Morocco Semester Overview: Sept. 14 - Dec. 16, 2007
Each time I go to a place I have not seen before, I hope it will be as different as possible from the places I already know.
–Paul Bowles, author of The Sheltering Sky, desert explorer, Morocco expatriate
A mere 17 miles south of Europe, across the Strait of Gibraltar, a very different experience awaits—an intriguing place of great contrast, color, culture, history, and hospitality: Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States as an independent nation in 1777. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty. Signed by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it has been in continuous effect since 1783.
"Rooted in Africa, watered by Islam and rustled by the winds of Europe" in the words of its late King Hassan II, Morocco is a captivating and multifaceted country. If you are you motivated to learn firsthand about a culture rich in African, European, Arab, and Islamic traditions…if you are eager to explore an ecological diversity ranging from Atlantic Ocean to High Atlas Mountains to Mediterranean Coast to Saharan Desert…and if you desire close interaction with people of legendary hospitality, the Morocco semester will be intensely rewarding and enduring....
(Photo Credit: Alex Safos)
Global LAB’s Morocco immersion begins in Fes, the oldest of Morocco’s four Imperial Capitals. Founded in 808 and claimant of the “oldest university in the world” (Kairaouine Mosque, founded in 857), Fes was renowned during the Middle Ages for its achievements in Arab commerce, art, religion, mathematics, and philosophy. Today, its old city (“the medina”)—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—preserves this glory and timelessness as a living museum of how life was lived in Medieval times. In its crowded maze of alleys and markets (souqs), suffused with sensations unfamiliar, and filled with simple and profound moments, you’ll cut the surface of your adventure. Courses in Moroccan Arabic, Moroccan Culture & Society, and an Introduction to Islam will give your daily rhythms meaning and context. You’ll remain mobile throughout this first circuit of the semester with regional excursions to the blue-on-white Rif mountain village of Chefchaouen and to the Portuguese-influenced coastal town of Asilah.
The High Atlas Mountains
(Photo Credit: Alex Safos)
For the next 10 days, you’ll continue experiencing the new and superlative. You’ll travel south into North Africa’s grandest mountain range, the High Atlas, for an in situ perspective of Morocco’s oldest inhabitants, the indigenous Berbers. You’ll trek across streams and valleys, mule dirt roads, overnight in hillside-terraced villages, and ascend the highest peak in North Africa, Jebel Toubkal at 13,665 feet. Penetrating this habitat offers the privilege of witnessing a remarkably friendly and brightly dressed people, seemingly incongruent with their labor-intensive lifestyle. The unique Berber language, music, and architecture will be on vivid display for appreciation. To understand the challenges of rural development, you’ll conclude with a week engaged in community service, observing how villagers gain consensus on fundamental development needs such as shelter, food, sanitation, and potable water—and you will help fulfill some of these needs before descending out of the High
Fes, Part II
Next, a return to the Fes “base camp” for the celebrated conclusion of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, self-purification, and self-restraint. Over the next several weeks, you’ll become more integrated into the fabric of this special city. Language instruction will continue (with French added as an option) and facilitate your daily interaction with Moroccans. Lectures on Moroccan anthropology, geography, and folklore will further your cultural insight and appreciation. And your ongoing medina restoration project “apprenticeships” will reveal the artisanship for which “Fassis” are famous, including Zellij tilework, intricate wood carving, and sculpted plaster work. You’ll eventually leave Fes, but Fes stays—its spirit, people, images, sounds, and smells there for you to ponder for years after.
As with every segment of the semester, time is allocated to explore a region’s diversity. During this second tour of Fes, we map routes to the south and west, including: an eco-tour of the Middle Atlas cedar forests to spot Barbary Apes; visits to the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the nearby Imperial City of Meknes; an excursion to the seaside capital, Rabat; and a trip to the cosmopolitan metropolis of Casablanca.
Pushing onward to Morocco’s second largest city, Marrakesh, you plug back into an urban environment for the next semester phase. Known as “The Pearl of the South” and “The Red City”, Marrakesh stands in stark contrast to Fes’ predominantly Arab and insular feel. Here, the spirit is more frontier-like and African—certainly a reflection of its history as a depot for caravans transporting slaves, gold, and ivory from Timbuktu. Marrakesh boasts its own UNESCO-stamped medina and cultural-historical icons such as the Koutoubia Mosque and Saadian Tombs. Yet its heart and energy derive from the place and spectacle of the Djemaa el Fna, “Assembly of the Dead”—an open square where musicians, peddlers, merchants, snake charmers, fortune-tellers, acrobats, and artists co-mingle and perform day into night, every night. Marrakesh’s anything-can-happen air is nowhere thicker than here. Against this fascinating backdrop, you awaken to new layers of the Moroccan experience. An introduction to Sufism, the varied practice of Islamic mysticism, and an overview of the Arabic script comprise the academic elements for this Marrakesh circuit.
To be sure, we’ll take advantage of Marrkesh’s relative proximity to the Atlantic coast with excursions to the laid back seaside city of Essaouria, the acclaimed “Windsurfing Capital of Africa”, and a visit to the exquisitely preserved kasbahs (fortified villages of ochre mud) of Ait Benhaddou, backdrop to the epic films Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth, among others.
Oases and Desert
The last two weeks of the semester indulge desert fantasies and deliver an awareness of Morocco’s historic cross-continental reach. Move west across the rock-and-scrub wasteland through the Dades and Ziz Valleys and discover numerous ksour, khasbahs and cinematic date-palm oases that increasingly fleck the southern landscape, culminating in the Tafilalt region. Explore the nearly 1,000 foot high cliffs of the Todra Gorge and surrounding palmery. And begin to note the subtle textures of light and kaleidoscope effect for which Morocco is famous. Finally, our southern terminus is at Erg Chebbi, the largest sand dunes in Morocco on the doorstep of the Sahara. Here you’ll traverse by camel caravan, and encamp for a few days, under dark skies shot with starlight, with mint tea served by our Berber guides at sunrise.
Tangier and Southern Spain
The final days of the semester route you back north to Tangier, the Mediterranean resort that lured artists, musicians, authors, and aimless decadents during its moment of 20th century fame and infamy. And it is from here that you symbolically ferry yourself across the strait, into Spain, and bear witness to Morocco’s past influence, incarnate in the Moorish grandeur of The Great Mosque (“La Mezquita”) of Cordoba, founded in 785, and the 13th century Alhambra (“Red Castle”) at Grenada. Witness an Andalusian orchestral ensemble or a Flamenco dance performance. Here, East-meets-West, and the semester of experience ends…leaving you enlightened, if not transformed, by the extraordinary culture and mosaic that is Morocco.
CORE SEMESTER ELEMENTS
Daily language instruction. Students may choose among Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, French, and Modern Standard Arabic. Real-world, instant feedback of a native environment and plenty of support from homestay families enables a richer cultural experience and builds a foundation for further study. No prior linguistic knowledge required.
There is simply no better way to gain a deep appreciation for another culture than the homestay. Global LAB's Morocco Semester includes three remarkable opportunities to share the rhythms and warmth of indigenous families: the first in the Fes medina; the second in Marrakesh; and the third in the High Atlas with overnights in Berber villages.
Community Service Projects
Gain a perspective on local community needs and instill a sense of service by working alongside citizens on fundamental projects, for example: participating in English discussion classes at schools; assisting at orphanages; promoting conservation awareness and habitat preservation; planting trees to mitigate soil erosion; helping preserve cultural resources; distributing potable water to remote areas; and observing the governance process of rural villages.
Independent Study Project and Portfolio
With the guidance of Global LAB advisors, design and pursue your own study of an area of Moroccan arts, history, spirituality, environment, folklore, or culture that interests you. The ISP culminates with a group presentation where you have the opportunity to share what you have learned, as well as a portfolio—writings, photography, video, performance, website design—that you will take home with you at the semester’s conclusion.
For high school seniors, Global LAB works closely with your school to ensure that you receive full credit for participating. University students may also be eligible for credit, and appropriate proficiency exams can be arranged through the Arabic Language Institute in Fes (ALIF).