Merhaba from Morocco! As some of you may know, I was recently awarded a highly competitive Critical Language Scholarship to spend the summer in Morocco – for free! After an amazing first two weeks, I want to give an update on my experiences with CLS in Tangier.
What is CLS?
The Critical Language Scholarship is an intensive overseas language cultural immersion program funded by the US Department of State. CLS is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans mastering under-studied foreign languages. In my case, I am studying Arabic with a cohort of 28 other students in Tangier, Morocco.
The focus of CLS is extremely rapid language gains – roughly the equivalent of one year of university-level Arabic in just 2 months! I receive 20 hours of classroom instruction per week, in addition to conversing with language partners, cultural activities, and excursions. That’s over 250 contact hours in 2 months, not even including all the Arabic spoken with my host family!
CLS in Tangier
One of my favorite parts of CLS is undoubtedly the many relationships I forge with local Moroccans. For example, I have become very close with my language partner, Fatima. I love learning about her life as a young woman in Morocco, and she gets to ask questions about life in America! I also spend a lot of time with my host sister Nada, who is only two years older than I. We have bonded over our shared love of photography, and love to explore Tangier’s old medina together and practice our camera skills. Her wedding will be at the end of my stay, so we also collaborate on wedding preparations such as making invitations, candles and gift bags.
Despite my packed schedule, I still manage to find plenty of time to get out and explore. In the afternoons, I love to shop in the markets, stroll down the narrow streets of the old medina, check out new cafes and restaurants, or relax on the beautiful beach (just a block from my house!) CLS also hosts many cultural activities, such as calligraphy classes, museum visits, and cooking classes.
Studying Arabic Abroad
I study Modern Standard Arabic for two hours each day, focusing specifically on building our vocabulary and grammar. We also spend one hour on conversation, media or politics (depending on the day) and one hour on Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic.
I was not initially excited to study Darija because it is so different from MSA and it is not as widely used or understood as other dialects. In addition, it is by far the most challenging dialect to learn and pronounce, as it has almost no vowels! For example, “I live in the city _____” is “knskn fmdint _____” in Darija! Despite the many challenges and initial hesitation, I have found learning Darija to be extremely rewarding because it allows me to converse with locals more easily – a favorite activity of mine while abroad! I have such a sense of accomplishment when I am able to give directions to a taxi driver or haggle with a shopkeeper in their native dialect.
I travel to a different city every weekend, which has definitely been a highlight of my time in Morocco! So far, I’ve visited Ksar es Seghir, Asilah, and Chefchaouen. Inshallah, I will also go to Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat, Tetouan, and Meknes. But more about those trips in future posts!
Want to hear more about my travels in Morocco? Click here to read about the time I was deported from Spain to Morocco, by boat, at age 11! Don’t worry – the story has a happy ending. In fact, I now consider that day to be the day that I fell in love with travel!