New to the University of Mississippi’s language programs this last year was the Arabic Department becoming a recognized Arabic Flagship program in the United States. In addition to extra funding and support for the program and its students, gaining Flagship status means that students have available to them the possibility of applying for the Capstone year in Meknes, Morocco. This year of learning Arabic pushes students to gain superior-level proficiency in Arabic, while also learning important cultural skills through interacting with Moroccan society. I am currently in Meknes for this program, and I am more than excited for this opportunity.
In Morocco with me are three of my classmates from the University of Mississippi. After a three day orientation in Washington D.C. at the beginning of the week, we boarded a flight to Frankfurt and then one to Casablanca. After spending the night in a hotel near the Casablanca airport, we drove the remaining two and a half hours to Meknes! Since Monday, our days have been filled with lots of cultural and linguistic learning opportunities.
In the past few days, I have spent most of my time getting to know my host family, learning how to walk to school, struggling to understand the dialect, and getting to know my peers for the year. My apartment for the summer is located in Mellah al-Jedid, a newer neighborhood bordering the old city.
Every morning, I wake up at 9AM to eat breakfast with my host mother and get ready for school, I leave around 9:30 to walk to school through the old city. I have classes from 10-12, lunch from 12-1, and more classes from 1-3. The school week, unlike the rest of the Middle East, runs Monday through Friday which is something that really surprised me, because Morocco is an Islamic country, where the holy day is Friday.
Every day, on my walk to the AALIM Center, which is located in the Old City in Meknes, I pass through the Bab al-Khamis, a historic gate from the time when Moulay Ismail made Meknes the capital of Morocco. There is a lot of history engrained in the part of city where I spend most of my time. Everywhere you look there are historic walls, gates, and beautiful examples of Islamic art.
In the first two weeks of the summer session (8 weeks in total) for the capstone students, we will focus solely on darija, or Moroccan Arabic, so that we can communicate with people in our daily lives. If I’ve learned anything this last week, it’s the importance of speaking the local dialect! I’ve spent ten years learning Modern Standard Arabic at this point, and yet I went to a coffee shop the other day and had a hard time ordering a cup of orange juice (a very popular drink here)! The problem was that Moroccans don’t use the Arabic word for orange in darija (burtuqal), but rather the word for lemon (limon). Instead of asking for orange juice, I should have been asking for lemon juice! All that to say that the next two weeks will be vastly important to help me live in Meknes this year.
I’m more than excited for the days and weeks to come, for the people I’m going to meet and the things that I’m going to see! My first week as an Arabic Capstone student in Meknes has been a lot of fun, and I’m excited for the experiences and learning opportunities that this summer will provide.