American Students Journey: Morocco Isn’t What We Thought it to Be
By Jamal Saidi
Morocco World News
Casablanca, June 12, 2012
American students of Syracuse University, New York, visited Casablanca in a three days cultural experience, from 8th to 10th June. The trip could break long-held assumptions on Morocco, those that are based on stereotypes and prejudices. Morocco Exchange, an NGO, succeeded in that very limited time to project the right image of Morocco in the minds of those who might be future leaders of America.
Morocco Exchange is a non-profit organization that offers American college students the opportunity for “a monumental physical journey of discovery in Morocco.” The aim is to bring Americans and Moroccans together in the hope to build bridges of palpable human connection between the Muslim and Western worlds.
Mr. Allen Hoppes, associate director of Morocco Exchange, states that the students found Morocco much more developed than what they expected. As most of them were girls, the young Americans predicted to see oppressed women, wearing the Burqa and have no say in matters related to their lives. They had in mind a desert-like country which is full of camels, and with no internet access. It is regarded simply as another sub-Saharan state. However, Mr. Allen added, the image now is cleared in their minds: Morocco is not at all as what they thought it to be.
Three places can be regarded as the main factors which contributed to shaping students’ new attitude towards Morocco, namely a women center in Tangiers, Morocco Mall and a shanty town. The students could meet women from different walks of life; they wear different types of clothes, speak different languages and hold various professional positions.
The visit to Morocco Mall, a huge shopping center, shed light on the existence of a good number of Moroccans who can afford to shop in such place where the prices are comparatively very expensive. On the other hand, the visit to shanty towns, such as Sidi Momen, told just the opposite side of the story, the presence of another social category, the poor. Stephanie Matt, a postgraduate student, said that, unlike America, Morocco’s middle class is hardly to be seen. She noticed what she described as huge discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots, Sidi Momen and Morocco Mall.
Stephanie continued that America is individualistic as opposed to Morocco which is collectivist country. She could realize that from the way Moroccan live at their homes. She saw all the members of the same family sharing the same dish. In the US, she added, it is common to see each person eating on his or her own. In some cases, they may even eat different meals at the same time. Stephanie plans happily to come back to Morocco for a voluntary work experience, but does not think to stay more than one year. “I am too American!” She added.
She says that Morocco although a moderate country and is so different from the stereotypical image one might have of a Muslim country, is not as liberal as America.
Janelle, an undergraduate student, said that she liked the hospitality of Moroccan people and would never hesitate to come back whenever it is possible. Almost all the students expressed the same thing.
The overall impression one has from those young Americans is that they lived a rich cultural experience through which they discovered Morocco and, most importantly, themselves. With this in mind, a lot is to be done for the sake of embellishing the blemished image of Morocco in the eyes of Americans, bearing in mind the crucial importance of their attitudes towards the territorial integrity of the kingdom.
Jamal Saidi is a Moroccan student currently enrolled in a master program majoring in Moroccan-American Studies at Hassan II University, Faculty of Humanities/Ben M’sik. He is Morocco World News correspondent in Casablanca. You can follow him on Facebook.
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