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French and religion professors lead course in Morocco

July 7, 2009

In May 2009, Cornell students traveled to Morocco with religion professor Steven Sacks and French professor Devan Baty for the course “Islam and Post-coloniality in Contemporary Morocco.”  Students studied the general tenets of Islam, its particular manifestations and practices in Morocco, and the  post-colonial relationship between Morocco and France.

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The course  included visits to Tangiers, Casablanca, Fes, Meknes, Rabat, and Marrakech. Highlights included meetings with Nigerian migrants in Tangiers, tours of the walled Medina of Fes, lectures at Al-Karaouine University in Fes, a visit to a Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, and camping out under the stars in the Sahara desert.

Student reflections by Suzi Enoch

What were some of the highlights of the course?

One of the best experiences was having tea with a nomadic family in their tent. It was amazing to see how they lived and also how hospitable they were to a group of strangers. Some of us also had the opportunity to meet with a group of immigrants in Tangiers who were trying to travel to Europe as political refugees.

Another highlight of the trip was listening to lectures from professors at the local Islamic University. It was a great way to learn about the history and culture of Morocco from very knowledgeable people who were part of the culture.

What was it like studying in Morocco?

It is hard to put into words the beauty of Morocco and how kind the people are. We were able to travel to the mountains, the beach, and the desert. It was wonderful taking a trip into the Sahara on camels and experiencing the unique aspects of Islam and how the religion impacts everyday activities.

What did your interview project involve?

I interviewed multiple people in Morocco including professors and students. For my project I examined the relationship between the Arabization of Morocco and the education system. Also linked with that topic is how language helps build a sense of cultural identity.

Since the French had a large influence over the development of the Moroccan culture, the higher education institutes teach mainly in French. With the Arabization movements the government reintroduced Arabic into the school systems, which became problematic when students arrived at college and couldn’t follow their professors in French.

Did you draw any particular conclusions?

It was extremely interesting to hear different perspectives about the French language and how it impacted the education of students and people’s identities. Many people I interviewed felt the best solution was to utilize both French and Arabic in the education systems.

The interview process was one of my favorite parts of the trip because I loved getting to know the people and learning more about their culture. I was able to use my French almost every day, and my knowledge of the local language really added to the overall experience. Morocco was an ideal location to practice the French language and for the course I kept a journal in French that was a mixture of my observations and commentaries on the readings we were assigned that day.

I would recommend a trip to Morocco to anyone, it is a beautiful country with a rich culture and the people are extremely welcoming and kind.

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