Column: Life abroad in Morocco

A view of one of the many blue-painted streets in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif Mountains, just inland from Tangier. (Flickr/Mark Fischer). 

A few weeks ago, I decided to check out an evening philosophy class hosted by this local group that calls itself Nueva Acrópolis, and it was all nice and pleasant until I was asked for my opinion on some theory about the harmony between mind and body. Not only was I terrified of speaking Spanish in front of a room full of native speakers, but I also realized that I didn’t really have opinions of Spain.

Usually, when I’m in classes at UConn, I’m critical of everything. I’m critical of the information that’s presented, I’m critical of the way that the professor is presenting it and I’m critical of the professor for choosing to present the information in the first place.

When I hear new information in Spanish, however, I’ve realized that I focus so hard on understanding each phrase that I don’t have the energy to figure out whether or not I agree with what’s being presented. By the time I have understood what’s being said, I’ve already mentally accepted it as true.

This really bothers me. I’ve come to see skepticism as one of my better qualities, and the idea of just going along with the flow without thinking is scary. That’s why I’ve decided to err on the side of cynicism for the time being.

I know that no one likes a cynic, and I’ve always had this idea that study abroad isn’t the time for cynicism. It’s the time for traveling and being young and free and prancing through new cities with flowers in your hair. At least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten from social media.

But I really do enjoy being cynical. I feel as though not to being at least a little bit skeptical or cynical of a city is almost disrespectful. You can’t love a town, a city, or a country without first accepting its flaws. It seems better to wait until you know the good and the bad of place before you share opinions about it.

I visited Morocco two weekends ago, and it was a lot of fun. We rode camels, ate cous cous, felt good about ourselves after haggling at markets, and basically did all of the things that tourists are supposed to do there. The cities were interesting and I’d definitely like to return if it’s ever a possibility, but I wouldn’t say that I know the place enough to love it.

When my señora asked how Morocco was, I told her it seemed beautiful and that it reminded me of Granada. She told me that Morocco was a different world, nothing like Granada. In truth, a lot of the architecture is pretty similar. One of the biggest industries in Granada is tourism, and much of that tourism, in Granada and in other cities in the Andalusian region, revolves around Arabic and Mudejar architecture.

Spain also occupied northern Morocco for a while during the twentieth century, so one could even say that both cultures influenced each other. I guess the part that makes Morocco a “different world” are the buildings that are occupied by those who are Muslim, whereas the buildings here are occupied mainly by tourists.

Of course, there are other differences. Spain has a safer reputation, greater freedom of press.

The point is, I didn’t spend enough time in Morocco to understand it. It’s impossible to get to know a city, let alone a country, in a weekend. Sure, you can notice small things that you like or dislike, but a weekend with a tour group can only expose you to so much, and I don’t think it would be honest for me to say whether or not I like or dislike a place after only spending three or four days in it.


Molly Miller is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at molly.miller@uconn.edu. She tweets @MollyKBMiller.