Guest blogger Colleen Moser is a Political Science and French major from Grinnell College, currently studying at AUCP Marseille. She recently returned from the one-week study tour in Fez, Morocco.
After nine days of vacation spent in Prague, Budapest, Milan, and Paris, we set off for Fès (Fez is the English spelling of the word), Morocco with our entire program and our director. The entire trip was focused on continuing the intercultural study that we’ve been doing so far this semester. As a result, we spent the entire week in a Moroccan family homestay and participated in lectures/discussions in addition to touristy city visits.
Most of the week was spent in Fès itself. It’s an ancient city, the oldest in Morocco, and known for being a cultural and academic center. One of the world’s oldest universities, Al-Qarawiyyin, is located in the Ancient Médina, which is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Médina is filled with narrow winding streets, markets, artisanal workshops, mosques, and homes.
Its streets are too narrow for cars, so donkeys are often used to transport goods. Fès is also home to the Nouvelle Ville, which was largely expanded during the French colonization. We toured the city, visited some of the workshops (including pottery and a tannery), and saw the Wood Museum. In addition, we spent one day in nearby Meknès, including a trip to Volubilis, a site of ancient Roman ruins.
Our trip also included panels related to the history of Fès and woman’s rights in Morocco. Several hours were spent discussing the role of the hijab in modern society, which we debated with female Moroccan students our age. These conversations, along with my host family, gave me a rich perspective into Moroccan society and daily life.
Each of us stayed with a student who spoke both French and Arabic, but the rest of my host family, for example, did not speak French fluently or at all. Despite our linguistic barriers, I really really appreciated the generosity and kindness shown by my correspondent Hind and the rest of her family, particularly in terms of my vegetarianism.
On the Friday of the week, we boarded a tiny bus for a 9 hour drive to southeastern Morocco, where the Sahara desert begins!! The Sahara was without a doubt one of the most amazing places I have ever seen in my entire life. I felt at a loss for words at the sight of the vastness of the orange dunes.
We ended up arriving at dusk and made the choice to ride the dromedaries to tents several kilometers away through the sunset. The night fell as we headed towards the oasis and thanks to our guides, we were able to appreciate the insane view of the Milky Way without worrying about getting lost. We spent the night in tents (with mattresses and a cooked dinner…) and woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise before heading back to the lodge.
The entire experience felt extremely surreal and I really couldn’t believe that we had actually just ridden dromedaries in the Sahara desert. It is safe to say that it was the craziest thing I have ever done.
From there, it was a 9 hour bus ride back to Fès, with a stop along the way in a cedar forest, home to wild monkeys. It felt strange to be in a foggy forest just hours after the desert, but we caught some glimpses of a few monkeys before we had to hit the road again.
That night was a goodbye party with all of the students, both American and Moroccan, although all of the Americans wore traditional Moroccan clothing and henna. In the morning, we had to rush off to the airport to head back to Marseille and it was sad to say goodbye to our host families and friends. The week flew by and even though there were moments of exhaustion and frustration, I have never had such a rewarding experience in my life.
I promise to post a few more updates before my semester is over, it’s hard to believe it’s already December! If you made it this far to the bottom of the page, thank you so much for reading through all of my reflections and I hope it was mildly entertaining (: Bisous à tous <3