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Couscous with locals, using several languages at once, and scaling North Africa's highest mountain -just some of the things Natasha has done during her exchange in Morocco
Morocco is probably the country, where I have heard – and used – the most languages on a daily basis. From day one, I met with some Moroccan friends of a friend and was thrown into the particular mix of French, Standard Arabic and a touch of Amazigh, which is the Moroccan dialect.
My school French was not very useful here. In the north, which used to belong to Spain, Spanish is the second language after Arabic. In the mountainous regions, different dialects of Amazigh, the Berber language, is spoken.
Many Rbatis, the Arabic word for people from Rabat, speak French and even English. The Moroccan students at my exchange university, EGE Rabat, are all required to master Moroccan and Standard Arabic as well as French and English. At EGE Rabat, courses are offered in English, French and Arabic within the social sciences. There is a particular focus on international relations, economics and the Middle East and North Africa region. The majority of my courses were master’s courses in French. It was extremely interesting to study subjects like development economics, Islamic sociology and collective movements together with local students. I think I learned as much from the teacher as from the other students, if not more.
The call for prayer, which happens five times a day, means I never forget that I am not in Denmark. Religion is relatively present in the culture and social space. Alcohol is not served in public, many wear traditional clothing and pork is almost inexistent. That being said, Morocco is a very open country, where different cultures, religions and habits are tolerated. Nobody will look at you in a weird way if you use your left hand for eating (which Muslims traditionally don’t). More and more Moroccans, especially the younger generations, are familiar with Western cultures and habits and integrate them to a smaller or larger extent.
Moroccans are extremely open and hospitable people who gladly invite you home for the Friday couscous (a dish that takes hours to cook and is thus only eaten on Friday) or a glass of mint tea and traditional pastries. Don’t say no! Moroccan lifestyle, including the traditions and cuisine, may only really be experienced in people’s homes. Make sure you arrive with an empty stomach and get ready to leave again rich with new impressions.
Where Casablanca is the biggest city and the economic centre, Rabat is the national capital and the heart of political and administrative affairs. The city is home of many embassies, ministries and international organisations as well as several universities. Consequently, the city has a relatively vivid cultural scene as well as nightlife. Embassies and cultural institutes organize film weeks, conferences, cocktail parties and performances on a regular basis. The nightclub Yacout, which has a live band from sub-Saharan Africa playing every weekend, is a place not to miss.
What surprised me the most about Morocco were the amazing travels that I have been able to do here. The entire Atlas region offers amazing opportunities for hiking and climbing trips. I did the 4167 m ascent of Jbel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain, which in the winter season has particularly amazing scenery. The coastline offers both calm Mediterranean beaches and surfer’s paradise. My advice to anyone on exchange in, or generally visiting, Morocco, is to look beyond the historic medina and street vendors of Marrakech (although for some, it might be a must).
Atop North Africa’s highest mountain
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