Studying abroad is exciting, but it can also be intimidating and nerve-wracking.
By Salihah Evans
Rabat – You can spend hours searching the web for everything you need to know. If you are headed to Morocco to study abroad, look no further. Read on for a carefully crafted list of everything you need to know before studying abroad in the beautiful country of Morocco!
1 – Language
The official language of Morocco is Standard Arabic, but it is not used in daily life. Instead, the majority speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic), a dialect of Arabic. French is also widely spoken. In some “touristy” cities, English is relatively easy to find. However, most cities are difficult to navigate without knowing French or Arabic. It is good to know at least a few Darija phrases before arriving in Morocco. Here are a few you will use all the time.
- Salaam alaikum: hello (peace be with you)
- Labas?: how are you?
- Safi: that’s fine/it is enough
- Shoukran: thank you
- La shoukran: no thank you
- Iyyeh: yes
- Wakha: okay
2 – How to dress (for women)
Morocco is an Islamic country, and 99% of the population identify as Muslim. Aligning with Islam’s emphasis on modesty, the majority of Morrocans dress conservatively. Both men and women often wear djellabas and many Moroccan women wear hijabs.
As a foreigner, you are not expected to cover your hair, but many people advise you to cover your knees and shoulders to respect the culture and avoid unwanted attention. There are some more tourist friendly cities, like Marrakech, where it is considered more acceptable to wear shorts and strapless tops. However, this is not the case for the majority of Moroccan cities.
Lightweight, long, and flowy clothing are your best bet for modest and weather-appropriate clothing. Maxi skirts and dresses, tunic shirts with leggings, boho pants, lightweight jumpsuits, and t-shirts are all ideal for Morocco.
Insider tip: You can buy traditional Moroccan clothing for affordable prices in Moroccan medinas. Kaftans, jabadors, and djellabas are sold for anywhere between MAD 50-200 in most souks.
3 – How to souk shop like a pro!
Souks are the name for the markets in Morocco. Souks are a large part of Moroccan culture. Large cities, like Fez and Marrakech, have huge souks lined with hundreds of shops and great prices compared to Western stores. Get ready to shop until you drop! These tips will make make you are a pro souk shopper in no time:
- Be prepared for hassling
- Watch out for pickpocketing
- Always carry cash
- Always bargain: When shop owners notice that you are a foreigner, they are sure to raise prices. No matter how much they try to convince you that they are offering you a good price, you should always bargain. I have found that I can get most things for at least half of the initial asking price.
- Have a shopping map! Certain cities specialize in certain goods. It’s useful to know the best place to buy things to ensure you get the most authentic things for the lowest prices.
- Leather: Fez.
- Rugs: Azrou and Fez
- Woven blankets: Marrakech and Essaouira
- Silver: Tifnit
- Gold jewelry: Fez
- Pottery: Safi, Fez, and Meknes
- Spices: Areas east of Taliouine
- Argan oil: Essaouira. The best place is on the side of a road with argan trees and goats nearby.
- Beware of fakes! There is a lot of counterfeiting in Morocco. Rule of thumb: If prices for designer goods seem too good to be true, they probably are!
Insider tip: Some souks, like the one in Marrakech, even have snake charmers, storytellers, and musicians. Even if you do not plan to shop, a souk is an experience you absolutely cannot miss.
4 – Street Food
Street food is one of the most distinctive things about Morocco. Do not be afraid to try food vendors on the streets of Morocco. The street foods you absolutely cannot miss are: fresh squeezed orange juice, shawarmas, maakoudas, olives, khobz, snails, and brochettes.
Insider tip: Though it is often tempting, it is best to stray away from unusually cheap meat. Any meals containing meat that are sold for less than MAD 10 should be avoided at all costs. They are not typical meat. They can be anything ranging from cat, dog, or liver to leftover scraps from a butcher.
5 – Beware of scamming
Scamming has been described as a national sport in Morocco. Some argue that Morocco has the most tourist-targeted scams in the world. As a foreigner, you are likely to encounter people trying to scam you every single day. If you do not stay alert, you will be scammed. Here are a few tips to avoid scams:
- Always, always, always count your change!
- If you get henna, make it clear what you want and that you refuse to pay any more than the price agreed upon beforehand.
- Tell taxi drivers to turn on the meter at the beginning of your ride.
- Be aware of fake tour guides.
- If men are insistent that a random alleyway is closed, they are most likely just trying to lead you to a store or tannery.
- Do not take pictures of snake charmers, musicians, or chained monkeys unless you are willing to pay.
Insider Tip: People are not always what they seem. Many people will appear to be friendly and gain your trust, then demand money after helping you. Use discretion when soliciting help from strangers.
6 – Stray cats
Moroccan streets are loaded with stray cats. You cannot go anywhere without seeing a handful of cats. They will sometimes brush past your legs while you sip on a cup of tea at a table outside a cafe. Expect to become very familiar with your neighborhood cats.
Insider tip: If you are allergic to cats, be sure to bring a lot of allergy medicine!
7 – Nightlife
If you are used to partying every weekend at your home university, you should expect a major lifestyle change during your time in Morocco. In some cities, nightlife in Morocco is all but nonexistent. The majority of nightlife takes place in hotel bars, restaurants, and lounges but there are a few nightclubs in major cities. Marrakech, Agadir, and Casablanca are the Moroccan cities most known for their nightlife.
Because the Qur’an forbids drinking, many Moroccans do not drink. Liquor is very expensive and can only be bought in bars, hotels, and liquor stores. Liquor stores are discrete and scattered around big cities. You cannot purchase liquor outside of a bar after 8 p.m. and drinking in public is strictly forbidden. Alcohol sales stop 10 days before Ramadan and resume 10 days after it.
Insider tip: Liquor is highly stigmatized in Morocco. If you are staying with a family, it is considered very offensive to come home late and smelling of alcohol.
Read Part 2 for the final eight things you should know before studying abroad in Morocco.