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Yesterday, my host mother politely asked me if it was possible that I move into the guest bedroom during my last two days in the program. She told me that an IES Rabat summer exchange student will be beginning his or her program those two days before I leave, and he or she will be moving into my bedroom. After all that my host mother had done for me, of course I said yes.  But I would be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little. For the past five months I’ve felt as if I was someone special in my homestay. Like I was a part of the family. Like I was her son.

And I still was. My host mom packed me lunches, changed my sheets, and would cook cous cous in the masses for me to share with her and her five actual sons. I was a part of the family, but in a week, I would be going. Replaced by another IES Rabat exchange student in my final days. To be completely honest, I felt slightly annoyed that I would be moving out of my bedroom to make way for my replacement. Sort of like when the youngest child realizes that another baby is on the way; I couldn’t help but feel jealous.

I went for a walk later that day, taking my usual route. I said labas to my hanout man who appropriately smiled back with an L’Hamdulillah and a free Snickers. I walked along the beaches, dabbing up Nabil who urged me to throw on a wetsuit, “The waves are green, not white today, brother.” Even Abdessamad (the youngest of my five host brothers) was out on his motorcycle, screaming khouya at me as he sped by. (Abdessamad spoke no English or French. We communicated through slap-boxing. He was immense, gigantic, capable of fits of cosmic anger, sitting at the world’s border, doing his night watchman’s job. He was an Assas).

It all hit me so quick. There’s going to be a new kid moving into my bedroom. My bedroom. Suddenly, this community that I had worked so hard to become a part of was all going to be gone within a week. Where I lived, I could lose any cop through the nooks and crannies of the medina, I could show you all the best street food spots, and I had made enough friends in the medina to build a football roster. And as of yesterday, I was being reminded that I was just another study abroad student in a homestay that moved exchange students in and out like a freshmen dorm. Yeah, it stung a little.

So, what does this all have to do with my service experience in Rabat. For starters, maybe volunteering is just masturbation. Maybe volunteering is meant for the volunteer to pat themselves on the back for the work that they’ve done, and then return back to the States to proceed with their daily lives. After all, next week I will be replaced by another study abroad student who may also be coming to Rabat with bright eyes, hoping to improve the community through various acts of service. How many exchange students were there before me who volunteered in Rabat?

Yeah, I know. I sound angry. More so like a jealous boyfriend.

Maybe Mr. Healy was right. “Never write with jealousy.” But to that I’d say, I don’t think I’m jealous, I honestly think I’m just writing with sadness. Sad that I’m going to have to leave soon. My previous blog posts speak for themselves. I taught English classes, planted trees, cleaned the beaches, took care of orphaned cats and dogs, helped the homeless, and wrote research papers. However, despite my sad, angry, and jealous state I’m about to contradict myself: those acts weren’t for the benefit of my own self-esteem. If anything, by committing myself to service in Rabat I became closer with the people in the community more than I ever could’ve believed when this program began.

Of course the people of Rabat have gotten used to American students living in their city and devoting themselves to service, but it’s not like they viewed the work that was being done as any less. I’m marginal enough in this city as it is. If anything, volunteering was a mechanism for inclusion, for friendships, and for being accepted into the family. Through the acts of service that I had done, I had demonstrated to the people of Rabat that I didn’t see their home as just another Arab/Muslim country (or “Sandbox” as a stranger had so politely put it). When I taught English or picked litter off the street, I was showing that as an American that comes from a privileged world, I see the beauty in their sandstone streets, and their thundering minarets. I see the preciousness in their religion that calls the country together, or their cous cous fridays that calls families together. The long periods of idleness, the frustrations, the wish to drink out in the open, I loved it all, and I was a part of it all!

At the end of the day, the most important act of service that I had done was showing that I loved Morocco, and that I loved Rabat, and that I loved every face hidden behind the hood of a djellaba.

I cared. And yeah it sounds corny, but if anything, it’s arrogant of me to believe that I will go down as the greatest volunteer Rabat had ever seen. It’s inevitable that I will be forgotten in time, but I’m okay with that. I know that the volunteer work that I had done had made a lasting impact on the friends that I made, because I saw the true value of Rabat. And as a result, I saw the true Rabat.

Maybe that’s the whole point of volunteering. I don’t know.

I cannot believe that I am at the tail end of my abroad program. I’ll never forget my first week of orientation and thinking to myself, “This is going to be the longest semester of my life.”

            It wasn’t.

            When your weekday is filled to the brim with classes, cultural immersion activities, work, and surfing, it is easy to lose track of the months. But here I still am, writing to you about my service experience that has been so prominent throughout my semester abroad.

            The first half of the semester I felt as if I properly committed myself to the community of Rabat through various acts of service. I worked with the poor, became a role model for children, cleaned the beaches and ocean, planted trees, and took care of homeless cats and dogs. The service that I did spanned an array of activities that all came with immediate gratification, where I saw first hand how my actions helped the community. While this was of course rewarding [in that I felt more connected with the people of Rabat] I wanted the second half of my community service journey to focus more so on the long-term affects of service. This comes in the form of research, and I’ll explain why.

            Outside of school, I intern at the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA). This job has been a blessing, and has provided me with so many opportunities. One of which was meeting consular officers from the U.S. Embassy and U.S State Department in Rabat. I was invited to have dinner with a few U.S. State Department foreign service officers, and at the dinner table we discussed the world of foreign service and the work that they did. I asked one officer named Ryan (who everyone called “The Boss”) if he could see the physical results from the work that he and his colleagues were doing.

            “Maybe there is a paper I wrote that will help the Moroccan government in the next decade,” he responded, with a smile.

            He then proceeded to explain how when you commit yourself to foreign service, specifically in the world of public policy and international affairs, you sacrifice feelings of instant gratification. However, That doesn’t mean that the work you’re doing is any less fulfilling. It just means that it takes a longer process for your work to be recognized, implemented, and then impact the community. Whether it is a paper on the importance of feminism, the hidden LGBTQ community in Morocco, the reception of western media, or the flow of innovation through trade; all research, essays, and studies done are meant to aid the Moroccan community in the long-run.

            During the second half of my program I have committed myself to long-term forms of service. Through my internship at the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, I have conducted thorough research on the topic of the acceptance of Islam in the western world. I believe that I have a very unique perspective on this issue, having many Moroccan friends with pretty radical views of the United States and democracy. I draw connections between isolationism to radicalism among young Muslim men, and I also critique American and European cultures for isolating Muslim communities. My paper will be published at the end of the semester on the MIPA website, and I hope that in the long-run my work will be cited, shared, praised, debated or even rebuked. Regardless, I know that I will not see the immediate effects of my work, like my physical acts of service, but I hope that my paper will serve the community of Rabat long after my return back to the states.

Labas? Labas L'Hamdulillah!

How are you? Good, Praise be to God!

It was an exchange I made with almost every Moroccan on the street. Whether it was my host dad, my professors, or my hanout guy, it wasn't uncommon to say L'Hamdulillah after almost every greeting. At first I felt like I was appropriating a culture, a culture that I was new to. I was a foreigner still, with a target on my back for all the merchants and vendors to try and scam me out of a few Dirham. But I was assured by almost everyone in Morocco that speaking Diriga (their country's dialect of Arabic) was necessary if I truly desired complete immersion and inclusivity. Everyone says l'Hamdulillah proudly because it ties together a love for country, Islam, and family. After I sneeze. l'Hamdulillah! The food was amazing. l'Hamdulillah. Barça beat Real. l'Hamdulillah!

l'Hamdullilah! l'Hamdulillah! l'Hamdulillah! I loved the phrase. Taxi drivers would chuckle to themselves and politely say it back. My hanout guy would spread his arms out wide and shout it to the skies whenever he saw me. Two Dirhams for a Snickers. "Everything in Morocco is so cheap," I would say, "l'Hamdulillah!" Everyone praised God because there was so much to be thankful for. Healthy families, good weather, and cheap foods. As a student from the States, Morocco seemed too good to be true. My first week in the country was otherworldly, l'Hamdulillah! Only, it took the novelty to wear off for me to realize that not everything was good food and colorful markets. My daily walk to the IES Center took me through the markets of the old Medina. Day in and day out I would make the thirty minute walk, breathing in salted cod and drying clay. The sights of the colored scarves in storefronts dancing in the wind, and the banners of makeshift umbrellas reflecting vibrant colors over the sandy paths made for a distracting spectacle. So distracting that I never noticed those in the shadows, tucked away behind the crowds of people hoping for a few Dirhams to be tossed their way. If everything was so cheap then why were people so hungry. If you maneuvered yourself through the hagglers, and sidestepped the future football stars of Morocco, then you would see that the beggars and the homeless were disabled, handicapped, and ill.

In my IES program I am a member of the after school Service Club. Our first meeting is next week, and we are supposed to bring in ideas on how to improve the community in Rabat. My experience so far in Morocco has shown me that there is much deeper socioeconomic issues that are facing the country. I hope to pitch my idea to help the handicapped, disabled and homeless on the streets of Rabat to my service club and hopefully rehabilitate those in poverty.

One day, on my daily walk home from school I passed by a paraplegic man, begging on the ground. Unsure of how he would react knowing that I was a foreigner, I slipped him a ten Dirham coin. "l'Hamdulillah," he smiled.

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. 

...continue reading "Heading Home"

By nadyahhilmi1

Throughout my four months in Morocco, I have had the opportunity to travel to cities all across the country, every weekend brought another adventure. But my most memorable experience was climbing Mount Toubkhal. Located within Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, it is the highest peak in North Africa, totaling almost 14,000 feet tall. The trekking tourism website described the hike as a ‘mild walk’ – this became a running joke as me and ten of my friends’ ascended the mountain, it was anything but a ‘mild walk.’

After taking a five hour train ride from Rabat to Marrakech, and spending a night in a hostel, we were picked up by a bus early on Friday morning to drop us off near the trekking company’s shop. Here we put all of our bags on mules, laced up our hiking boots, and rented gloves, walking sticks, and other equipment. At around 9 am we started our ascent, going along the non-existent path, avoiding boulders, mud, goats, and donkey carts along the way. After nearly eight straight hours of hiking through fields, valleys, mountains, and streams, we made it to the base of the mountain. This is where we found our basecamp, where we slept for the night. It was freezing, and the altitude made many of us sick, dehydrated, and weak.

We had to be up at 4am to start hiking to the summit at 5am. After putting on even more layers, and stuffing bread and hardboiled eggs in our mouths, we started again. It took five hours to reach the summit, and since it was 5am, it was pitch black outside. Since none of us had headlights, we used the flashlights on our cellphones to scale boulders. It was even more difficult the second day, we were already sore and the altitude wasn’t getting any friendlier on our lungs. After hours of scaling rocks, avoiding boulders, and trying not to freeze to death, we finally made it to the top of the mountain.

...continue reading "Morocco: My Most Memorable Moment"

I only have 22 days left in this gorgeous country and I find myself very much not wanting to leave! I attribute this feeling to the many incredible people I have met in the last two weeks.

Currently I am in a full-time research period, and a hallmark of the abroad curriculum of the School for International Training, known as the Independent Study Period (ISP). Because SIT places such a strong emphasis on fieldwork, each student is tasked with engaging in their community on a topic of interest independently for one month. The end result of this month of research is a 25 to 40 page research paper detailing findings and a 45 minute presentation on the process and findings of the independent study.

...continue reading "Challenges and Rewards: Researching Abroad"

By callagilson

Only 15 days remain until I begin my full time independent study period! The opportunity to do a research project or internship is one of the hallmarks of the programs offered by the School for International Training, and one of the main reasons that I chose to come to Morocco. However, there is still so much to prepare so that I can use the quickly-approaching month of intentional research to its fullest potential. Organizing my research has been more frustrating than expected. The topic of religious moderation in Morocco is vast and very government-centric. The more I discover, the more complex the topic seems to grow!

I have narrowed down my focus to address those individuals whose trans-national identities are molded by their enrollment in the religious moderation training of the Moroccan government. Each year, the Moroccan government invites classes of young people from Africa and Europe to study at its International Imam Training School here in Rabat. Each country participating in the program has its own guidelines for selecting students to receive the training, but the Moroccan government pays for the schooling in full. The program started in September 2013, after Morocco reached an agreement with the Malian government to train 500 imams in the “moderate” Islam of the Moroccan King—the Commander of the Faithful, as he is named in the Moroccan Constitution. Since its inception, the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs has received requests for the program’s trainings from numerous governments in sub-Saharan Africa, including Guinea and Niger, and European countries including France and Canada.

The ultimate goal of the programming is to engage in religious diplomacy and prevent the spread of radicalism by promoting a moderate interpretation of Islam. Students are trained in Maliki Islam, a school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence which has become widely promoted by the state in Morocco. Students who graduate from the program return to their home country to train other religious leaders. As radicalism is often based on ignorance, teaching a “pragmatic” form of interpretation of the Quran and Prophetic interpretation is understood to be both progressive and preventative, as the religious leaders go forth to foster values of “openness and tolerance".

...continue reading "The Excitement and Challenges of Researching in a Foreign Country"

Coming to a new and unfamiliar country, I didn’t know what to expect. In the past, everywhere that I have traveled, I have either known someone there, or have traveled with someone. But this time, I was coming to a country where I knew no one. It is strange to have to create your own community in less than four months, with people that you barely know.

But, travelling in a new and unfamiliar place can also lead to unfamiliar friendships and communities. In Morocco, I’ve been lucky to have an incredible host family that I can go back to at the end of the day and feel at home with. Even with a language barrier, my host mom and I talk about a range of things, including Moroccan culture, politics, religion, or food. She makes me freshly squeezed orange juice every morning, and always does her best to make sure that I feel comfortable at home.

Likewise, travelling around Morocco has been an incredible experience – not just to see the beauty and diversity of the country, but to bond with others in my study abroad group as well. From the intense heat of the Moroccan sun in the hot cities of Fez and Meknes, to summiting the highest mountain in North Africa, it has been amazing to share unique experiences with the others in my program. Although I’ve been missing my friends and communities back at GW, it has been good to have another group of friends in Morocco, with whom I can share my hopes, fears, and worries.

Pictured: Some of my friends as we were trekking up Mount Toubkal - the highest mountain in North Africa. This was hour eight of climbing!

...continue reading "Finding Community Abroad"

 “It is one of the ironies of globalization that whilst goods, capital, knowledge, entrepreneurship and the media are free to flow across borders, labor, that other crucial factor of production, is not.” (Russell King)

My topic of study here in Morocco is Migration and Transnational identity—a topic I knew very little about before arriving in Rabat. In the insular world of our American politics, immigration is a buzzword often hurled across the partisan divide. It’s a word used to designate an identity and delineate the degree of “belonging”. But beyond the politicization, it’s a global crisis that we too often over-simplify in the US for our own convenience. So for the next few moments I ask you to detach yourself from these politics and take a hard look at the current reality of our planet's largest mass migration since World War II.

Due to its close proximity to Europe, Morocco is a case study in this great migration. Immigration to Morocco is popular among sub-Saharan Africans, seeking permanent residence in Europe. There are a variety of reasons that people leave their country. Some are “pushed” by poor economic conditions, war and conflict, or even environmental factors such as prolonged drought. As climate change continues to ravage the most resource-impoverished places in Africa, some immigrants have much less agency in the matter.
...continue reading "An Introductory Examination of Migration"

My identity has been something that I have questioned with my whole life. My father is Sri Lankan, and my mother is American. They come from two very different worlds – one the son of a tailor who lived in a small village, and the other the daughter of an auditor at the Federal Reserve in New York. They met in Tanzania, while working in refugee camps after the Rwandan genocide, and soon afterwards got married in Sri Lanka. My relatives live in all corners of the world and are all exceedingly different.

Being multiracial and having international roots, I was lucky to have the opportunity to grow up in different countries, and to have my feet planted in the roots of both my parents’ cultures. Going to international schools, then moving to the US were experiences that have made me aware of my identity, and has forced me to think about how others view me as a woman, Muslim, American, foreigner, or anything else.

By diverse background has been a source of constant learning and has shaped my mindset to be more accepting and globally minded. But being biracial and having international roots can often mean being invisible as well. My body is a battleground of two nations and cultures, constantly vying to be defining parts of my story. I am simultaneously my mother’s child and my father’s biological heir, and balancing the two can sometimes feel impossible.

...continue reading "Your Identity is What You Make It"