Stories from Study-Abroad: Kestrel Henry

CATEGORIES: February 2014
Kestrel Henry in Morocco

 Kestrel Henry is a Political Science and International Studies student with concentrations in Global Economic Development and the Middle East. An avid linguist, Kestrel also minored in French and is currently studying Arabic, Chinese and Indonesian on a year abroad in Exeter, England. She also spent about eight months at an Arabic language institute in Morocco, where she lived with a host family in one of the oldest cities in north Africa. Below are some of her impressions to that experience. 

Living in Morocco for almost eight months was a fascinating experience. I was based in Fez, taking classes at the Arabic language institute there. I met people from all corners of the world who’d come to better their Arabic, and the school did a great job of bringing people together.

In front of the King's residence

I lived with a host family in the old “medina”, which was one of the best choices I made. Almost every city in Morocco is divided into an old city (“medina”) and a new city (“ville nouvelle”), which the French built during the colonization era. The old city is like a maze— high walls, winding streets and big thick metal doors leading to gorgeous houses-in-the-walls with open-air courtyards called Riads. The streets are narrow, vendors are everywhere and it’s exceedingly easy to lose yourself. Luckily, I lived on the edge! My host family was made up of a lovely mother, two daughters and a son. Except for the eldest daughter, they only spoke Arabic. The eldest daughter could translate for me if I needed it, but mostly I was forced to communicate with my new language skills.

Wearing traditional Moroccan djellabas

I travelled all over the country, which is facilitated by its beautiful and clean train system. We went first to a town nestled in the mountains called Chefchaouen, which is famous for its blue walls and welcoming people. I also went down to Marrakech and the beach town of Agadir, and I went north to the modern capital— Rabat— where I spent some time with the family of a family friend. We went east to the border with Algeria and rode camels out to one of the biggest sand dunes in the area, then climbed it in the middle of the night and watched the sun come up. It’s incredible how well Morocco caters to the adventure-hungry as well as the sedentary; it’s rugged or sheltered, raw desert and mountains right alongside couscous and a bath at the local Hammam. The food is fabulous too: try some raisin couscous on Fridays, some dessert Pastilla or some fresh-squeezed juice after a long walk up from the world-famous leather tanneries.

Fez tanneries

It is, of course, more difficult to blend in Morocco than it is in Europe. The country is almost entirely Muslim, and non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside mosques. There are also issues with harassment and clothing— while it’s not obligatory, I chose to wear the hijab while I was there. It is thus harder to make friends with ordinary Moroccans, especially men. I found these barriers could be overcome through organized institutions such as the Arabic institute or family connections.

Morocco was a great experience, and it’s a great place to better your French, your Arabic or even your Spanish. It’s also just a hop-skip-and-jump away from Europe and a great little vacation destination. I highly recommend it.