Education and Exchange: Reflecting on my Fulbright Year in Morocco
Lily Haddad, Fulbright Student Researcher 2018–2019
“Today we’re going on a field trip!”
Soukaina excitedly told me one morning when I arrived to the community center where I did my research case study. Soukaina, one of the students in non-formal education, grabbed my hand so we could be a pair for our walk to the day’s destination: the Azrou Amazigh Culture Museum, just a few blocks up the hill. I had passed the building every day on my walk from the taxi stand to the community center, and yet I never realized it was a museum. Now, all thirty non-formal education students and I, along with the teachers, had the opportunity to explore the museum, which was filled with everything from contemporary art to centuries old artifacts. As our museum guide explained the stories behind each of the exhibits, I was able to not only take it all in myself, but to also see the awe in the students’ eyes. During lunch back at the center, the students and I discussed our favorite exhibits as we shared a lemon chicken tajine. I thought back to the field trips I had gone on in elementary school, and how important extending education beyond the classroom is.
As a Fulbrighter, I researched the non-formal education system in Morocco, which helps students who have dropped out of school or otherwise did not have the chance to attend public school. Most of my research was completed at the Azrou Center for Community Development, where I had the opportunity to observe the classes at their non-formal school, and interview the teachers, administrators, and students. Throughout my grant, I got to know the students and teachers, see the challenges they overcame, and watch them thrive in school, many choosing at the end of the year to take the exam to re-enter public school, or continuing to showcase their talents in vocational trainings such as woodworking and sewing.
The non-formal education system that I studied in Morocco was actually quite formalized, in many ways. The children attended classes in Arabic, French, mathematics, music, and science. They received vocational training to learn skills that will serve them and their families now and in the future. They are given a place to learn, make friends, collaborate, play, and grow, as students in any school have. What makes the non-formal schools in Morocco special, are the ways in which they provide these to students with flexibility and grace. This flexibility allowed the school to teach students in all situations of life, and helped the students to learn in ways that promoted their growth and understanding holistically.
Researching informal education in Morocco allowed me to see how Fulbright itself operates as a formalized yet, informal education system. Through the framework of Fulbright, we are able to work with our commission, language teachers and host institutions and affiliates. We are also given the flexibility and grace to learn on our own, from everyone, and everywhere around us. I learned valuable things through my research: my research goals of discovering ways to lowering school dropout rates, and how the non-formal education system fits into that. I learned how to observe classrooms, complete a textbook analysis, and conduct interviews in Darija. Some of the most valuable things I learned in Morocco were outside of my specific research, though. I learned about each of the cities I lived in through my friends, the owner of the corner store, my neighbors, and taxi drivers. I learned about Moroccan traditions, holidays and food. Games, music and artwork. I learned how to travel between cities, and how to ask for help when I was lost. And if I was lost or needed help, I learned that multiple people would jump to assist. I am forever thankful for the kindness from friends and strangers alike, everywhere I went in Morocco.
These “informal” aspects of my Fulbright left perhaps an even greater impression on me. They manifested most in the relationships I formed throughout the year. The teachers and students at the Azrou Center, and their families, welcomed me into their homes and community. I still think fondly on the many Friday couscous meals and Ramadan break fasts shared, the trips to the souk together and afternoons playing card games in the park. In addition to my Azrou community, I am thankful that technology allows me to stay in touch with the many friends I met through the year, from the Moroccan university students that welcomed me into their volunteer clubs, to my Darija tutor, to my neighbors and roommates, to fellow Fulbrighters. Connecting with a variety of people through my Fulbright helped to deepen my understanding of Morocco, myself, and others.
Throughout my grant, I lived in Meknes, Azrou, Ifrane, and Rabat. I had the experience to live in an imperial city near the old medina, small towns, and the capital city. Calling each of these cities home made me appreciate the uniqueness of them and allowed me to build connections in a wide breadth of places. It also gave me the chance to recognize the similarities, between my Moroccan homes, and to my home in the United States. Being from Pennsylvania, I was particularly excited to live in Ifrane and Azrou, as they have a similar climate. After studying Darija for two months in Meknes, I was delighted on the drive to my new home in Ifrane to see the trees lining the street had golden yellow and burnt orange leaves, a familiar sign of autumn I had been missing. In the wintertime I watched the snow fall outside while enjoying coffee and tea with friends in the café across from my apartment, and was reminded of home once more. I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit many cities, towns, and villages in Morocco beyond those that I called home. In each place, I saw the diversity and beauty of Morocco, from the seaside medina of Essaouira, to the bustling streets of Fes, to the crisp mountain landscape of Tafraoute; from the blue-washed walls of Chefchaouen to the red sand of Merzouga. Everywhere, I gained a deeper understanding of Morocco, of what it means to be a hospitable host and a gracious guest, and made many friends along the way that I know I will have a home in Morocco, wherever I would go.
Now, two years later, as most of my time seems to be taken up reading textbooks for law school, I am especially grateful for my year in Morocco with Fulbright. Whether it is my research and writing skills that I honed during my Fulbright assisting me in the classroom, or interviewing, connecting with others, and language skills assisting me while volunteering in legal aid clinics, the things I learned, and skills I picked up while in Morocco will continue to serve me in my schooling and future career. Most importantly, though, I am grateful to my year living in Morocco, the profound impact it had on me, and the lifelong connections I forged there during my Fulbright grant.