Expat Tales: With Love from Morocco
Last Updated on February 16, 2022 by Carolyn
Last year we had the pleasure of meeting Gary Westphalen who told us his tale of moving to Costa Rica during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us dream of ditching our mundane lives and starting a new life in some foreign country. Today we’re going to meet a lovely young lady, Katelynn Marfousi who did just that moving from the icy northern frontiers of Alaska to the sultry tropical climate of Morocco, all in the name of love.
Katelynn is a writer and blogger. Her writings can be found at Crossculturelove.com and KateSortino.com.
Where is Morocco?
Not sure where Morocco is? Look on a map and you’ll find it is a country in Africa on the North-West tip of the continent, directly across the Mediterranean Sea from Spain.
Morocco is very hot in the summer with temperatures around 30C, but Spring and Autumn are temperate. It gets very cold in the winter.
When I think of Morocco I conjure up images of deserts and camels but a large part of Morocco is also mountainous.
What City and Country are you Originally from?
Seattle, Washington, USA.
Have you spent most of your life there?
No most of my adult life has been spent in Alaska. I have moved over 60 times in my life. We lived all around the Pacific Northwest growing up, and we were very transient people.
In what City and Country are you living now? Did you move there alone or with family?
I moved to Kénitra, Morocco to be with my now-husband.
How long have you lived there? How long do you intend to stay?
I’ve been here about six months. We will be here just a few more months before we go on to our next destination. My husband is completing his education and has a contract as a teacher that he needs to fulfill. When that contract finishes up, we’re going to spend an indefinite amount of time traveling while we work online.
What spurred the move?
I had been planning and saving to leave Alaska for several years. I had intended to travel the world for two years, and I had all the savings ready but then the world shut down. It was during the pandemic that I met my husband online. We started talking, and once I was fully vaccinated, I came to visit him, and the rest is history. I moved here in May 2021.
What is your occupation? What have been some career highlights?
I worked in social services and addictions counseling for over ten years in Alaska, predominantly with Alaska Native indigenous populations. I moved to Morocco without a real plan, just a vague idea of possibly teaching online. I had enough savings to last for a while, but then I got into writing, and now I’m a full-time writer. I’ve always loved writing and it’s incredible to do something that I love and get paid for it.
What’s your favorite place to visit in the whole wide world?
I love Croatia and Ireland. Anywhere that has quaint little old towns with gorgeous architecture and history. I feel like I’m going to love Europe when I get to explore more of it.
Do you have a secret talent?
I think I’m pretty good at giving advice. I genuinely enjoy listening and helping people problem-solve. My husband thinks it’s pretty funny, and sometimes he’ll walk into a room where I am chatting with some random person on Reddit, and he’ll be like, “who are you helping now?”
What indulgence would you spend your whole paycheck on?
Starbucks! No matter where I go in the world, Starbucks will always remind me of home. We have one near our house in Morocco, and I get it too much but it’s my splurge. I can handle a lot of change as long as there’s a Starbucks within a 15-mile vicinity!
Favorite food or drink?
Venti iced Americano with half and half!
Your happy place Mountains or Beach? City or Country:
Definitely the mountains, and definitely the city. I know that those are extremes, but I’m very much an Alaskan when it comes to my love of mountains. In Alaska, I spent most of my free time exploring the mountains and the wilderness. But I also love a bustling metropolitan. I’m not sure I could ever live in a big city again, but I do enjoy visiting my family in New York City and all the cultural opportunities a large city offers.
Music forever on repeat:
Indie folk. I mix it up, but I always return to my folk roots.
I love travel memoirs! Right now, I’m reading An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington by Karl Pilkington and The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson.
Do you have any pets?
I’m a big dog person. I love dogs, and we have one dog. We hope to rescue many more dogs when we finally settle down and buy a house.
How long was the process from the day you decided to move and moving?
I had been planning to move for several years. I was drowning in student debt despite paying on it religiously since graduating college. I picked up a second full-time job and worked seven days a week for two years to pay off the debt. Every penny from my second job went to the debt payment, until it was fully paid off, and then, after that every penny went into travel savings. I sold nearly everything I owned, downsized my life considerably, and then I had every intention to travel the world, starting June 2020. I had no plans to settle in one place for any length of time, and certainly not Morocco until I met my husband. I can honestly say I wouldn’t live here if not for him. We think Europe is our next destination.
What were your first impressions of Morocco?
I had been here once before moving, so it wasn’t a total culture shock. However, I feel like there’s a big difference between visiting and living for most places, especially for Morocco. For example, there is a ton of trash everywhere. When I visited, I noticed the trash, but it didn’t bother me. Then when I moved, I was a lot more bothered by it. It just gets depressing after a while, seeing a gorgeous, beautiful landscape just covered in trash. Everywhere. All the time. So much trash.
What do you enjoy most about Morocco? What have been some of your favorite experiences?
Morocco has some extremely beautiful places; up north near Spain, the beaches, the mountains and the ancient cities. I had it in my mind that Morocco is mostly just sand and dirt, but there’s a lot of unexpected, lush green wilderness. It’s way more diverse than a lot of people might realize. Plus, some of the beaches are out of this world. Traveling with my husband and his family (now my family) has been completely lovely, and so much fun.
What do you dislike most about Morocco? Do you miss anything from your past home?
There are a lot of things that are much, much harder here than in the states. It’s a developing country, and having the amenities of the United States is unrealistic. But I don’t think I quite realized how much I took for granted in the states. Simple things, like getting a service you pay for. It took us several months to get our Internet when I first got here, just because there’s no real incentive for anybody to follow through with the things they’re getting paid for. There’s no competition for services, so you can’t just go to another Internet company if the Internet is terrible. You have one option, so they can take their time and drag things out and take more and more money for nothing. This extends to government services, grocery stores, everything. Customer service isn’t really a thing here.
There’s also a real lack of diversity. A lot of the food tastes the same, a lot of the stores carry the exact same items, and everybody uses the same primary spices. The food is good, but it’s very much slight variations of the same thing. Sometimes I miss walking into a Kroger and getting whatever my heart desires. Here, every restaurant is basically the same, every store is basically the same. It can get a little bit monotonous. We’re incredibly spoiled in the U.S. in terms of choices.
I think Morocco is quite polarizing. You either love it, or you hate it. I certainly am happier here than I was in the states thanks to my husband and my extended family and my new career, but I really don’t particularly like Morocco. I’m making the best of it, but it’s not at all where I want to set roots and build a life.
What are the biggest adjustments you have had to make settling into expat life in Morocco? Did you experience any culture shock?
I went from being highly independent for over 30 years, to almost becoming completely dependent on my husband, especially when we lived more on the outskirts of town. There weren’t any shops to walk to, and driving here is very different from the states. The level of dependency was a scary adjustment. If it weren’t for my husband, I don’t think I could have adjusted to such a dramatically different country.
The culture shock was intense, honestly. I knew Morocco would be different, but I don’t think I was exactly prepared for how different it is.
What language is spoken in Morocco?
Moroccon’s speak a regional dialect of Arabic called Darija (Moroccan Arabic). It’s a tricky language because it’s mostly spoken or written in classic Arabic characters. Plus, there’s no standardized Latin spelling for most of the words, everybody spells things very differently.
Has it been easy meeting people and making friends? Have you made friends with locals or do you mainly mix with other expats?
I was fully expecting and excited to make friends with locals when I moved here, but the language barrier is an issue. I was over-confident in my ability to just “pick up” a language when immersed in the culture. I would probably learn a lot more if my husband didn’t do 100% of the translating when we’re in public. More people speak English now than ever, but most still speak Moroccan Arabic and French. I’ve met very few people that speak English, and my Arabic is not good enough to hold a conversation. I have made some friends with expats, some lovely ladies, but it gets a little bit lonely. I’m hoping that I’ll have an easier time making friends when we move.
Can you give us a rough idea of your monthly cost of living in Morocco?
The cost of living is relatively low, but you need to pay more for a higher standard of living. When I first arrived in Morocco and I didn’t have a job, we were solely relying on my savings and my husband’s income. We spent a lot less. Our rent was only 1500 dirham (about $160 USD). But the place we were living in was not very good. Once I finally started working, we moved into our current apartment in the city center. It’s much nicer and a lot closer to stores and cafés so when my husband is at work, I don’t feel so isolated. It’s 3000 dirham (about $319 USD).
Our typical expenses look like:
- 3000 dirham for our apartment ($319 USD)
- 350 dirham for high-speed Internet ($37 USD)
- 500 dirham for our utilities ($53 USD)
- 1000 dirham for food ($127.60)
- 200 dirham for gas ($21.27)
- 300 dirham for phone service ($32 USD)
What is the Cost of :
A loaf of bread: About $1.00, though most people buy circles of bread called khobz fresh each day and they cost about .10 cents each.
A dozen eggs: About a $1.00
Coffee: I still get Starbucks regularly ground coffee, it’s my one American splurge and it reminds me of home. The cost is on par with the rest of the world, about $9 for a bag. If you were to get local coffee, it would only be maybe $1 or less for a pound.
A beer: I wouldn’t know! We aren’t drinkers. Alcohol is not very common outside of bars.
For more about the cost of living in Morocco, Katelynn has a very comprehensive post on her blog: What it Costs to Live in Morocco
If you own pets, did they come with you?
My husband surprised me with a dog! I’ve wanted to adopt a dog for a while, and one day I came home to find our new puppy!
What is one tip you’d give someone contemplating a similar move?
Just do it! Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Just save what you need and go. Life is so short. Don’t wait until the stars perfectly align to make your dreams happen, go for it. You can always go back home if it doesn’t work out.
This is inspirational!
Thank-you, that’s exactly what I want this blog to be, inspiring!
My friend went on a trip to Morocco and LOVES it now
It would definitely be an experience either to visit or stay a while.
Thanks for letting us share our journey! <3
Thank-you for sharing it!
Walk Along With Us
I so want t visit Morocco! And your photo enhanced that even more. Thanks for sharing!
I bet it would be a very interesting visit, I’d like to do a tour of Africa and add it to my journey!