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Tiffany Murphy - Arabic in Morocco

Putting on headscarves at a local fabric store

After studying Arabic in university for several semesters, my professor told me that the only way to become truly fluent was by going to an Arabic speaking country and fully emerging myself in the language. So after I graduated, I searched for a program that would help me in my studies. When I came across the Projects Abroad website and discovered their Arabic Language Course in Morocco, I made up my mind to go for it.

I had never travelled abroad before by myself, so needless to say I was very nervous and when I got off the plane this feeling only increased. All the signs were in Arabic and French, and the airport staff had trouble understanding me. Before I became too concerned, however, I saw Nourdine, a Projects Abroad staff member, holding a sign and waiting for me. I felt at ease with him instantly. During the cab ride to my host family, Nourdine happily answered all of my questions, even the more crazy ones. When we arrived at the house, I received a warm Moroccan welcome. My host mother prepared a traditional Moroccan plate for me, a chicken and potatoes dish known as Tajeen. At that moment, I knew that I was in love.

Orientation and introduction to Morocco

The next day I had orientation. First thing in the morning, Soufiane, another Projects Abroad staff member, came to my accommodations to pick me up. As we made our way to the office, Soufiane asked me questions about my first night and if my host family was helpful. He assured me that if I had any problems I could simply come to him. After we finished all of the necessary paperwork at the office, Soufiane took me to a traditional Moroccan restaurant for lunch and filled me in about the country. In turn, I filled him in about America just in case he wanted to stop by one day.

I do not think that there was a topic that we did not cover, from politics to music, we left no stone unturned. When he suggested that we return to the office, I had to laugh because I had forgotten that I was still having orientation. The rest of the day had a similar relaxed, yet informative feel to it. I only hoped that my Arabic classes, which I was to start the next day, would continue with this positive momentum.

Learning Arabic in Rabat

A local market in Morocco

On my first day of Arabic classes, my teacher greeted me with mint tea and a bright smile. She quickly let me know that her house, where the lessons were held, was my house and she meant it. After three hours of intensive Arabic lessons per day she would invite me and her other students to use her house as a quiet place to study. Her husband would even take the time to teach us common Arabic phrases. After a month, to my surprise, we were able to hold conversations with each other, with most of it making sense!

Day after day, my teacher let us know that her house was our house. We were always invited for lunch or tea and sometimes even dinner. I have never experienced such friendliness from complete strangers before that. I was hesitant at first but in a matter of days I would discover that this welcoming attitude is very common in Morocco.

One of my apprehensions before coming to Morocco was that when I did not have class I would be lonely. This was absolutely not the case. On my first weekend in Morocco, my teacher invited me and another student of hers to visit Casablanca. I happily said yes before she mentioned the catch: that we must attempt to speak in Arabic most of the time. I still decided go and I had an amazing time. As we stood next to the Mosque of Hassan II, the largest mosque in Morocco, I learned the words for ‘mosque’, ‘amazing’, ‘religion’, and ‘beautiful’. Thanks to this one weekend in Casablanca, I was able to get to know another Projects Abroad volunteer who knew Morocco well. Soon we were taking trips together along with other volunteers almost every weekend.

Living with a Moroccan host family

Although the trips were exciting, what really made my Moroccan experience was my host family. I was not just invited into their home, I was invited into their family. I am going to miss the times we spent together, from watching my favourite soap opera after lunch with my host mother, to playing school with my little host sister (she always insisted on being the teacher).

What I will miss the most of all are the holidays. I have spent at least three holidays in Morocco and each one was wonderful. The entire family came together (cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends) to celebrate, laugh, play, eat, and just enjoy each other’s company. At first, I did not know what to expect. I did not know the customs and had only a rudimentary understanding of formal Arabic. To put simply, I was not sure what to do with myself. I learned quickly, however, the true meaning Marban bek (You are welcomed). To me, it means that you are welcomed into my house, my family, and my heart. Therefore, do not feel nervous or feel out of place, just relax and take part in the festivities.

Reflecting on my experience

Tiffany with her Arabic tutor

By the end of my trip I definitely felt at I had learned a lot. The sook, meaning market, that overwhelmed me on the first day with so many people and shops, I could now walk through with ease. Whereas before I used to avoid speaking to people in Arabic because I was afraid of making a mistake, now I had friends who would only speak with me in Arabic.

The greatest skill that I learned, however, had to be how to properly prepare mint tea. Mint tea is more popular than water in Morocco. Most of the households serve tea at least once a day. You can find it served almost everywhere, from the streets to pool halls. So when I learned how to make this tea, which is served with an exorbitant amount of sugar, I knew that I had made Morocco my second home. I cannot wait to return.

Tiffany Murphy

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