Why study abroad in Morocco? This country in North Africa has incredible ruins, breathtaking architecture, and a culture that is rich and diverse. You’ll find elements of history from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Through study in Morocco, you’ll get a glimpse of the Islamic worldview, Arabic language, and traditional customs that are a part of life here.
Food & Culture
Ancient Morocco was highly sought after by the Romans, who made it part of the Roman Empire but always had trouble controlling the Berbers. Some buildings of the Roman town of Volubilis can still be seen today — it used to be a site for exporting olive oil and grain. After the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Morocco was invaded by the Vandals, the Visigoths, and later the Byzantine Empire.
In the early 700’s the area began its conversion to Islam through the conquest of the soldiers of the Prophet Muhammad. Islamic dynasties were the main form of government up until 1912 when the country was signed over as a protectorate of France, with coastal regions carved out for Spain. Morocco became independent in 1956, and today is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy.
Morocco’s history has influenced its customs and traditions, which are integral parts of life here. As in any country, the trend toward modernization is unavoidable, but in some cities it’s not nearly so apparent. For example, in Fes-al-Bali, you won’t see any cars even though 150,000 people live here. Instead, donkeys and motorized bikes are the forms of transportation.
The culture of Morocco is as diverse and complex as its history, with influences from the regions that surround this country — Europe, the rest of Africa, and the Middle East. Food, music, literature, and art are quite different from region to region. Be sure to listen to some Chaabi or trance music, sample couscous and mint tea, and visit the local hammam — a public steam bath.
For charmers, magicians, jugglers, storytellers, and other characters of a North African carnival, you’ll want to visit Djemma el Fna in Marrakech. This square in the middle of town is home to a bright market during the day and chaotic spectacle at night. Visit the amazing whitewashed city of Chefchaouen, with its blue walls and buildings like stairs up the mountain. And stop by Aït Benhaddou, a fortified city you may have seen in the films Gladiator or Lawrence of Arabia.
For the language enthusiast, Morocco offers opportunities to practice both Arabic and French, or even Berber. If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Morocco, it’s important to remember that Western newspaper and TV may portray certain elements of a culture in a way that is different from how people living here see it. Be aware of these perceptions and keep an open mind to the people and situations you will encounter. Moroccan people are peaceful, caring, and delightful. You should be cautious as you are in any country, but do not be worried that Morocco is unsafe for students or travelers.
Things to Do
Morocco offers plenty of opportunities to do things you’ve never done before, like ride a camel through the Sahara Desert to see the incredible orange sand of the Erg Chebbi dunes. You can also take a 4x4. and can spend a few nights camping in a luxury tent. If you’re more of a water enthusiast, Taghazoute has good surfing, and Essaouira offers excellent kite surfing and windsurfing.
For a scenic drive and incredible view of barren landscape and flat plateaus, head to the Draa Valley. If you’re looking to get out of the car and hike around, the High Atlas is a great part of the famous mountain range to explore with a guide. You’ll also want to check out the Ourika Valley for beautiful waterfalls. For climbing, the Todra Gorge is a beautiful canyon with picturesque walls.
Studying in Morocco
Humanities courses, such as history, culture, religious studies, and language, are going to be the primary offerings to study-abroad students in Morocco. For many professors, the city and countryside are just another place for students to learn, and you’ll probably be encouraged to travel (sometimes during class as activities).
You may find that courses here are not as rigorous as your home university, which gives you a chance to practice Arabic with your host family or explore on your own. Most study abroad programs in Morocco are in the capital city of Rabat, but there are also options in Meknes, Tetouan, and several other locations.
You can find different levels of involvement and planning depending on what you want from a program. If you’re someone who likes to be independent and have a lot of free time, you’ll want to choose a study program provider in Morocco who is primarily there just for emergency support and questions.
If you’d like to have a site director in charge of what you’ll be doing most weekends, pick a program that will support this with organized trips and excursions. Most organizations that offer study abroad in Morocco choose to host courses at high-caliber schools such as Mohammed V University, Al-Akhawayn University, or Moulay Ismail University. You can also find universities or organizations that hold courses in their own buildings. There are summer, semester, trimester, and academic year programs in Morocco. Most classes are in English, unless they are Arabic or French courses.
Be sure to research the facts, news, and different programs in Morocco before you go. Check out a map, learn some basic Arabic, and pick some top places you want to see while you’re there. Look over reviews of programs so you know what to expect and can get a better idea who you should go with. You’ll be glad you chose to study abroad in Morocco!