Sunday, June 9, 2013

Drew U. Visits Tiflet! [Guest Post]

When I was in college, my school had a pretty amazing program called the Drew International Seminar (DIS). Participants enrolled in a course at Drew focused on a particular issue related to a specific country (occasionally two countries). Then for three to four weeks after the semester ended, the students visited the country/ies they had been studying for an on-site seminar to continue studying the same topic. The DIS program was like a mini study abroad, and in addition to the academic component, students had time for sightseeing, to learn about the country and its culture more generally, and to meet people from the country. 

In February of 2012 I happened to be on Drew’s website and was suddenly curious whether the DIS program still existed. Several years passed since I had been a student, and given the way the economy has been the last few years, I knew many schools have had to cut costs due to financial difficulties. It turned out that not only did the DIS program still exist, but two professors would be bringing a group of students to Morocco in May or June of 2013. Their DIS is on mobility and identity in the context of globalization (seminar description here).

I got in contact with the professors to offer to help however I could, met up with them last July while they were in Morocco making arrangements, have been in correspondence with them, and last week they and sixteen students visited Tiflet during their DIS. It is exam time in Morocco, so a lot of young people are busy studying, but we were able to bring the DIS together with a group of five strong English speakers from our site, and it was a great opportunity for Goals 2 & 3. We have of course explained to our Moroccan students about American diversity, for example, that we have people from all over the world and with all kinds of backgrounds. But us telling them is different from them seeing a group of Americans where the people look very different from one another. The Moroccans loved the opportunity to practice speaking English and both groups seemed to enjoy meeting the new people.

Here's a group photo (a few more are on the DIS Facebook page):

The DIS spent most of its time in Morocco in large cities – Rabat, Tangier, Fez, Meknes, and Casablanca. While in Rabat the Drew students met up with some Moroccan university students, who told them that they needed to get out of the big cities. Some Peace Corps Volunteers also will dismissively tell people that those are not “real Morocco.” It’s not true, as there is no single “real Morocco.” As with anywhere else, Morocco is multifaceted, and particularly since the majority of Moroccans live in urban areas (source: CIA World Factbook), large cities represent a large facet of Morocco. The DIS also visited Chefchaouen, which while small receives a lot of international tourists. But in Tiflet the DIS participants got to experience yet another facet, seeing a minor city that is not often a destination for foreigners and meeting with its youth. While Tiflet is by no means the smallest community in Morocco, the mere thirty-five miles which separate it from the capital city make it far removed from big city life. According to one of the professors at least, the Tiflet experience provided a good point of comparison to some of their other experiences.

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