Morocco: A great and easy introduction to Arabic culture!!! Past Review

By (Government, The College of William and Mary) for

Arab American Language Institute in Morocco (AALIM): Intensive Arabic Direct Enrollment

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
It was definitely worthwhile. Being able to focus my attention solely on Arabic improved my language skills a lot, and the direct exposure to North African culture helped me to see just a hint of the diversity of what we call the Arab world. Living in part of the 'Islamic world' which i've been told repeatedly is "just so different," has helped me to see what really is different and what really isn't all that different. Overall a very good experience!

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

It's a small institution, so the administration is closely involved in student activities and instruction. Administration was willing to work with students to get them in the right class, help them plan excursions, and make sure credits transfered. very knowledgeable about the country.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Hotel was very nice--much better than I expected. Some rooms lacked AC or water pressure, but ours had plenty of both. It was in a safe part of the city, just a 10 minute walk from the institute, and right next to a night club, a short walk to a number of restaurants, very close to a convenience store, and 20 minute walk from the super market. The building was really nice, in a wealthy district, and had 2 swimming pools. Only things I needed to buy were shampoo and detergent. Some other people stayed in smaller, family run 'Riads' inside the city walls. Overall, it was a very nice place to stay, my only complaint is that since the hotel catered to international guests, it wasn't the best place to practice Arabic, and I really didn't speak much Arabic while I was there, except to ask for the key to my room.

* Food:

Honestly, I have to say that food was not a high point for me. That said, it wasn't bad at all--the food that the institute prepares (cous cous, harira soup, chicken and bean tagines, omelettes, pasta) was actually quite good, and there are some decent restaurants around. I, however, had set unrealistic expections based on the fact that Syrain/Lebanese food is probably my favorite cuisine, and I was expecting more of that influence to have reached Morocco than was actually the case. So, don't expect much in the way of hummus, falafel, babaghanoush, labneh, grilled feta, spinach and cheese pies, pita, etc. The bread of choice is baguette, the only cheese that is easy to find is laughing cow (though they sell what they call 'red cheese' at many convience stores), and most dishes are prepared in clay tagine pots, are generally lightly spiced but have good flavor. Breakfast is included at the hotel, and then lunch at the institute is part of the program. Students have the option to pay (roughly six dollars) for dinner at the institute. It's a reasonable deal and always a safe bet that the food will be good, enough, and held to a higher standard of cleanliness. It's definitely possible to eat cheaper at restaurants, and it's a good experience to get out and explore the town. There's a restaurant called Cafe Marhaba several blocks out Avenue Muhammad V where you can get a decent meal for under 2 bucks, a place called pallet d'poulet (or whatever the french is for 'chicken palace') that a lot of people thought was really good, and a number of pizza places around. Moroccan restaurants all seem to have basically the following dishes: roasted chicken, beef skewers, pizza, couscous/tagines, omelettes...nicer restaurants will have more, but those are definitely the staples. I was one of a number of vegetarians there, so it definitely is possible, but it is not something that is common in the culture. Again don't expect all the great use of cheese and legumes you find in the levant. The institute is pretty accomodating to vegetarians, and they figure out who you are pretty quickly and always make sure to prepare something you can eat. But you generally have to be very specific about what that means: if you say you don't eat meat, they assume chicken is ok; if you say no chicken, you might end up with tuna. Ask for food "bedoun lahm (beef/lamb), bedoun dajaaj (chicken), bedoun samak (fish)" if you don't want any meat. Dairy is scarce (small servings of yoghurt and a little cheese (you have to buy your own or get pizzas for more cheese)), so be prepared to eat lots of eggs. I would recommend considering bringing another protein source/vitamin supplement. There really are no whole grains, few legumes or nuts, and no soy. Little in the way of B12 or protein besides the eggs. As is the case anywhere, it is possible to get sick by eating the wrong things. Mayonaise and sea food tended to have unfavorable results with people. Fruit juices seemed generally safe.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The institution takes you to Volibilus, Moulay Idriss, and Fez. I also highly recommend Rabat, and Chefchaouen. Marrakech is worth seeing, but fairly far from Meknes, and Tangier is also pretty cool. But, the absolute must-do trip is the camping/camel riding in the desert near Merzouga. The institute will plan the excursion for you and it is definitively worth it.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Meknes is a city of 1 million any city that large there are dangerous areas. However I really never felt unsafe anywhere. It's definitely a good idea to stick with a group and stay in well populated areas. I never used a money belt, but I kept my wallet in my front pocket where I could keep a hand on it if I ever felt that I needed to. Know your emergency numbers. Fire/ambulance is 15 and Police is 19...if you're using a foriegn phone you have to add +212 i think. I never had any run ins with the health services, but the program staff called a doctor a number of times to come make house calls for sick students. Medications can be bought from a pharmacy (look for neon green crescents) without perscriptions...just be sure to do your research if you have any allergies or reactions to certain mediations--not everything is as clearly labeled or regulated as in the US. I don't think any vaccinces were needed.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Breakfast is free 7 days a week at the hotel, lunches are free at the intitute if you're around, a weeks worth of dinners shouldn't cost more than 30-40 dollars (and you'll have to buy breakfast and lunch if you're out of town. Depending on how much you travel, that can easily be another several hundred dollars. Transportation between the airport and Meknes is 50 dollars each way. A 30ish dollar tip for the hotel staff is expected.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Arabic 102
If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Language acquisition improvement?

Learned a lot of Arabic in class. Finding opportunities to speak formal Arabic outside of class was a little more difficult though. The opportunities are there, you just have to make the effort to speak to taxi drivers, shop keepers, waiters, etc. if you really want to improve your Arabic. A lot of French is spoken which makes for an unfortunate crutch for those who are more comfortable in French but want to learn Arabic.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Direct Enrollment

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Hotel
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Morocco is a great easy introduction to Arabic culture. As a whole, the country is pretty western friendly making it not necessary to drastically change your dress or worry too much about conforming to customs. Being with the William and Mary group ensures that your instruction will conform with what you learned the year before and what you will learn after you return. Staying in the hotel with William and Mary students on the other hand is not the full emmersion experience you would get from a homestay, but plenty of opportunites do exist to speak in Arabic if you're willing to take them.