Morocco | Semester Abroad | Human Rights | Gender | Islam | Arab Spring

Morocco: Multiculturalism and Human Rights

Examine challenges shaping Morocco and the Arab world: authoritarian rule, human rights, democratic transition, economic liberalization, civil society, Islamic movements, multiculturalism, and constitutional reforms following the 2011 Arab Spring.

This program examines human rights, religion, politics, and cultural diversity in Morocco contextualized within the broader region and beyond. You will consider Morocco’s cultural, historical, and ecological diversity and the role Morocco has played — historically and to the present day — in relation to Africa and Europe. A particular focus on gender issues includes looking at women’s roles in contemporary Moroccan society and Moroccan feminism.

Major topics of study include:

  • The interplay between authoritarianism and human rights
  • Tensions between secular and religious approaches to individual freedoms
  • Liberal reforms (proposed and enacted) in areas such as ethnicity, women’s rights, and state violence  

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award. These two students were chosen from a very competitive pool of 25 nominations drawn from more than 2,000 Independent Study Projects (ISP) completed over the past three semesters. Both will be nominated for the Forum on Education Abroad award for Academic Achievement Abroad. The SIT winners are:

  • Katherine Hirsch (Tufts University) for “A Critical Analysis of the Public Sphere: How the LGBTQ Movement Occupies and Utilizes Space in Morocco,” written on the Morocco:  Multiculturalism and Human Rights program in spring 2016. The work examines the ways LGBTQ individuals and organizations deploy public spaces in their resistance to a system that sidelines and represses sexual difference. “Her ISP is exemplary for a study abroad research endeavor,” writes program Academic Director Taieb Belghazi.
  • Henry Wilson-Smith (Stanford University) for “More Religious and Less Moral: The Changing Face of Religious Coexistence in Ladakh,” completed in fall 2015 on the program Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples. Academic Director Isabelle Onians writes, “This is a brilliant piece of work with a plethora of original data presented with impartiality, a sense of nuance and consummate art.”
Morocco: Multiculturalism and Human Rights was a truly wonderful program. I picked the program for its research component, and for me the Independent Study Project was phenomenal and hugely informative. My Arabic class was one of the best language classes I have ever taken—well organized and fast paced. Taieb’s assistance, kindness, and patience made the program successful. I really cannot underscore enough how formative, wonderful, and inspiring my semester with SIT was. I absolutely loved Morocco and am already planning to return once I graduate.

Katherine Butler-Dines, Georgetown University

MoroccoJourney through Morocco’s contemporary challenges and historical and cultural richness.

Moroccan society is a fascinating melting pot of different cultures: Berber, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, African, and European. The late Hassan II, king of Morocco, compared the country to a tree with roots spreading deep into the heart of Africa, a trunk solidly set in the Arabo-Islamic world, with branches reaching beyond Spain, Portugal, and France, into the heart of Europe.

Historically, the Moroccan empire was a major player in world politics; the legendary cities of Fes, Marrakech, and Essaouira — along with their monuments — are a standing witness of the country’s historical role.

Morocco is changing rapidly as a result of modernization and democratization efforts, yet its diverse cultures are deeply anchored in age-old traditions that emphasize community life, baraka (sacred blessing), fate, family, and honor. You will examine these present-day characteristics, challenges, and complexities in the context of the country’s past and place in the broader region.

Lectures at the Center for Cross Cultural Learning

The program is hosted by the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL), located in a seventeenth-century neighborhood in the old medina of Rabat. Thematic course lectures and lunch take place in the main CCCL building. Language classes are held at the Marassa Center, CCCL’s annex, an impressive early twentieth-century riad located one block outside the walls of the medina.

Discussions with Moroccan students

As part of the program, you will meet with your counterparts from Moroccan universities and discuss issues related to world affairs, Moroccan and American cultures and societies, and questions of stereotyping and racism.

Experiencing Morocco’s natural treasures

  • The Middle Atlas Cedar Forest. You will visit the biggest Atlas cedar forest in the world where you will learn about forest-protection projects, biodiversity, and social issues related to the forest directly from Moroccan Forestry Service officials.
  • Merzouga Dunes. While riding camels, you will experience the beauty of the ethereal Merzouga dunes and learn about the area’s biodiversity and culture of the Ait Khabbash tribe. At dawn, you will wake and hike to the highest dune to enjoy the sunrise and discuss the Erg Chebbi cultural ecology.

Independent Study Project

Moroccan market

You will spend four weeks, including one week of intensive preparation, near the end of the semester working on an Independent Study Project (ISP) in which you will pursue original research on a selected topic of interest to you. The ISP is conducted in Rabat or in another approved location in Morocco appropriate to the project.

Sample topic areas include:

  • Human rights
  • Islam in daily life
  • Women’s issues
  • Moroccan music and architecture
  • The Arab Spring
  • Cultural importance of cooking
  • Informal economy
  • Rural development projects
  • Multilingualism
  • Political pluralism
  • Nongovernmental organizations in Morocco
  • Rural schooling
  • HIV/AIDS in Morocco
  • Social organization among tanners
  • The Sahara question
  • Moroccan views of the outside world


There are no prerequisites; however, students with a background in French will find ample opportunity for French language practice while also learning both Moroccan and Modern Standard Arabic.

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Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Through the interdisciplinary coursework outlined below, students explore Moroccan society and culture, Arabic language, field research methodology, and independent research. The Multiculturalism and Human Rights in the Context of the Arab Spring course is divided into three components, each of which is coordinated by one or two scholars specialized in the field under question. Lecturers of renown as well as politicians and civil society activists are invited to talk to the students as part of this course. Intensive Arabic instruction is provided for students at many levels allowing all students to understand the culture more deeply. 

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Multiculturalism and Human Rights in the Context of the Arab Spring – syllabus
(AFRS3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course aims to introduce students to the major current debates in Morocco on the question of multiculturalism and human rights. The course focuses on the new political, cultural, and transnational context in the wake of the Arab Spring. The social revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East have led the Moroccan state to accelerate the pace of reforms. In July 2011, in a constitutional referendum, the people approved a new constitution that acknowledges Morocco's cultural diversity and institutionalizes the state's commitment to the respect and promotion of human rights and individual liberties. The course engages students in debates with Moroccan academics, artists, civil society activists, and policy makers on the development of a multicultural society in which Amazighi language and identity, Andalusian customs and traditions, sub-Saharan cultural roots and ethnicities, and Arab linguistic and religious mapping are equally celebrated in the public sphere. The course is divided into four main modules: History and Institutions of Human Rights in Morocco; Gender and Religion in Morocco, Post-Arab Spring; Multiculturalism and Social Movements; and Cultural Representations and the Arts. The objective is to facilitate forums to present and discuss a diversity of approaches, artistic and aesthetic schools, intellectual backgrounds, and political positions involved in the construction of Moroccan cultural identity and politics. Areas to be covered tackle the dynamics of Moroccan culture and society through an examination of manifestations of nationality, power, ideology, gender, class, ethnicity, and development. Overall, the approach of this course is multi-disciplinary, giving priority to understanding the multifaceted complexity of the questions raised. Its aim is to allow both the speakers and the students the freedom to relate the issues at hand through not only the readings but also through individual experiences and stories encountered in daily life and the challenging learning process across cultural boundaries.
Beginning Modern Standard Arabic – syllabus
(ARAB1000-1500 / 6 credits / 90 hours)
Intermediate Modern Standard Arabic – syllabus
(ARAB2000-2500 / 6 credits / 90 hours)
Advanced Modern Standard Arabic – syllabus
(ARAB3000-3500 / 6 credits / 90 hours)
Emphasis on speaking, reading, and writing skills in Modern Standard Arabic through classroom and field instruction. Based on in-country evaluation, students are placed in intensive beginning or intermediate classes, with further language practice of spoken Moroccan Arabic (darija) in homestays, lectures, and field visits. Moroccan Arabic and Arabic calligraphy are also part of the course.
Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course is designed to provide firsthand and experiential knowledge about the richness and challenges of conducting field study in Morocco. It provides the necessary conceptual and methodological thread that enables the student to learn from experience, to apply the knowledge and skills gained in language study and the thematic course, and to prepare the student to undertake field study in Morocco in strict observance of research procedure involving human subjects and the regulatory ethical norms defined by the Institutional Review Board. At the end of the course, the student should have the cultural understanding and the methodological tools to successfully complete their Independent Study Project. The course is also designed to answer specific concerns which the research on human rights generally raises. Multiculturalism and human rights involve minority groups, former political prisoners, families of victims of torture, policy makers, and international human rights organizations. The lectures address issues that pertain to research methods, confidentiality and anonymity of informants, data gathering and interviewing, and the safety and psychology of minority groups and victims of repressive systems. Individual meetings are scheduled throughout the course and aim to address research objectives and the expectations of each student.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
Conducted in Rabat or in another approved location appropriate to the project in Morocco. The Independent Study Project (ISP) offers students the opportunity to undertake significant, specific, and individualized independent study; students apply the concepts and skills of experience-based learning articulated and learned in all other program components. Although the ISP is largely conducted during the last four weeks of the program, considerable planning and preparation for the ISP is done throughout the term. The Research Methods and Ethics course addresses concepts and rationale, methods and techniques, and evaluation of field study, all designed to introduce the student to the general background of field study and to assist them with ISPs that will be of interest to them and relevant to the program theme. The actual fieldwork for the ISP begins with the ISP preparation sessions and individual sessions on resource search and identification of appropriate contacts and resources. Sample topic areas include: international and local nongovernmental human rights organizations in Morocco: cooperation and activism; inheritance rights and Itjihad in Morocco's modern society; childbirth in rural Morocco; Sufi poetry; the politics of expression among women in rural Morocco; the culture of volunteering in Muslim countries; code-switching and multilingualism in Moroccan music; fiction and the Moroccan Jewish community.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Gain new perspectives and insights into Moroccan culture and society through program excursions, field trips, and village stay.

kasbah in Morocco

The program visits the Middle Atlas, the Southern Palm Tree Valleys, the Erg and Hmada Deserts, the High Atlas, Marrakech, and Essaouira, as well as universities and NGOs throughout Morocco.

Topics of inquiry on excursions include Morocco’s history, indigenous industries, impacts of tourism, development issues, environmental problems, civil society questions, cultural diversity, and interactions between Berbers, Jews, and Arabs.

Through these excursions, you will learn to relate Morocco's geography and ecology to its diverse cultures and the historical roles played by different regions, cities, and towns.

During excursions, you will make observations and rapid appraisals, complete photographic essays and mapping exercises, and learn from lectures and presentations by experts and specialists.

  • Southern excursion: The southern excursion covers a wide geographic area; you will experience the Middle Atlas and its cedar forest, the High Atlas Mountains and their breathtaking gorges, and the desert. The excursion is punctuated by lectures and field study exercises. Topics of study include sustainability challenges in the Middle Atlas region, nomadic history and culture, and multiculturalism. You will have numerous opportunities to engage with the cultures of local communities. The excursion includes a camel ride on the sand dunes in Merzouga and a performance by a Gnawa music band in the heart of the desert.
  • Northern excursion: A weekend trip to the northern part of the country highlights Morocco’s cultural diversity, and you will learn about various topics related to multiculturalism and human rights. You will visit the city of Ouezzane, the spiritual capital of the north; Chefchaouen; Fnideq; and the enclave of Ceuta. Various themes are discussed during the excursion either through lectures by the academic directors or through presentations by students.
  • Village stay: The village stay takes place in the village of Ait Ouhai in the Middle Atlas Mountains in the province of Oulmes. Ait Ouhai is a reference to the tribe that settled in the area centuries ago. The spoken language in the village is Tamazight (Berber), and some families speak Moroccan Arabic. Most people work in agriculture and ranching. In addition to the homestay, which is one of the highlights of the excursion, you will participate in different activities, e.g., group discussions with villagers and with young students, activities with children at a local school, planting trees, hiking, and learning the local dance of Ahaidous.

BelghaziTaieb Belghazi, PhD, Academic Director

Taieb Belghazi earned his PhD in 1993 from the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University where he was a Chevening scholar. He later held a Fulbright postdoctoral scholarship at Duke University and was a member of the UNESCO-sponsored International Panel on Reading for All. He has been director of the Centre for Doctoral Studies: The Human and Space in the Mediterranean and professor of cultural studies and history of the present at the Faculty of Letters in Rabat. He has also been a visiting professor at a number of universities, including Duke University; the University of California, Irvine; and the Ferguson Centre for African Studies and Asian Studies at the Open University, England.

Dr. Belghazi has been a consultant for a number of projects, including the project Diaspora as a Social and Cultural Practice and the UNESCO project on reconceptualizing Mediterranean dialogues. He is a member of the editorial boards of the periodicals Time and Society (England), Current Writing (South Africa), and Al Azmina Al Haditha (Morocco). He has published a number of writings on social movements, the politics of identity, and global/local dynamics. His current research centers on the politics of the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East as well as on experiential learning. His most recent publications include Time and Postmodernism, 2012; Dialogues Khatibi Weber (editor), 2012; International Education and Global Justice: Rethinking the Politics of Sustainability (co-editor with Said Graiouid), 2012; “Les études subalternes et l’historiographie postcoloniale” (translation into French of an article by Dipesh Chakrabarty) in D’Inaouen à Istambul: Mélanges offerts à Abderrahmane El Moudden, edited by Abdelahad Sebti and Abderrahim Benhadda, 2012; and “Le dernier échange dialogique de Khatibi,” in Al Azmina al Haditha, summer 2012.

Abdelhay Moudden, PhD, Senior Advisor

Dr. Abdelhay Moudden earned his PhD in political science from the University of Michigan and has been a professor of political science and international relations at Mohamed V University in Rabat since 1978. He was the academic director of the SIT Study Abroad Multiculturalism and Human Rights program in Morocco from 1992 to 2013. In 1995, Dr. Moudden founded the Center for Cross Cultural Learning and since that time has served as the center’s academic director. In 2013, he was appointed Senior Advisor to SIT programs in Morocco. Dr. Moudden is a member of the Consultative Council on Human Rights and a former member of the Moroccan Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2004–2005). He has published several articles on Moroccan politics and culture and two novels, the latest of which, The Farewell Sermon, won the Morocco book award for 2004.

Additional program staff include:

DohaDoha Lmachichi, Homestay Director

Doha was born and raised in the medina in Rabat where most of the program’s host families are located; she knows every family with which the program works. Doha has been coordinating the program’s homestay component for approximately a decade. She studies the profile of students and families before assigning each student to a particular family. Doha remains a wonderful resource throughout the semester on every issue pertaining to the homestays.  

Nawal Chaib, Program Assistant

Nawal works closely with the program’s academic directors to help with the execution of certain managerial aspects of the program; she also helps students navigate their everyday needs and logistics. Nawal serves as the mediating channel between the SIT program and the Center for Cross Cultural Learning’s administrative management. Nawal accompanies the group on excursions and, if needed, accompanies students to the doctor to facilitate communication. Nawal has a BA in English studies from Ibn Tofail University, Kenitra, and has been working with study abroad programs since 2007. Nawal is a great resource for the students on aspects of Moroccan culture and society.

Bouchra Sahimda, Language Director

Bouchra is responsible for supervising the Moroccan Arabic language placement test, holding regular meetings with language instructors, teaching when needed, and overseeing the Moroccan Arabic language program. Along with other language instructors from the Center for Cross Cultural Learning, the program’s host institution, she brings years of language teaching experience to the classroom.

Program lecturers are drawn from the following institutions:

  • Mohammed V University
  • Hassan II University
  • Ibn Tofail University
  • Center for Cross Cultural Learning
  • National Council for Human Rights
  • Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture
  • Central Entity for the Prevention of Corruption
  • National Library
  • National Observatory for Human Development  
  • League of Muslim Scholars
  • Anjib Association, Oulmes

The family is the center of life in Morocco and most activities take place in the private sphere. Living with a Moroccan family further contributes to an immersive Moroccan experience. Host families are carefully selected and screened.

homestay in RabatRabat

You will spend eight weeks living with a host family in Rabat where you can practice language skills and get a closer sense of Moroccan culture and society "at work."

Host families share a passion for building cross-cultural friendships and typically invite their students to participate in the family’s daily life. Activities could include attending family parties, visiting relatives, going to the movies with a host sibling, enjoying long dinners, socializing with neighbors over Moroccan tea, and exploring medina souks, sites, and the city center.

Most host families live in the city’s historic medina and are a short walking distance from the Center for Cross Cultural Learning and downtown area.

Rural stay

You will stay for six days with a host family in Ait Ouahi, a village of about 400 inhabitants located in the Middle Atlas Mountains. The village is a short distance from Oulmes, a small city known for its mineral water, livestock, and fruit. The middle school, high school, and hospital used by the villagers are located in Oulmes.

Most of the residents of Ait Ouahi speak Tamazight (Berber), and a few speak Moroccan Arabic. Most families work in agriculture for local consumption. You will share in the daily activities of your host families: farming, taking care of livestock, cooking, and singing and dancing in communal ceremonies. You will also contribute to community development activities at the village’s elementary school (e.g., tree planting and teaching English) and engage in group discussions with village residents. Most homes in the village have electricity and Turkish toilets.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.

A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Professor, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Global Studies Instructor, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, Richmond, Virginia
  • Managing Editor, Fikra Forum, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, DC
  • PhD Candidate (international comparative education), Stanford University, Stanford, California
  • PhD Candidate (Malhun music), The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 28, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 10, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Jun 1, 2016


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $15,165

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in the thematic course on Multiculturalism and Human Rights in the Context of the Arab Spring. Lectures may address the themes of:
    • Visual arts in Morocco
    • Religion
    • Arab Spring: protests, reforms, and elections
    • Human rights
    • Family and youth in Morocco
    • Women, society, and change
    • Social movements
  • The Research Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review, which prepares students for successful completion of primary field research in Morocco for the Independent Study Project
  • Intensive language instruction in Modern Standard Arabic
  • All educational excursions to locations such as the cities of Casablanca, Azrou, Midelt, Erfoud, Merzouga, Errissani, Nkob, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Essaouira, Ouezzane, and the Spanish enclave Ceuta in northern Morocco, including all related travel costs 
  • Independent Study Project (an appropriate stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $3,035

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Rabat), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (eight weeks in Rabat and six days in a rural village)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly,  through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 120

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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