Today I received an email asking me which school I prefer in Morocco: Qalam wa Lawh or ALIF. As I receive many questions about language schools, I've decided to publish my response here. The student is coming from a security studies background, so the response is in some ways tailored to him.
It’s nice to hear from you. I’m glad that you found the blog insightful. You are writing at a good time, because I am currently a student at Qalam wa Lawh so my thoughts on the two schools are fresh!
First, I’ll say that either school will meet your needs. I have studied at ALIF four or five times, and at Qalam just this past summer. In general, Qalam is better at administration, answering emails quickly and thinking of small useful things (like a shuttle from student residences to the school), while ALIF has more experienced language instructors and a longer pedigree of working with American students. Qalam has some fun programming elements that are included in the hours of classes, so some of your time will be spent in journalism club, Islamic club, etc. This has pros and cons. Sometimes it allows for learning interesting vocabulary and sometimes it is a waste of time as speakers are late or you are stuck listening to a student with less language experience than you struggle to make a comment.
Additionally, ALIF gives classes two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. The break tends to make each class more well-organized, in my opinion. At Qalam, all four hours are right in a row and teachers and students fatigue. I find that at Qalam we frequently spend more time on activities than we need to, in part trying to fill the time. Add to that that the teachers are a bit better at ALIF, and I think the quality of instruction there is better. Nevertheless, Qalam has some unique elements that make it a fun place to study. There are lectures from guest speakers given in Modern Standard Arabic, and field trips and tours given also in MSA. ALIF also has speakers and field trips, but they are less consistent in the use of MSA in these extracurriculars.
Despite the differences in these schools, in my opinion the most important thing to do to assure a successful time here in Morocco is not to pick a particular school but to start with six weeks of Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, darija, before you continue your studies of Fusha or Modern Standard Arabic. Dialect is indispensable and necessary for all of your interactions throughout the year. Then you can continue with either language as your needs determine.
Second, I’d say that since both schools offer excellent quality instruction, you may want to pick your location based on your research interests. In this regard, it may make sense to spend your first six weeks in Fez studying MCA at ALIF, and then the rest of your time in Rabat at Qalam where you will be closer to government offices and be better situated to work on your research.
I’d also recommend that during the first six weeks you live with a host family in the old city of Fez, and that you request to have a host family that knows no French or Fusha, to force you to learn as much colloquial as possible. Then, when you move to Rabat, I recommend that you either stay in one of the student residences offered by Qalam in Agdal or that you rent your own apartment. It is wonderful living with a family, but it does distract from research, and gives your days a degree of unpredictability that could harm your productivity. This is why I recommend an intensive period of interaction in your first six weeks living with a family, and then a more controlled environment once you come to Rabat.
These are my general thoughts. Let me know if you find this approach useful. I am happy to answer any other questions that you have. Just let me know what they are.