Studying abroad is exciting, but it can also be intimidating and nerve-wracking to embark on a journey that takes you so far from your comfort zone.
By Salihah Evans
Rabat – You can spend hours searching the web for everything you think you need to know without being able to gain a real since of preparedness.
If you are headed to Morocco to study abroad, read on for a carefully crafted list of personal observations coupled and helpful tips that might prove useful while visiting the beautiful country of Morocco! (If you missed Part 1 with the first seven, read it here.)
International phone plans can be expensive and roaming charges will quickly drive up the cost of your monthly phone bill. Luckily, getting a phone plan in Morocco is extremely affordable and involves following simple steps to complete the process. The most cost efficient option is to bring a smartphone with you and get a data plan in Morocco.
You can purchase a Moroccan SIM card for around MAD 20 and get 2 gigabytes of data for MAD 70. With a smartphone, you can use calling as well as instant messaging apps to communicate with friends and family at home.
Insider tip: Be sure to get your phone unlocked by your phone company before you leave so that it is ready to use with a Moroccan SIM card in when you arrive.
Navigating Moroccan cities
The first few days of navigating Rabat were a bit daunting for me. To the untrained eye, it might seem like there are a hundred small alleyways, each indistinguishable from one another. It can be very easy to get lost and I noticed few street signs in;however, I learned that most people rely on landmarks to describe the physical location of a building or establishment.
Funnily enough, the tendency to rely on landmarks means that if you ask someone for directions using a street name, it’s possible that will have no idea what you are talking about. It will be helpful to learn some directional phrases in Darija so that you can better communicate with taxi drivers and those you turn to for help when you get lost.
Insider Tip: Take pictures to use as a point of reference in case you have trouble making your way back home during your first few days. Also, download the offline versions of navigation apps or carry around a paper map.
Food is one of the most exciting parts of Moroccan culture. If you eat with a traditional family, it’s likely that you will find that the dining experience differs from what you are accustomed to.
Of course, it is universally important to clean your hands before every meal. In Morocco, meals are traditionally eaten communally from a large circular dish in the center of the table. Examples of famous Moroccan dishes are harira and couscous, the latter of which is served every Friday.
Something else that might different from what you are used to is the occasional use of bread in the place of silverware. Don’t be afraid to eat with your hands and use the bread to pick up the food from the dish. Traditionally, you should eat with only your right hand, using the thumb and first two fingers.
Proper Moroccan etiquette maintains that you should only eat from the “triangle” directly in front of you. To remain polite, you should never reach over to the other side of the dish. Moroccans are incredibly hospitable and will almost always offer you more food on top of the generous portions that you were originally given. If you are find yourself absolutely stuffed, you can use this phrase to decline the next heaping serving: “Safi, safi. Ana shbe’t hamdoulah. Choukran bzzaf.”
Get ready to try some amazing new food in Morocco!
Insider tip: You might find that dinner time in Morocco is later than what you are used to. Some families will eat dinner anywhere from 9 PM-11 PM, but sometimes even a little later. Be sure to visit the nearest hanut(similar to a convenience store) to buy little snacks to hold you over until your next meal.
Though rare in public facilities, you may occasionally come across Old-fashioned toilets (toilet Baldiya) in Morocco. You may even have one in your homestay, so don’t be alarmed! In fact, they are common in many countries and you are very likely to come across one again if you aspire to travel to Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. If you have never seen one before, all you need to know is that your feet are to be placed on the textured tiles on either side of the platform.
It may take a couple tries before you find what works for you in terms of comfort. And it is also important to note that you will not find toilet paper with toilets. Instead, there will be a bucket of water placed to the side for washing. Moroccans always use their left hand to wash themselves.
If you are not comfortable with this, always carry around personal toilet paper. Consider buying the little packs of tissues that people will try to seel you as you walk along the street. They will definitely come in handy. It is also helpful to carry around hand sanitizer!
Insider tip: Try to avoid using your left hand to eat or shake hands, since it’s considered hshuma(shameful). You should research other cultural taboos so you can do your best to avoid any hshuma acts!
For women, street harassment will unfortunately quickly become a daily part of your life in Morocco. Street harassment can vary in nature, ranging from stares and compliments to more aggressive behavior such as insults and following. It is best to travel in groups at night, when street harassment can be more aggressive in nature. This is generally good travel advice for any students or tourists, as it is important for everyone to be educated about personal measures that can be taken to stay safe.
Insider Tip: One of the easiest ways to respond to street harassment is to simply ignore the harassers, avoid eye contact, and continue walking.
For those coming from the United States, our understanding of race relations is different from the conceptualization of race that exists in Morocco. Although Morocco is an historically heterogeneous country that receives millions of visits from tourists and students each year, racism is a global phenomenon and that makes Morocco no exception.
There are many online accounts written by students of color who have described experiencing racism during their time in Morocco. Racism can manifest in many ways, including gendered microaggressions and instances of racial slurs being hurled on the street. Xenophobia is also an issue in Morocco, and people with darker complexions may sometimes be on the receiving end of slurs because they are likened to the sub-Saharan migrants and immigrants.
Insider Tip: Read up on the experiences of students of color who have studied abroad in and/or visited Morocco to get a better understanding of how they reflect upon their time. Self-care is of the utmost importance, so make sure that you have a support system to turn to as well as outlets to de-stress.
Morocco is an extremely diverse country, and each city has a particular aesthetic and vibe. You would be doing yourself a major disservice if you were to remain in one city for the duration of your stay. Plan weekend trips to explore the variety of activities available to you in Morocco. Do you like skiing, hiking, or surfing? Or do you prefer gentler activities like sightseeing and shopping? While there are an abundance of tourist attractions in popular cities like Marrakech and Fez, lesser traveled cities like Tiznit and Azrou also hold many hidden treasures. Don’t be afraid to maximize your time.
You can even plan a weekend trip to another country! For many people, Morocco is a gateway to Europe or other locales in Africa. Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal are all countries a short plane or ferry ride away from Morocco. If you can plan in advance, you can find cheap tickets to spend a weekend in another country!
Insider tip: The best form of transportation for quick weekend trips is the train or bus.
It can be very difficult to find American brand toiletries that you may be used to if you are coming from the US, especially with regard to feminine products like tampons. If you do find them, they could be more expensive than you might expect. Perhaps it would be easier and more cost effective to bring enough toiletries to last you until you leave. You can find most things in the hanut or medina, but large stores like Marjane and Carrefour often carry additional brands or products that you might be more familiar with.
Insider tip: In continuing the theme of exploration, be sure that you branch out if you feel comfortable doing so with other types of toiletries. You just might find your new favorite!