Morocco’s capital is like nowhere else on earth. Nestled just south of the Bouregreg River, Rabat is heavily influenced by Europe while maintaining vestiges of traditional Moroccan life for a comfortable and welcoming intro to the Arab world for students who choose to study abroad in Morocco. From the 17th century medina and markets, the brand-new tramway and bullet train, a sparkling new marina complex, and the ancient Roman ruins of the Chellah to the former pirate fort of the Kasbah of the Oudayas, studying abroad in Rabat is an ideal way to learn about the vibrant intersection of tradition and modernity of North Africa, and catch a glimpse of the Arab world as a whole.
Subjects & Courses
Popular subject areas include Arabic studies, French/Arabic language immersion, Moroccan culture, human rights, gender studies and global health. Language immersion specific programs are available in both Arabic or French. Although it is helpful to speak Arabic and/or French in Morocco, a large percentage of the country’s population speaks some degree of English.
If students are interested in immersing in Islamic culture and religion, they may want to study in Rabat during the month of Ramadan, a strict fast observed during the daylight hours. The dates of the fast change every year, so interested students should check the calendar for specific Ramadan dates of the year they want to study.
The typical Moroccan school year starts in mid-September and ends in June, with two week breaks in December and March. Instead of two semesters, the Moroccan school system has three trimesters during the school year. However, study abroad programs in Morocco won’t necessarily follow the Moroccan school system, and there are semester, yearlong, summer, and winter study programs offered in Rabat through a variety of organizations.
Life in Rabat
Rabat is Morocco’s second-largest city with a population of about three million, and hosts universities, international institutions, gardens and green spaces, cafes, restaurants, museums, and art exhibits and festivals. Trains are an easy and affordable way to explore the north of the country and easily accessible from the center of town.
For students, Rabat provides the opportunity to get out and see something new every day, or a culture that can encourage sitting back at a cafe or on the beach with a glass of mint tea watching the world and reflecting upon your journey.
Things to Do. There are many fun ways to spend time outside of classes in Rabat. To people-watch, read a book, talk with friends, or study, sitting in cafes is a typical pastime. There are dozens of cafes with tea, coffee, and fresh pastries throughout the city, but many students prefer those off Mohammed V Boulevard and Avenue Allal ben Abdullah.
Wandering the old Medina is also a great way to spend time. Though Mohammed V, Rue Souika, and Rue des Negotiants/Consuls are the most oft-traveled pathways for visitors and Moroccans alike, it’s worth a detour to visit a traditional hammam, the vegetable sellers off Rue Bouqrone, or just getting lost in the fascinating architecture of Rue Moulay Rachid. You might happen upon a former communal water fountain, an artisan’s shop, or a shortcut!
Just beyond the Medina is the Kasbah of the Oudayas, which was built during the Almohad Dynasty, and even served as the capital of a 17th century short-lived pirate nation when Moriscos were expelled from Spain under Philip III. Today, there are gorgeous beach views, a thriving and living community of residents in blue-and-white walled homes, public gardens, and a cafe with stunning views of the Sale medina and Bouregreg river.
If you are interested in history, the Chellah and Hassan Tower and Mausoleum are both places where you can visit architectural wonders from different time periods (and are a great place for a picnic!). If you’re interested in nightlife, Rabat has several clubs that rival those in any American city (though with more Euro-centric music tastes).
If you like to shop, you have the option of haggling on Rue Souika in the old Medina, or traveling to Marjane, a superstore similar to Target or Walmart for a more one-stop-fits-all shopping experience. For a real treat, ask a friend to help you get off the beaten path to get to one of the open-air markets outside of the city center, or take a trip to Casablanca to the sparkling new Morocco Mall.
Food. In Rabat, most food is typical Moroccan cuisine-- heavily spiced (though not spicy!) tagine stews, couscous, or sandwiches, often with some French or Spanish influences, though it’s easy to find thin-crust pizzas, roasted chicken, and hamburgers every few blocks. Rabat’s international food scene is growing, so it’s not unheard of for some study abroad students craving a taste from home to eat McDonalds, Syrian cuisine, Pizza Hut, sushi, or even Chinese takeout. Of course, traditional Moroccan food, like fish stuffed with parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, and garlic; or a large communal platter of couscous is usually the more affordable and delicious option.
Accommodations & Visas
Many programs in Rabat offer a homestay experience, which is an amazing way to connect on a personal level with Moroccans. As with the rest of the country, Moroccans are known for a cultural pattern of hospitality. Islam encourages followers to be hospitable to guests and many Moroccans take that to heart! Whether you stay in an old house in the medina or in an apartment similar to ones you can find in any large city in the U.S., a homestay has the potential to be one of the most impactful things you do in Morocco.
Most homestays will give you a private bedroom with a shared bathroom, and often they provide two or three meals for you each day. It can be challenging to adjust to Moroccan notions of privacy and shared space at times, but well worth that challenge.
Students who are fortunate enough to live with a family are in for a real treat too! Most food is still cooked “from scratch,” and with a wide variety of meats (bought at a local butcher, generally); fresh seafood; and seasonal fruits and vegetables; the stews, soups, salad platters, breads, and pastries make for new and often rich and delicious meals.
Other programs offer dormitory living or private apartments. While this affords you more privacy and the opportunity to shop and prepare your own food (which can be an experience in and of itself in Morocco), the ability to learn about Moroccan life from living with a family is recommended if possible, even if just for a few weeks.
U.S. citizens and nationals of many other countries who are studying for a period of time of 90 days or less do not need a visa or any special documents to enter Morocco. Each program handles longer programs differently, and you should check their policies to best know what to expect. Some programs might help you get a residency permit (carte de sejour) once you have arrived in Morocco. Others might encourage or include a trip to Spain or elsewhere outside of Morocco to “reset” your 90-day entry.
Benefits & Challenges
The most intimidating challenges for most students in Morocco will likely be some of the less familiar cultural challenges of living in a country with more of a collectivist and less individualist mentality, and where some locals have different understandings of gender norms. Though students of color, LGTBQ students, and women in particular may run into moments of discomfort, your program staff and other resources should provide you with the toolkit you need to understand things that may be new to you, or prevent cultural blunders!
Most students will be studying in the English language with some Arabic language classes, and since the majority of these programs are designed for students who are studying abroad, it is likely that there will not be too much of an adjustment to these classes.
It’s hard to get bored in a city like Rabat!