My name is Kate Solomon and I’m a third year Spanish and Arabic student. My course requires a year abroad in an Arabic speaking country so I spent last year at the Arabic Language Institute in Fez, Morocco.
Why Morocco? Well, that’s not too difficult a question, as I didn’t really have much choice! I’d had my heart set on going to Egypt since even before applying to Leeds, and up until July of last year that’s where I was planning to go. Until the FCO declared it unsafe for students, and my tutors in Leeds decided we would all be going to Fez instead. I guess that is maybe one of the negatives of picking Arabic, the volatility of a lot of the countries, but that definitely isn’t to say my year abroad wasn’t an amazing experience.
So why Arabic? That is harder to answer. At school I had always enjoyed languages, and did alright at them, so I figured that’s what I’d be studying at uni-but I fancied picking up something new. So when I saw that Leeds offered Arabic I thought, why not?
I found first year incredibly hard and when I arrived in Fez, I could barely string a sentence together. But the school that we were in– which was by no means big or ultra-modern, think the size of your primary school with similar 90s era technology – had the most incredible teachers who really motivated me. I’m still far from fluent, but I’m still amazed sometimes by how much I improved over the course of that one year.
Fez, for those of you that don’t know, is Morocco’s 3rd largest city, and one of the oldest of all cities in the history of Islamic civilisation. I was (un)fortunate enough to live in the oldest part of it, known as the Medina, which is also the world’s largest car-free zone- donkeys are the main mode of transport here! Whilst living in such a historical place was incredible, it wasn’t completely stress free… The internet would often disappear for no reason, and I remember well when we had no electricity of any kind for two days! However, this has definitely made me a lot more chilled out now!
What was more of a culture shock for me was the lack of things to do in the evenings. In Leeds, going out is such a big part of student life, but in Fez this was more or less out of the question. Some days the biggest bit of excitement of the day would be going to Carrefour – the big Western supermarket outside of the Medina.
But, one positive of living in a city with not much to do was of course all the travelling we did. I visited most of the main cities of Morocco and even had a weekend in Spain. Probably the highlight of my year abroad was a school trip to the Sahara in which we trekked on camels to an oasis and climbed up the sand dunes to see the sun rise. Yeah, not bad for a school trip!
My advice for anyone who has the opportunity to go on a year abroad is to really make the most of it. It’s a fantastic way to discover a whole new country and learn a language, not to mention a great way to do some travelling. If you’re going to go to somewhere like Morocco, it will be difficult at times, (especially if you’re a small, blonde girl like me) but it will definitely be worth it