While it’s more fun to show pictures of all the adventures I’m having, the reality of study abroad is that it is, in fact, study abroad. There’s fun and road trips and adventures and getting hopelessly lost in the medina and taking endless photos of street cats, but there’s also six-to-seven-hour days of classes to make up for all the time spent on excursions. But after all, the education aspect is why I’m not just taking an extended Moroccan vacation. As always, education means homework.
In the U.S., I prefer to study in coffeeshops and libraries: if you live in Iowa City, there’s a non-zero chance you’ve seen me at High Ground or Java House. I’m there every single day. Thankfully for me (and my coffee obsession), hanging out in cafés is “the national sport,” according to one of our tour guides. Walking in Rabat, particularly right outside the medina, you can’t look down a block without seeing at least one café. However, as in Iowa City, not all cafés are created equal. In the case of a student, this means that not all cafés in Rabat have wifi, are laptop-friendly, and cheap. On average, a cup of coffee costs about a fifth as much as in Iowa City, but kiss your favorite pour-over goodbye and get ready for café-au-lait and espresso variations. Before suggesting any cafés, I will warn you: indoor smoking is allowed in nearly every space in Rabat, except the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL) and its annexes, where SIT holds its classes. So, be warned. I’ll mention which spots have less smoke, because I know that effects where I choose to study.
And, without further ado, the definitive list of my favorite study spots, in order from most to least frequent:
1. Café-a-l’étage, Renaissance Cinema
Just as hipster and fancy as it sounds, the Renaissance is also a movie theater featuring international blockbusters. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch a Version Originale (basically, English version) showing of whatever movie your friends at home won’t stop spoiling. The café itself is spacious, with some outdoor balcony seating, big windows, and the fanciest chandeliers I’ve seen in any coffeeshop. In addition to coffee, the Renaissance has meals, snacks, and brunch on Sundays. Just don’t plan to study on Monday nights; there’s live music with a cover fee. As for cigarettes, the Renaissance does live up to that hipster standard. On days when the balconies are open, it’s usually enough to sit outside or by a door, and in general, if someone notices you getting upset by their smoke, they’ll move. As far as price, the Renaissance is up there, but in this case, “up there” means that a café-au-lait is 14 dirhams—which converts to about $1.50. Which is not at all expensive for those of us accustomed to shelling out for Java House lattes. And, as a last pro, the Renaissance is a frequent study spot for female Moroccan students, so a girl by herself on her laptop doesn’t feel as out of place as in some other cafés. Cafés are generally pretty male-dominated, so this is a major plus in my book.
Another café with a strongly female clientele, Shazine is definitely on the fancier side. Usually not too full, you might get some looks from the wait staff if you stay for hours (like I did this morning), but it’s more of the “how do you possibly have five hours of things to do on your laptop” kind of looks than the “buy more than just one coffee or get out” kind of looks. I’m also enough of a regular that one of the waitresses recognizes me. Shazine has, in my opinion, the best coffee in the Hassan district. Like the Renaissance, they have a wide selection of snacks, meals, and more cakes and pastries than is probably healthy for my wallet or my waistline.
3. La Comédie, La Majestique
Right across the street from the Renaissance, La Comédie is a little cheaper, and has two levels of seating, as well as a wide range of pastries and confectionary. The smoke situation is usually a little better than the Renaissance, due to both extensive outdoor seating and a designated smoking section on the second floor. I’ll be honest, I’ve only studied here once so far, because it’s always too full to find somewhere to set up a laptop. Even if you can find a table, they have a 1-hr-per-order rule, although I’ve never seen it enforced. Overall, it’s a very nice café for grabbing coffee and pastries with friends but is not a phenomenal study spot. Very similar to La Comédie and just half a block down, Majestique is wonderful, but more bakery than coffeeshop, but has some of the best outdoor seating in the area. Not ideal for working on laptops, but was absolutely ideal when I had a creative writing story I needed to print and edit for an application. Majestique has the added benefit of 160 dirham ($17) very, very fancy birthday-type cakes, as well as frequent musicians busking on the pedestrian walk right in front. Lovely live music, great scenery, good vibes.
4. Kasbah Oudayas Café
This open-air café is tucked inside the Kasbah, the fortified city that is the oldest part of Rabat. Right on the mouth of the Bou Regreg River, it definitely has the most beautiful views, although it’s probably the most touristy place I’ve been in the entire city. The café has no wifi and no outlets, but, like Majestique, is lovely to work on non-digital homework or to go with friends.
5. Hotel Oudayas
Technically the hotel café, but small, cozy, and almost always empty. This is the closest café to the main CCCL center. While I tend to spend my time south of the medina, closer to my homestay, this café is a mainstay to those in my program who live closer.
6. Musée Café
Like the modern art museum it’s attached to, this café is not really geared toward the general public. It’s a little smaller, a little pricer, and quite a bit farther from school and homestays than any other on this list. However, it has an absolutely phenomenal pecan tart and American pop music, in case you miss hearing music over loudspeakers with words you understand.
7. CCCL Laalou: Cafeteria and Terrace
Laalou is the main center for CCCL, where students take their lunches. The cafeteria is usually pretty empty when it’s not lunchtime, and if you still want coffee, there’s a coffee vending machine on the second floor that has shockingly good espresso for being the equivalent of $0.30 and also made by a robot. The terrace is honestly my favorite place in the city, and would rank higher on this list if I wasn’t always too distracted by the view to focus on actually getting work done.
CCCL Legza - The annex where we have our seminar lectures, Legza houses the CCCL library, books for lending, and many, many, many outlets. For a quiet place where you don’t feel obligated to buy anything, the only downside is that the annex closes at 5:30 pm.
8. The Beach!
Although, again, not ideal for laptops, the beach is wonderful and absolutely mind-blowing to my very Midwestern self. It’s just the Atlantic. Right there. I could touch it.
Jillian Swanson is an English and anthropology major at the University of Iowa. She will be spending her semester in Rabat, Morocco, as part of the SIT Morocco Multiculturalism and Human Rights program.