The Qasida in Morocco—A Medieval Bedouin’s Journey

In this course, students explore Morocco’s history and culture through the lens of Bedouin and Islamic interaction and intersection. Through experiential learning, students consider such questions as the following: What were the various cultural influences in Morocco throughout history, and how are they expressed and preserved in Moroccan language and culture today? How did the universal and modernizing effects of Islam support and/or clash with the traditional values of the Bedouins of the desert?

Students spend the first several days of this 10-day adventure in the Berber village of Dbiti, where they learn Arabic and work on a service project with primary school students during the day, and visit with local families for tea each evening. They then venture out into the Sahara on camels to spend the evening in a Bedouin camp and enjoy the rhythmic beats of desert musicians around a campfire. After sandboarding and getting to know the locals, students head south to explore the 14th-century village of Ait Benhaddou, where they practice their language and bartering skills while embarking on a group scavenger hunt and spend the night in a mud brick Kasbah room. Weaving their way through the towering peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, they then transition to park Terres D’Amanar for a highropes and ziplining adventure. For the final days of the course, students head to Marrakech, where they meet with local youth to exchange stories about their lives and engage in an open dialogue about religion, culture, education, and life in Morocco. The trip then culminates with a visit to Bin Youssef Madrasa, a stunning 12th-century Islamic school and hallmark of Islamic and North African architecture, and a walk through the 1,000-year-old markets (souqs) to one of the most authentic spice shops in Marrakech. Here, students learn about spices and herbs and their role in local culture. Students then celebrate with a farewell dinner in Jamya al-Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Throughout their journey, students engage in journaling and guided discussion about their experiences, with a culminating essay and presentation to their classmates upon return.