Florida - For the first semester of my junior year of college, I decided to study abroad in Rabat. One of my courses was called “Community-Based Learning”, of which one component was an unpaid position within a Moroccan governmental or nonprofit organization.
Florida – For the first semester of my junior year of college, I decided to study abroad in Rabat. One of my courses was called “Community-Based Learning”, of which one component was an unpaid position within a Moroccan governmental or nonprofit organization.
Some students were placed with political groups, some with Moroccan human rights and women’s organizations, and I worked with l’Institut de la jeunesse et la démocratie, The Institute of Youth and Democracy, a program of the Ministry of Youth and Sport. My experience has been singular, and I have boiled down five pieces of advice for Americans who come after me to spend time in the Moroccan professional world. None of this is to suggest, of course, that I am any kind of exhaustive resource, but hopefully some of my insight is valuable.
Go in with an open mind
Whether or not you have internship experience in the United States that seems comparable to the work you are going to be doing in Morocco, you have no idea what to expect. Trust me. However you think it will be, you are probably wrong. Like every good liberal arts student, I have had more than my share of strange unpaid internships, but nothing that prepared me for working in Morocco. One system is not inherently better than the other, each has its own idiosyncrasies, and the only way you can ensure your satisfaction and comfort is to let things happen, and deal with problems as they arise. I struggled with this at first, and probably lost some good experiences to my initial confusion and discomfort. Hopefully, my loss can be your gain.
Be excited to be independent
Chances are, more often than not, as a stagiaire in Morocco, your role will be unclear at first. The first time I went to the Institute of Youth and Democracy, the director was not there to meet with me, and an employee who was woefully uninformed tried valiantly to tell us what we could expect as interns at the institute. He explained what their mission was, how they aimed to get youth involved in politics and social life in Morocco, then turned to us and said (in French), “So… what do you guys want to do here?” Sarah, my fellow intern, and I, were bemused. We did not feel prepared to come up with a project for ourselves, and we told him so.
After we did meet with the director and some other volunteers and interns at the INJD, we did translating work for a couple weeks. After that, we had found our bearings, and when someone again asked what we wanted to do, we could say that we wanted to be involved with the Young Moroccan Voices program, which is sponsored by the INJD and seeks to set up a series of debates for young people in cities across the country. Our work suddenly became much more fulfilling, we were more independent, and we contributed much more to the mission of the INJD.
Sometimes this can be tough. Everyone in Community-Based Learning had a few moments where they thought “What am I even doing here?” However, it is important to remember that if you are willing to take the initiative and work hard, the sky is basically the limit. That sounds a little cheesy and certainly is not going to be universally true, but from everything I saw and heard, bosses are way more receptive to ideas from employees than their counterparts in the United States. I got lucky at the INJD; my boss was young, and very interested in what we had to offer, but I think that can be true in a lot of workplaces. Just going in with a positive attitude and showing everyone that you are excited to work with them will go a long way toward improving your experience.
Put in the time
As with any project, your internship or volunteer experience will be much more valuable if you are willing to spend time building meaningful relationships, making sure your work is well done, and showing that the mission of your organization is important to you. Proving that I was interested was something that I struggled to do, and honestly I may not have done as good a job as I would have liked. Naturally, spending time in Morocco, we toured the country a lot and I was out of town almost every weekend. That meant that when the INJD held special events, I was almost never able to attend. It was clear every time I turned down an invitation that everyone was disappointed, but I tried to find other ways to ensure they saw my dedication.
Remember your values
All this being said, your own experience is valid, and if you feel uncomfortable, you should express that. Be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking, but do not let anyone get away with treating you poorly or with making you feel less than important. You are in a different environment, yes—but that does not mean the knowledge you came in with is inherently false or inapplicable. Changing when you need to is one of the hardest things a person can do, and understanding when you should stand firm in your beliefs is, if anything, even harder.
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