My first week of school is officially finished! Not that it really counts as school – it has mainly been an orientation week for international students, but either way I can sleep in tomorrow, and for the next five days with an extra long weekend!
School is incredible. I’m studying at the École de Gouvernance et d’Économie de Rabat (EGE), which is a politics and economics school loosely connected with the famous Science Po schools in France. EGE is really knew – I believe it was started in 2008 – and is quickly becoming a hub for international studies in the region. There are only just under 300 students in the university, including the 30-some international students they welcome each year, which is a massive change for me – my faculty at uOttawa is at least double the size.
We arrived on Monday for a welcome breakfast and placement tests at 8:30am. The school is at the very opposite end of the city from where we live, so the commute by tram takes about an hour. We miscalculated a little bit and arrived a tiny bit late, but still managed to get some tea, coffee, and snacks and mingled with some other international students before taking our language placement tests.
There are around 30 of us international students, and we’re already becoming a really cool group. The majority of us come from four main countries: Denmark, Germany, Canada, and Italy, but there’s also students from USA, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and France. There are six Canadians in total: Mack, Steph, and me from uOttawa, Khalid from Queens, and Saad and Milène from Montreal. It’s definitely less diverse than I expected, but it’s already become such a fun group.
My written Arabic placement test was absolutely terrifying; I had no idea what any of it was saying. Luckily the Oral went a lot better, and we established I would be in a “Beginner Plus” class so that I don’t have to relearn things I’ve already done.
Monday was also Steph’s birthday, so after school we all ended up at her and Bianca’s place for cake and drinks. Alcohol is actually really easy to come by here as a foreigner, so we celebrated her turning 22 with some Moroccan wine. Steph and Bianca finally moved into their place in the Oudaya, and it is absolutely stunning. The Oudaya is the nicest part of the Medina, and it’s kept really clean because it is a tourist attraction so it gets money from the government for upkeep. They have this amazing house with their own private terrace with a view of the river and the Tour Hassan, and the entire house is decorated with beautiful, intricate tiles. We spent the whole night up on their terrace looking at the stars and enjoying the view. We also got to spend more time with some of their Moroccan friends, who are now sort of our friends too! Ali and Badr are the two I know best, and are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. It’s so much fun practicing my french with them and hearing what they have to say about Morocco and just everything in general. Ali is teaching me to speak in Darija as well – I can now count to ten!
The rest of the week has been really nice. The orientation was extremely comprehensive (a little bit too comprehensive, maybe) and gave us a great overview of how everything works here and the types of courses we can take. We even had presentations from all of the profs about the courses they offer. That sort of thing is much easier in such a small school. There are such incredible courses offered here! I’ve decided to only take four courses, but they’re all so interesting. Next week we get to test out all the different courses before actually registering, but I think I already know what I’m taking: Post-Colonial Studies, Queer Maroc, Gender and Natural Ressources, and Arabic. The school offers such progressive topics from such an interesting perspective, and I can’t wait to start! Queer Maroc talks about gender roles and expectations in the Arab World and what that means for the society on a whole, as well as for people in the queer community. I think I’m most excited for that one!
My only real problem with the school is their grading system. Grades here are all relative to the grades of other students, so what you get depends entirely on how well everyone else did. The top 10% of the class gets an A, the next 25% get Bs, and so on. I have such a big problem with this kind of grading. Not only does it not at all reflect the kind of work you do, but it also breeds competition rather than cooperation, which is such a dangerous culture to have at a school. I’m lucky that my courses are pass/fail while I’m here, so my marks aren’t important, but it’s still a completely unfair way of grading students.
We also got an overview on Moroccan culture and law and things like that. We asked some interesting questions, and started a bit of a debate with the administrators, but it was really interesting. For example, it is illegal to criticize the monarchy. Obviously it is really hard to enforce that, but journalists have been arrested for it. As foreigners, we’re sort of above some of the laws, so we wouldn’t get arrested for something like that, but it’s still incredibly sad. There’s also some extreme laws concerning gender. Men and women who are not married cannot check into a hotel together, and unmarried boys and girls aren’t even allowed to be in an apartment together or to go to parties together. Again, this is hard to enforce, but everyone had stories to tell of friends who had gotten into trouble for it. The worst part is that it’s usually just the girl who is punished. Again, this doesn’t apply to foreigners, but it’s incredibly sad either way.
Other than that, we’ve been hanging out a lot with the different exchange students. Khalid from Queens is a big Flames fan, so I’m getting my fix of hockey talk, and just in general I’m having the most interesting conversations. Today we all went for lunch, and I ended up at a table with the girl from Taiwan. We started talking about Taiwan’s relationship to China, and how it works and how she felt about it. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked with someone about something so meaningful and important. She told us all about Taiwan’s situation, and how they have all the institutions in place (government, passports, industry, etc.) to be an independent country, but they are completely at the mercy of China, and no one will take their side and risk breaking economic ties with China. She talked about how China constantly has missiles pointed at Taiwan in case they try to gain independence, and the whole situation is just so incredibly sad and unfair. She showed us her passport and talked about how upsetting it is that she’s technically a citizen of the Republic of China when really she is from Taiwan. I didn’t know very much about the situation before, but it’s incredibly sad and unfair. Alice from Hong Kong also told us all about the perspective from Hong Kong, and about what’s going on there right now. She has a lot of friends participating in the protests.
And then on top of that, we talked with some of the girls from Denmark about Greenland, and how Denmark sort of still views Greenland as a colony, and what that means and implies. Everyone here is just so interesting and globally aware, and I’m learning so much just being around them. And then on top of that, everyone is so much fun to be around. It’s going to be such a great year!
We’ve also done a lot more exploring of Rabat, just by nature of getting to know all the international students. Last night we went to this bar called Upstairs in Agdal. I was worried about going to a bar because I’ve heard some awful things about the bars here, but this was was really great! It was full of women, and we didn’t get any sort of harassment for the men there. It probably helped that we had some guys with us, but it was still really great to know we can go there and have a good time! The only part that made it slightly unbearable was the indoor smoking that seems to be the norm here. The most exciting part, though, was that they had Poutine on the menu! Khalid, Mack, and I obviously ordered it and convinced everyone else to as well. It wasn’t quite the same as our Canadian stuff, but having it on the menu at all is a victory for Canada!
Now begins our five day weekend. It’s a special holiday here in Morocco that happens forty days after Ramadan. Every family kills a sheep, and it’s this massive celebration. We’ve been told that walking through the Medina you see blood and sheep heads everywhere. So we’ll see how that goes!