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Sarah Michiel: ‘I’m looking forward to being back in the office’

Sarah Michiel is the Institute Manager of NIMAR and has been living in Morocco since 2012. Due to the coronavirus, she has been working in Belgium since 20 March, where she grew up. The NIMAR office in Rabat is currently empty and all visits and conferences have been cancelled. Sarah is trying to run things as well as she can from Belgium, even though she misses her apartment and cats in Rabat.

‘This is the longest amount of time I've spent in Belgium in the past eight years. Just like everyone else, I miss the contact with my colleagues. I always liked working from home for a day, but now I am really looking forward to going to back to the office. The only person still at the NIMAR office is Rachid, our caretaker. He is holding the fort until we can go back. Thanks to his hard work, we are able to maintain the infrastructure there while we are away, and I talk to him regularly about practical matters, and to support him during this solitary period.’

The linchpin

‘In my role as institute manager, I am both the NIMAR’s operational manager and the scientific director's main sparring partner. I coordinate the day-to-day running of the institute: the finances, personnel-related matters, and all activities that are not part of our regular study programmes. My colleagues Yara and Karim are responsible for the Culture and Society in Morocco minor and the Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Morocco spring semester. We discuss the content and organisation of the courses on a regular basis. An institute manager's duties are very varied and my working days are quite unpredictable.’

At home everywhere and nowhere

‘After my Master's degree in translating Arabic and French in Tangier, I decided to stay for a while. But “for a while” just got longer and longer. When the Faculty of Humanities took over NIMAR in 2015, as assistant coordinator I helped to prepare for the relaunch. When we received the first cohort of students in February 2016, I started working as an Arabic teacher and helped with all kinds of other activities. I was offered the institute manager job not long after that.

‘I sometimes felt torn, as a Belgian working for a Dutch institute in Morocco. I feel at home in Rabat, but not completely. But at the same time, I sometimes wondered whether I would ever be able to get used to life in Belgium again, or in the Netherlands. Fortunately, people can adapt quite quickly if they need to. More than anything, it's made me realise just how wonderful it is to feel a bit at home everywhere.’

Once a homebody...

‘I’m a bit of a homebody. I love cooking, reading, translating, and doing puzzles and colouring to unwind. I do miss my apartment and my cats in Rabat – a homebody prefers to be in their own house, after all. When I’m in Belgium it’s always a good opportunity for me to see friends again, which is nice. Not being able to do that because of the coronavirus felt really strange. But they started relaxing the rules here a few weeks ago, so hopefully I’ll be able to see some more people before I head back to Morocco.’

Sarah’s message

‘It's heart-warming to see how everyone in our faculty takes care of each other: colleagues helped to ‘evacuate’ our students and to arrange my own departure, but I also received many messages from them shortly after I’d arrived in Belgium asking how I was getting on. I think the past period has made us realise what really matters, and I hope we won't forget that when the world gets back to normal.

‘I hope those colleagues who have worked extra hard during this period will be able to get some rest during the summer. And I hope that the students will soon be back in the lecture halls or be able to enjoy a semester abroad – at NIMAR for example!’


Leiden University launched the institute in Rabat, where students can spend a semester abroad in both the spring and autumn in 2015. NIMAR staff also facilitate collaborations between Dutch and Moroccan researchers and acquire works for the University Library's Maghreb collection. The institute’s impact activities help to establish networks and stimulate dialogue between Moroccan and Dutch students and civil society.

The Humanities at Home series is the temporary replacement for Humans of Humanities. We will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members of students, every other week. What are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

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