Rabat - For college students leading busy lifestyles filled with long nights at the library, hours spent searching for job opportunities, and countless internship applications, finding the time, energy, and funds to travel abroad is close to impossible.
Rabat – For college students leading busy lifestyles filled with long nights at the library, hours spent searching for job opportunities, and countless internship applications, finding the time, energy, and funds to travel abroad is close to impossible.
Many students dream of studying abroad for a semester or backpacking through Europe with nothing but a few necessities and good company. But the sad truth is that not many can afford (not only financially) to do so—only 1% of U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education study abroad, reports NAFSA.
There are plenty of factors besides cost that play into this low statistic. But the most detrimental and discouraging factor for students is the lack of awareness about the abundant opportunities other than traditional study abroad programs.
In terms of study abroad destinations, Europe dominates across the board, housing over 50% of student travelers, according to NAFSA. Africa, The Middle East, and Oceania each receive less than 10% of students, although each of these offers many opportunities other than traditional study abroad, such as interning and volunteering abroad.
There are options available for everyone—especially those wanting to explore countries that have yet to be fully transformed by Western ideals and cultures, such as Morocco.
In Morocco, the Moroccan Center for Arabic Studies (MCAS) is one of the options for studying, volunteering, and interning abroad offered to interested travelers from all over the world.
Located in the capital city of Rabat, the center is currently run by native Moroccans Ali Bensebaa and Jihane El Hilali. The idea for MCAS came to be in 2010, after Bensebaa returned from his studies as a Fulbright Scholar at Albany State University, feeling as if he had to “fill the cultural gap between the Arab world and the rest of the world,” he says.
The center was officially launched in 2011, and since then has welcomed over 400 volunteers into their colorful office located on the third floor of a 95-year-old building overlooking the old city of Rabat. The office is decorated with traditional Moroccan furniture and artwork, yet contains large bookshelves filled with literature, language books, and dictionaries in all different languages from all different cultures.
Looking up at the line of flags from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States, one can immediately feel the remnants of the multitude of cultures that have influenced MCAS, and vice versa.
The center strives to immerse students into contemporary Moroccan life through service learning and a homestay with a Moroccan host family in order to change the popular misconceptions of the Arab world, especially those brought upon by the terrorist attacks in New York City on 9/11.
Some of the internship opportunities available through MCAS are nursing, child care, microfinance, journalism, women’s empowerment, education, NGO support, physical therapy, speech therapy, and midwifery. Both class and internship credits for university courses and Fulbright Scholars are available through these programs.
Arabic and French courses are also offered for students interested in language studies and may be taken during off-time between interning or volunteering. Learning the languages of Morocco is not necessary, but MCAS believes that offering students the opportunity to communicate with Moroccans through language is a way to enhance their understanding of the culture. As the Arabic saying goes, “Whoever learns the language of a people will be safe against their evil.”
Bensebaa believes in placing students into projects that will have an impact on both the community and the individual. With a small glass of Moroccan mint tea in his hand and a view of the Rabat medina as a backdrop, Bensebaa says, “MCAS is more than a language school or a program provider. We want to get volunteers immersed in the community so that they may learn, experience, and revise their perception of the Arab world.”
As if language lessons, volunteering opportunities and internship positions weren’t enough already, MCAS volunteers also enjoy the company of others from all over the world eager to travel, explore, and share their own stories and memories with each other, all while making new ones. On the weekends or even during off-time from work, the volunteers travel together to nearby cities.
“In the past four weeks, I’ve visited Fez, Chefchaouen, Skhirat, and Tangier with my roommates and the other volunteers. We’ve met people from all over the world, tried new foods, gone hiking and swimming in the Rif Mountains, and explored the medinas of different cities,” says Ashley Haynes, a 21-year-old volunteer from Minnesota. “It’s been great to meet people who are so different than me and come from completely different backgrounds, yet share the same drive to travel and learn as me.”
When asked what his “slogan” is, Ali Bensebaa looked around at the space he created with Jihane El Hilali and smiled. “MCAS: Connecting people worldwide.”
Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission