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What One of Our Female Colleagues Has to Say

We asked our teachers to give a short reflection on their experience living and teaching in Morocco. Veronica, a middle school teacher went a bit beyond a short quote! This is unedited, simply one teacher's reflections on her time in Casablanca and at CAS.

Life in Morocco
As a (young) single female, navigating life abroad will have its ups and downs---the adventure is worth it--but careful consideration before embarking is so important! It is so good to be able to paint a picture of what life ‘could be like,’ and so I will attempt to give details on what my life is like in hopes that it helps you make a decision.
What I have loved...
Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco. It is a huge city and there are a lot of things going on. In a big city you have many choices of activities that range from sports, clubs, beach, music, bars, entertainment, places of worship, etc. The trick is finding them!
Beach:
I am a very active person and personally love that Casablanca is on the water, and I can go to the beach often (a short taxi ride or a 5.5-mile run if you’re into running and have a friend to go with you).  At the beach, there are places where you can pay to lay out, go to a pool, and or take surf lessons for a really good price (100-150 MAD--10-15USD a session). The beach was and has been one of the major highlights of life here for me. I went surfing (well I'm learning) with other teachers on a regular basis from August-November and then during winter (December-February)  have gone to the beach to walk with friends and have a coffee/juice.

In addition to being able to go to the beach almost year round, you can wear bikinis--you just have to figure out where (where its most comfortable to do so)--you’ll see a spectrum of conservative dress  (women in Hijab’s) to european/western style dress on the beaches (*bikinis/sometimes speedos)-
Morocco is a land of contrasts-- and if you come, you’ll experience this daily.

Along the beach there are many cafes where you can get a juice, coffee, or tea and watch the sunset (I love that!).

Other Activities:
SALSA: Aside from the beach and taking surf lessons, I take salsa classes two nights a week at a local dance school. It is amazing! The only catch is its all in French (will comment on language more soon).
Taking a class outside of school community in an activity I enjoy has enabled me to expand my circle of friends and meet Moroccans. After class on Friday’s my salsa school hosts a party at a local club for anyone and everyone to dance salsa and its a lot of fun! In the thick of things going on at school, I find so much release and enjoyment in having this outlet and dancing!

YOGA: In the fall I also took Yoga lessons at a local studio just around the corner from my apartment. The studio offers a range of classes and I took Ashtanga lessons. I stopped going to lessons when I picked up Salsa class, but will probably go so more now in the spring.

Music: There are some clubs along the Corniche (which is like our beach/boardwalk area). There are also some restaurant/bars and a few bars that have live music. In the spring/summer there is a big musical festival in Rabat and again there is a lot going on--you just have to find it. Oh! There is live jazz sunday nights at Rick’s cafe!

Other Teachers: The staff is pretty cool! So many people have different talents and interests. I have enjoyed getting to know and work with other teachers at our school and being in community with them. Whether it be a Friday happy hour, an afternoon run, or a pick-up ultimate frisbee game, we get things going here and enjoy ourselves while doing it.

Meeting other Adults who are Expats: There are a few other international schools in Casablanca and the embassy hosts a get together in the fall and then teachers try also to get together at other times during the year.
I know a gal who has been kick starting internations events here in Casa as well. 

Dating: When I moved to Morocco this year I had a boyfriend in the States and we were attempting to do the long distance thing--however during my time here I’ve met some really cool people who have made my eyebrows raise with interest.  

So the Dating Scene:
Some teachers date other teachers at our school. Some date other teachers at other international schools. I know some teachers that have met Moroccans either using dating aps (Tinder/or other online social media connections). I know that some teachers have long distance relationships with people in other countries.  There also is a growing ‘chapter’ of an Internations club and I know that is a way to network and meet people too. 

Long story short--you can meet people-- 
However, I will say I’m not exactly sure what the gay/lesbian scene is like. I’m sure there is one, but Morocco, although a progressive country in many respects, seems to be behind with sexual expression/sexuality--and I guess I say this mainly because I don’t think I know any openly gay Moroccans and it is a Muslim country with conservative values first. I am in no way an expert here--this is just total speculation and thoughts on the subject as I try to share information.

Other Physical Activities: Crossfit/Running/Rock climbing--again--so much to do you, you just have to ask around and find it! One of our Moroccan teachers in HS is a great source for this! (Noha!)

Church/Places of Worship: I’m not sure if you’re interested but there are a few churches around in Casablanca--A Catholic church, an Anglican church, and an international Protestant church that I know of. I go to the international Protestant church. Although a Muslim country, Morocco has relative religious freedoms. Expats/Foreigners/Minority Faiths living in Morocco are free to practice their faith, but it is illegal for a Moroccan to convert to another religion. 

Challenges:  Living in Morocco is amazing--I love it here--The country is so beautiful, and there are so many things going on...but it is not easy--It is a challenge. Living in this country is not for the faint-hearted. The decision to move here is a big one. The important thing is that you make your decision wisely and that you know you have made the decision for yourself--when challenges arise, then you can be comforted by the fact that you knew that it would be difficult at times and life is just wanting to give you a new experience/teach you a new lesson.  With all that being said, here I go….

Language--do you speak French or Arabic? 
I am in the process of learning both languages--I will say it is definitely challenging and interesting to try to get around and get by. In Casablanca most people speak French and Moroccan Arabic (Darija). If you don’t speak Arabic or French you may feel a bit frustrated for a time...

Some Moroccans speak English. 

I speak English/Spanish and a little bit of Italian. Once I got here I began learning bits and pieces of French and Arabic (and I have a French tutor-a fellow colleague/friend). I am looking into summer language programs as well because you really have to go at language learning with intentionality here. Most of our working day is conducted in English, and once you are outside of school, you’re in an expat community and can easily stay in English if you so decided. 

If you speak French, you have a leg up for Casablanca! So brush up on it!

Safety: Casablanca is a huge international city. Just like any big city, there are precautions that should be taken just to be smart!  In general, I just use common sense and treat Casa and night time in Casa as I would in any major city. In addition, although I feel uncomfortable at times, I do not feel unsafe living here.

Here are some examples of general precautions: 
I do not walk around the city late at night by myself (typically after 10/11pm I don’t walk around by myself). 
I generally let other people know where I’m going if I’m going to be out really late.
There is some mild harassment that as young single western women we are subject to. For example, men will cat call or speak to you in Arabic (and I honestly have no clue what they are saying).  I have been followed by random guys for a block or two, and then they leave me alone. I have heard of other female teachers experiencing similar harassment and more/less extreme situations, but it’s not a common place. In general, I keep my head up and say hi to people in my neighborhood and then keep eyes mostly down in areas that aren’t my neighborhood to not engage guys who just want to engage you. 

A note* my female friends who have blond or light hair, light skin, & light eyes have experience more intense harassment & attention. 

I take taxis by myself (by day and night when going out to dance salsa),  have walked by myself, and grocery shop by myself--but when it comes to running in the afternoons/evenings or anywhere in public--I prefer to do that with at least one other person. At night my guy friends will escort me to take a taxi or walk me home.  My neighborhood guardians (security guards of different buildings) watch out for me as well, and I got locked out of my apartment building a few weeks ago at around 2 AM and a local guardian helped me until I was able to contact my own building guard to get in. I felt safe because of the people in the community who were around to help. I feel safe in my community---but I also feel aware and the need to be aware because I am in a foreign country.

Being Female:
I am very much aware of my gender in this country. But I mean to say that as just a general statement--not necessarily a negative thing. I am aware mainly because I often see more men out on the streets at certain times of the day or dominating cafes than women. 

I have traveled a lot and this is just another country to exercise street smarts, common sense, and figure out how to adapt/be flexible within a very different culture. 

If you expect the culture to change for you, you may be sorely disappointed--but if you recognize that they are different and prepare yourself to engage in the differences (which can sometimes seem absurd) you will be fine. 

Shopping: I miss certain products from the USA:

School supplies like duct tape and folders

Food like: brown sugar/brownie mix/Mexican food

Hair products: I order in the US and have friends who bring them to me. 

You can find almost anything you really need here---the thing is you just have to persevere and figure out where to shop. Things take time and this is just one of them.

Culture: Moroccans are awesomely hospitable and caring people. They are also on their own time frame and own page of life. This can be frustrating to efficiency driven Americans---be ready for things to take a long time. Again--the country and people are awesome--it just can be frustrating at times and uncomfortable. It’s not the US!

Questions for you….
Where are you from in the United States? 
Experiences you have had growing up will surely impact your outlook once in country.

I love Morocco. Its been quite the adventure so far--

Women in Morocco (taken from Morocco the Rough Guide to Morocco)

There is no doubt that, for women especially, travelling in Morocco can be a very different experience from travelling in a Western country. One of the reasons for this is that the separate roles of the sexes are much more defined than they are in the West, and sexual mores much stricter. In villages and small towns, and even in the Medinas of large cities, many women still wear the veil and the street is strictly the man’s domain. Most Moroccan men still expect to marry a virgin, and most women would never smoke a cigarette or drink in a bar, the general presumption being that only prostitutes do such things.

It should be said, however, that such ideas are disappearing among the urban youth, and you will nowadays find some Moroccan women drinking in the more sophisticated bars, and even more often in cafés, which were, until quite recently, an all-male preserve. In the Villes Nouvelles of large cities, and especially in the Casa–Rabat–El Jadida area, and in Marrakesh, you’ll see most women without a veil or even a headscarf. You’ll also see young people of both sexes hanging out together, though you can be sure that opportunities for premarital sex are kept to a minimum. Even in traditional Moroccan societies, mountain Berber women, who do most of the hard work, play a much more open role in society, and rarely use a veil.

 

Sexual Harassment

Different women seem to have vastly different experiences of sexual harassment in Morocco. Some travellers find it persistent and bothersome, while others have little or no trouble with it at all. Many women compare Morocco favourably with Spain and other parts of southern Europe, but there is no doubt that, in general, harassment of tourists here is more persistent than it is in northern Europe or the English-speaking world.Harassment will usually consist of men trying to chat you up or even asking directly for sex, and it can be constant and sometimes intimidating. In part this is to do with Moroccan men’s misunderstanding of Western culture and sexual attitudes, and the fact that some think they can get away with taking liberties with tourists that no Moroccan woman would tolerate.

The obvious strategies for getting rid of unwanted attention are the same ones that you would use at home: appear confident and assured and you will avoid a lot of trouble. Making it clear that you have the same standards as your Moroccan counterparts will usually deter all but the most insistent of men. No Moroccan woman would tolerate being groped in the street for example, though they may often have to put up with catcalls and unwanted comments. Traditionally, Moroccan women are coy and aloof, and uninhibited friendliness – especially any kind of physical contact between sexes – may be seen as a come-on, so being polite but formal when talking to men will diminish the chances of misinterpretation. The negative side to this approach is that it can also make it harder for you to get to know people, but after you’ve been in the country for a while, you will probably develop a feel for the sort of men with whom this tactic is necessary. It is also wise not to smoke in public, as some men still seem to think this indicates that you are available for sex.
 

Dress

How you dress is another thing that may reduce harassment. Wearing “modest” clothes (long sleeves, long skirts, baggy rather than tight clothes) will give an impression of respectability. Wearing a headscarf to cover your hair and ears will give this impression even more. One reader told us she felt a headscarf was “the single most important item of dress”, adding that you can pull it over your face as a veil if unwanted male attention makes you feel uncomfortable. Indeed, Western liberals often forget that the purpose of wearing a veil is to protect women rather than to oppress them. However, you will notice that many Moroccan women totally ignore the traditional dress code, and do not suffer excessive harassment as a result. As for immodestly dressed women being taken for prostitutes, the fact is that actual sex workers in Morocco are often veiled from head to foot, as much to disguise their identities as anything else.

Other Strategies

Other strategies to steer clear of trouble include avoiding eye contact, mentioning a husband who is nearby, and, if traveling with a boyfriend or just with a male friend, giving the impression that he is your husband. You should also avoid physical contact with Moroccan men, even in a manner that would not be considered sexual at home, since it could easily be misunderstood. If a Moroccan man touches you, on the other hand, he has definitely crossed the line, and you should not be afraid to make a scene. Shouting “Shooma!” (“Shame on you!”) is likely to result in bystanders intervening on your behalf, and a very uncomfortable situation for your assailant.
It is often said that women are second-class citizens in Islamic countries, though educated Muslim women are usually keen to point out that this is a misinterpretation of Islam.

While sexual equality has a long way to go in Morocco, in some ways, at least in theory, the sexes are not as unequal as they seem. Men traditionally rule in the street, which is their domain, the woman’s being the home. One result is that Moroccan women will receive their friends at home rather than meet them in, say, a café (although this is slowly changing) and this can make it difficult for you to get to know Moroccan women. One place where you can meet up with them is the hammam. It may also be that if you are traveling with a man, Moroccan men will address him rather than you – but this is in fact out of respect for you, not disrespect, and you will not be ignored if you join in the conversation. In any case, however interpreted, Islam most certainly does not condone sexual harassment, and nor do any respectable Moroccans. Being aware of that fact will make it seem a lot less threatening.