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Life in Russia through Moroccan Eyes

Life in Russia through Moroccan Eyes

Hamid Ait El Ceid moved to Moscow from Morocco a year ago to study in English-taught Master’s programme Political Analysis and Public Policy. Since arriving, he has learned about what it’s like to build the bridges between two completely different cultures.

— Russia seems like an unusual choice for someone from Morocco. Why did you decide to study in Moscow?

— Of course it is an unusual place to study for people from Morocco. Usually, Moroccans go to Western Europe or the United States. But I decided to come here because I wanted to discover this country. I had some basic ideas about it before and I was attracted by the Master’s programme in Political Analysis and Public Policy.

— Where did you obtain your undergraduate degree?

— In Morocco. I got my Bachelor of Linguistics from the University of Moulay Ismail, in the city of Meknes. After that I took a gap year to rest. At the same time, I was looking into some opportunities abroad. I decided to study at HSE because the programme was taught in English and I was also promised a scholarship, which is good motivation. There are very few Moroccans who live here, being a model for others and overcoming some stereotypes was also one of the reasons to come.

— Is the education system different in Morocco?

— It is. For instance, our Bachelor’s degree is based on three years, and the Master’s level is very different too. That said, there are also some similarities. In Morocco we also have to defend our Master’s thesis at the end of our studies, but what is distinctive about a Master’s programme in Russia, especially at HSE, is the innovative approach. In Morocco people just study academically until they reach their Master’s thesis defence. That is why so many recent graduates cannot find a job and end up unemployed. Here I was offered an internship for a month last year, and this year I will also have one. It is a good thing to tie study with work. That is the main advantage of getting a Master’s degree in Russia.

— Russia is very different from Morocco, especially in terms of religion. What can be said about that?

— That is a sensitive topic, but I will try my best to state my opinion. I am a Muslim but I believe in moderation and cultural openness towards other people, other religions and other civilizations. This is actually why I decided to come here. I used to believe I would have trouble with adapting to a new culture while preserving my religious and cultural values. However, on the contrary, I feel fine. I didn’t know that in Russia there are many Muslims who come from post-Soviet countries. Even though the language is different, we have some similarities and we understand each other.

I have lived in Russia for a year now and I have never been the victim of racism or any kind of discrimination based on my religion or my race. For example, usually I wear my ordinary clothes, but at the day of Kurban Bayram (Eid Al Adha as we call it), I was wearing a typical Moroccan outfit and people didn’t seem to pay a lot of attention, which was surprising. I do appreciate this; so far the attitude of Russians towards Muslims seems neutral because Muslims are already a part of Russian society.

— Did you find any differences in terms of state secularism? Morocco is a religious state and Russia is secular state.

— Not really. Morocco is located in the North Africa, which is not that far from Europe. If we look at the history of Morocco, we will find that the French have been there and they have copied their secular paradigm onto Moroccan society. In big cities like Marrakesh, Rabat or Casablanca you will find people behaving as Europeans. However, in the rural areas conservative people try to preserve their values and have strict Islamic beliefs.

— What can you say about Russians?

— Young people are always willing to help, some of them even accompany me to my destination. They are very open and are friendly with foreigners. There is a false stereotype that says Russians are very aggressive and rude, but from my experience that is not true at all. I like Russians for their love of life.

Prepared by Yulia Filimonova for online student magazine ReadSquare

Photo: Stas Mikrukov/ReadSquare

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