Chelsea Heltemes - French in Morocco
In high school I had received a scholarship to be put toward a trip to any French-speaking country of my choosing, and I used it during the winter of my sophomore year of college to go to Morocco via the Projects Abroad program there. Most of the other programs that I looked into were not willing to accept people for the one month that I had off from school, and Projects Abroad also accepted my scholarship money.
I didn't have room in my school schedule to take French, but I still wanted to improve my speaking ability as much as possible. There were opportunities to volunteer through Projects Abroad as well, but I decided to focus on improving my French language skills. Projects Abroad set me up with a host family and a teacher within walking distance. My host family lived in the beautiful old part of Rabat, called the Medina. My French teacher was nearby in the Ville Nouvelle, or new city.
There were also Arabic language lessons offered through Projects Abroad, but I chose to focus on French so that I could improve as quickly as possible before I left. Because French is one of Morocco's national languages, there were plenty of options to practice with the locals. Nearly everybody was fluent in both French and Arabic, and only a few older people had never learned French in school.
By living with a host family, I got the opportunity to practice my French, and I also got to learn about Moroccan culture. I adapted to eating their food and rising around their schedule. I was also introduced to some of my favorite Arabic singers, including Nancy Ajram, through my host family.
There is also a big ex-patriate community through Projects Abroad. Every week, we met with the others who were in Morocco volunteering or studying – or both. We would meet at one of the host family's houses, or we would go out. It was extremely helpful having a support system made up of people who were going through the same thing that you were.
This community of other foreigners visiting Morocco was also helpful for finding travel buddies. On the weekends, we would often take trips to other cities in Morocco, and, due to the constant change-over of new volunteers/ students, there were always people who had not yet been to where you wanted to go.
While studying in Rabat, I took weekend trips via train to Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakesh. Casablanca is the financial capital of the country, and it is also where the airport is. Fez is heavily influenced by Spain, and the Medina (or old city) there has some of the most beautiful souks (markets) in the country. Marrakesh is another popular tourist destination because of its famous open-air square called Djeema al Fna and because of its other souks. Some of the long-term volunteers took advantage of their time off in order to go to Essaouira. From there, they rode camels into the desert and camped overnight there.
When I went to Morocco, it was the first time I had ever been to a Muslim country, and Projects Abroad really helped me adjust while also letting me discover the country by myself. I was able to travel freely without feeling like Projects Abroad was breathing down my neck, but I also knew that if I needed help, staff was only a phone call and a few miles away.
Due to their unique history and their beautiful architecture, Morocco is one of the most amazing countries I have ever been to. Thanks to Projects Abroad, studying French in Morocco has proven to be one of my favorite trips that I have ever taken.