Signing Out of Morocco

Spending the summer in Morocco has been one of the best decisions I made this year. it not only afforded me the opportunity to improve my Arabic language skills, but also helped me to experience North Africa and bask in the experience of identifying similarities and differences between West Africa, where I am from, and North Africa.

I arrived in Morocco with a lot of assumptions I thought it would be no different from home (Nigeria) since it is within the same continent. Alas, I was in for a big surprise as it is a remarkably different country, with different culture, history, language, dressing, and food, but nonetheless beautiful. The experience taught me how we can be so similar, yet different, and I left Morocco with a better understanding of the history, culture, politics, and even food of the North African country. While there, I missed having access to food that I am used to, but surprisingly, shortly after my return, I am already missing the Moroccan chicken tagine (tagine bi dajajah).

Morocco is a popular tourist destination, and it is in fact the most visited country in Africa. I utilized the opportunity of my Summer Language Abroad program to also visit some notable tourist sites in cities like Tangier, Chefcheouan (the blue city), the economic capital of Casablanca as well as the Sahara Desert. Traversing the Sahara desert is indeed an unforgettable experience that I will forever cherish. I do have a camel souvenir to serve as a reminder of that beautiful experience, and I look forward to taking my kids there someday. 

Haleemah on a camel ride through the Sahara Desert thanks to the SLA Award

A language immersion program like the SLA gives the opportunity of immersing in a culture and getting to practice the language on a daily basis, thus improving one’s speaking and comprehension skills. As I am obviously black and African, a lot of the locals spoke French to me automatically, which was quite a surprise for me in the beginning. I later understood that because of Morocco’s history with the French, a lot of Moroccans speak French, which makes it a suitable destination for many Africans from Francophone countries. As such, a lot of Black Africans in Morocco are French-speaking, and locals just usually assume that I speak french too, and would therefore try to communicate with me in French. This was however not the same as the experience of my White colleagues from Europe or America. Thus, while I would surely recommend Morocco for white people seeking to learn Arabic, I would rather suggest that Black people seeking to learn Arabic consider other countries in the Middle East in order to achieve better immersion.

For anyone considering applying for the SLA program, I would highly recommend it. While I still have a long way to go in perfecting my Arabic language skills, I do know that I am way better than I used to be. I have also made friends and built connections that I hope would last a lifetime. Thus, for me, it is not goodbye to Morocco, but see you again sometime soon!     


In Pursuit of a Dream

Learn Arabic for it strengthens the mind and enhances chivalry.” – Umar Al-Khattab

For the past fifteen years, I have been making efforts to learn the Arabic language. It started with learning to read the alphabet letters and then learning to read the Qur’an which I successfully completed in 2006. Every time I have tried to continue in my pursuit of the knowledge of the language, I have been met with obstacles that make me let go. Learning Arabic however continues to remain at the top of my bucket list.

When I gained admission to the University of Notre Dame, I had no idea that it would allow me to further this dream of mine. It was during the orientation week last August that I learned about the Center for the Study of Languages and Culture (CSLC) and the numerous opportunities it offers. Realizing that students have the opportunity to take language courses in more than a dozen languages, I did not hesitate to seize the opportunity to further the study of Arabic. Thus, I registered for an Arabic course in addition to my required and elective courses this semester.

This summer, I would be spending two months in an immersive Arabic study at the Qalam wa Lawh Center in Rabat, Morocco, with the support of CSLC’s Summer Language Abroad grant. While I have learnt a lot from my Arabic class this semester, I believe that the study abroad program would afford me even more opportunities for learning due to its immersive nature.

I am excited not only about the opportunity to attain my age-long goal of being a speaker of Arabic, but I am also looking forward to meeting and having a different vision of life thus agreeing with the quote that “a new language is a different way of life”. Throughout this Spring semester, I had 5 hours of Arabic classes per week, but with my immersion program, I shall have 20 hours of Arabic per week. This means that I would be able to cover up to two semesters of learning in two months. Meanwhile, I believe that learning Arabic in a classroom is quite different from an immersive experience. In the classroom, Arabic is just like a slice of the pie, with the single slice being Arabic and the rest of the whole being English, Hence, I take a slice of Arabic each day and then go about the rest of my day in English. But with an immersive experience, Arabic is the whole, and while I would have a slice in the classroom, I would have many more slices of the same whole in the hallway, and the market, and the streets, and at home, and practically everywhere. Thus, staying in a place where Arabic is the dominant language means that I am able to immerse myself in the language and the culture and learn not just from the classroom from also from interaction with Arabic speakers.

I hope that this trip would be an opportunity for me to learn about the Moroccan and Arab culture, their food, clothing, and general way of life. I look forward to interacting with the locals, and not just learning the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in class, but also picking some colloquial Darija Arabic from my interactions with the locals. I am also looking forward to visiting different towns in Morocco – Fez, Marakkech, etc, and learning about their rich history and culture. Similarly, I look forward to traversing the Sahara desert as well, and I hope that this trip contributes to my growth as well as personal and professional development.