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Heading Home

I sit writing this entry in Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for the connection flight that will take me home! In a whirlwind of a week, I submitted and presented my research thesis, packed up the little life I had in Rabat and said goodbye to the beautiful community that I have come to love so dearly in such such a short semester.

Feeling very relieved after submitting my final research paper. 

As I sit here in reflection, I am marveling at all that has transpired in the last 27 days alone. When I started my internship with the Center for Research and Studies in Values, I could not have imagined the adventures that would ensue. From gaining access to primary source interviews with innovative civil servants to finding myself within the royal palace walls seeking access to religious leadership, there were many moments in which I took pause to recognize the unique position I found myself in. The process was not without challenge. From unreturned requests for interviews, to  government control of access to religious leaders, it was often challenging to connect with individuals with lived experience that I believed crucial to my research. With persistence and an always-ready plan B, I came out the other end with a paper that I believe showcases just how much my mind was expanded within my month of interning and research.
Looking back at the process, my research really was a patchwork of moments that I said "yes". Yes to getting in contact with people introduced to me by colleagues, yes to attending workshops and government meetings where I didn't speak the language and yes to taking big leaps outside my comfort zone and wrestling with the experiences to produce conclusions that could be translated into text. While the 64 pages of my final paper sound impressive, I personally am much more impressed by the network of contacts and friends that I was able to build in such a short time frame. Even having been in-country for three months prior, engaging in independent research for the first time in a foreign country was a daunting task and I'm really proud of the network that I was able to build along the way.
It was a joy and a privilege to be welcomed into an office of a religious initiative of the King three days each week. Having worked within the bureaucracies and civil systems of Washington, spending time at Rabita Al Mohammedia Ulema (The League of Mohammedian Scholars) was a fascinating study in the similarities and differences between government cultures. Listening and learning, I doubted my true ability to "make a difference" or "give back" or any of the other buzzwords often used with study abroad. What I realized was that the intercultural exchange occurred in the most minute of ways. Conversations about big ideas like the separation of Church and state, interpretation of religious scripture, gender discrimination and more happened outside the confines of formal interviews and scribbled observations required for my research. It was through honest and open conversations that I had the privilege to challenge assumptions and perceptions of "American culture" and look more intimately at what I had come to know about Morocco from life with my host family.
My classmates gathered in the beautiful building of the Mohammedian Scholars, where I interned.
There is no doubt in my mind that interning and engaging in research enhanced my study abroad experience. I learned to take advantage of the ways in which people, their ideas and experiences are connected, and to learn from the stories they tell. I walked away with a paper about a government initiative little known by most of the Moroccans that I met--a framework being used to prevent violent extremism in Morocco. The final paper aside, I am seeing this topic, and an amalgam of related conversations with new eyes--and THAT is what I am so excited to bring home and share.
I am greatly looking forward to continuing the conversations I started in Morocco back at home. In doing so I hope to help my community engage in conversations that challenge the islamophobia and xenophobia that feel like part of the national narrative at the present. So much was shared with me, and I am still trying to find a word that expresses the my feelings that extend beyond the definition of "greatful".
My host brother, mother and aunt sharing couscous with me to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, a Moroccan national holiday.