t even say hello, I thought. “Ummmmm, hi,” I mutter. The next words tumble out slowly and disconnected as my mind rushes to readjust. “Can I get…. a regular coffee? Medium… oh and hot.” Success. The woman may be looking at me as if I have never before ordered coffee before in my life, but at least she understands the order.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“Can I get some munchkins?”

“How many?” she asks.

Confused, I pause. I don’t remember ordering being this difficult. Can’t you only get one order of munchkins- an assorted box? “How many can I get”.

“Anything. You can get up to 1000 if you want.”

Annoyed because it was quite clear I didn’t want 1000, I answer “Well, thanks, but I don’t want that many.”

“Well you can get a cup of 5.”

I’m exasperated at this point, and so is the lady. I just want a box of munchkins to share with my still sleeping friends. I finally ask, “What about for a group?”

She answers, “How does 25 in a box sound?”

Finally, a box is mentioned. I quickly agree and pay, eager to get of there and flustered at the situation. What just happened in there? Why was ordering so difficult? Why was she so rude?

M_Families_Sp16_Elyse Desrochers

My family came to visit Morocco and met my host mom and host sibling. The whole time, I had to navigate the two cultural situations successfully while translating. It may have been harder than my coffee order.

Up until that point, my time since coming back to America had been simple and all together easy. Things were different, but not dramatically so. It was that experience, my inability to order a coffee and donuts in a shop I had visited regularly throughout my lifetime, that brought me back into the reality of reverse culture shock.

My mind no longer operates as it once did. I am an American, but an American that has adopted cultural practices, behavior, and viewpoints from two other cultures. Three different cultural modes “American Elyse”, “American Elyse in France”, and “American Elyse in Morocco” battle it out and understand interactions through their own lens in my head as I try to respond appropriately. American Elyse is craving a coffee and donut because of nostalgia from my childhood, American Elyse in France is alarmed that I’m considering ordering coffee TO GO, and American Elyse in Morocco is astonished that the server did not greet me and ask me how I was doing. To have this all going through my head while ordering is confusing and hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I know that it will allow me to see the world in ways that would not be possible had I decided to stay in the US for my junior year of college. And I know that it will allow me to see myself more clearly as I navigate new situations in the coming months. Let’s just hope that in the meantime, ordering coffee will become easier.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Regional Studies in French

“That’s a Wrap!” by Shante Fencl

Five days have passed since I left my life in Morocco behind. This is exactly how I feel, as if a part of my life decided to stay there wandering the streets of Rabat while the rest of me got on a plane. After I said my goodbyes (that are actually just “see you laters”) and shed more than a few tears with my friends, I got on a train to the Fez airport to board my flight. As I made my way through the train cars with my luggage, I continued to think of all the people I met over the past four months. Every face that entered my mind was accompanied by a memory and it made me want to burst into tears. I sat down in my seat and immediately pulled out my headphones to block out my thoughts with music, but as I searched my purse I realized I left my headphones at AMIDEAST! I did not care much about the headphones (that were already broken) but without music I had to face my fear of being alone with the thought of leaving Morocco.

M_Casablanca_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Rooftop overlooking Casablanca.

At that moment, a woman next to me asked me why I was going to Fez. In Arabic I responded with the word for “airport,” trying hard not to show interest because I did not feel like talking to anyone at the moment. The woman continued to talk to me and eventually her husband entered the cabin. They could obviously see that I was travelling alone and wanted to know my story, so I had to build up the strength not only to force conversation, but to do it in Arabic! The couple spoke no English and I knew within a few minutes I would exhaust all the Arabic I know and they would stop talking to me; but, to my surprise, almost an hour had gone by and I was still conversing without issue! My spirit had been lifted by the realization that I had accomplished one of my most important goals: I can carry on a conversation in Arabic! We talked about culture, food, politics, religion, and family. Each minute that passed made me feel as though I had done something great with my time abroad. This was the ending I needed to wrap up my experience in Morocco. I left the country proud of what I accomplished.

M_Three Amigos_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Me with two of my closest friends Alae and Sam.

I did not return to the US after leaving Morocco. Instead, I am in Italy with my Italian host family from when I went abroad in high school. Every year or so I come back to spend a month with them. I always planned to come to Italy after leaving Morocco and then return to the U.S. from here, but one of my best Moroccan friends invited me to celebrate the end of Ramadan with his family. Yes, this mean I will return to Morocco in less than two months!!! Now that I know I will be back in Morocco so soon, I have something to look forward to. But I am afraid to see what happens after I leave the second time. I don’t know where my life will take me after graduation next year, but now I know I have a place in Morocco if I choose to return. These four months have given me so much. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

M_reunited_Sp16_Shante Fencl

My little Italian cousin Beatrice and I finally reunited

Now that I have completed the program, and therefore this blog, I want to thank you all for following along. It has been an honor to share my experience, and I hope I have inspired those reading to do the same! Until next time!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Shante Fencl

The Language of the Hour

I came to Morocco because I wanted to improve my Arabic. There were more complex reasons for choosing this country for sure, when it came right down to it that was my goal: learn more Fusha. Now, after over ten weeks in Morocco, I can say that I am successfully accomplishing this goal but not at all in the way I expected. The Fusha I am learning is just one facet of a wide range of linguistic experiences that I have either enjoyed or struggled through, depending on the time.

The Moroccans I have met are generally incredibly linguistically competent. I, like many Americans, was raised speaking just one language. I started learning French in middle school, and that felt like such a huge step to me. My host brother, a middle schooler, speaks French, Darija, Modern Standard Arabic, and even a little bit of English. At twelve years old, he already knows more languages than I do, which sometimes feels a little bit embarrassing since I spend so many hours each day learning vocabulary words! Simply by virtue of the way life in Morocco is structured, most people are easily bi- or even trilingual. Darija, the dialect of Arabic spoken here, is used in daily life and interactions, while the news is in Fusha or French. Here in Rabat many restaurants seem to operate in French, and people often speak to me in French when they see me, assuming (rightly) that I will know how to respond.

Working on Arabic homework in the student lounge.

Working on Arabic homework in the student lounge.

Needless to say, my language goals have changed somewhat since I have been here. Nobody actually speaks Fusha when buying bread at a hanout or haggling for scarves in the medina. Thus, though it was never my explicit intention, I have been slowly but surely picking up Darija as I hear it so routinely in daily life. My language skills have reached the strange place of being able to understand a fair bit of Darija but only being able to competently respond in Fusha.

I have recently had multiple very interesting but absurd discussions with my host family conducted in this odd jumble of languages. Our host parents speak to us exclusively in Darija, or in French when I look too thoroughly confused, so oftentimes I still struggle to follow the conversation. Especially when my siblings start arguing rapid fire with each other – when Yousra speaks quickly, all hope is lost. However, when my host parents discuss topics like their extended family or news events, I can usually understand them. Then comes the struggle of forming a thought in Arabic and communicating it in my Fusha with Darija verb conjugations and simple vocabulary sprinkled in.

While visiting the Rabat zoo last weekend, I had fun reading the names of  animals in both Arabic and French.

While visiting the Rabat zoo last weekend, I had fun reading the names of animals in both Arabic and French.

The stark range in the level of language I use throughout the day is another peculiar fact of my life here. My Fusha professor once had me explain my summer astronomy research to her in Arabic and in my French Literature class we talk about issues such as gender stereotypes and homophobia. However, in the evenings when I want to ask for a clean towel or talk about the weather, I have to prepare in advance the Darija sentence I want to use. The language barrier can be frustrating, I won’t lie, but despite the many times I have tried to explain myself and drawn a complete blank I still look forward to returning to the apartment and conversing with my family each night. The constant language struggle is overshadowed by the dance parties I have with my host sister and the endless adventure of living with a family.

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Filed under Mika Chmielewski, Morocco, Rabat