For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the month of May traveling the countries of France and Morocco along with other Ohio State students through a Study Abroad trip. The program traced the evolution of cultural, religious, racial, and national identities in France and Morocco, focusing on shared histories between the two countries and the challenges of practicing inclusivity and respecting diversity in these countries. The first week of study introduced us to the history and culture of Paris. For the second week, we made the small Southern city of Aix-en-Provence our base to explore France’s gateway to the Mediterranean. And lastly, we spent the third week visiting the historic cities of Marrakech, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca in Morocco.
Experiencing traveling abroad has definitely changed my view on the world and certain things I happen to take for granted. This trip was the epitome of transformative for me, I now view study abroad as of the most educational experience of my college career so far. I did not just learn about surface level subjects while on this trip, this experience allowed me to learn about two completely different cultures in a deeper way than what I am normally accustomed to…I experienced. We delved into those surface level topics that seem taboo in their cultures which gave me a deeper connection and a different perspective to understanding the cultures. As this trip officially stamped my first time ever going abroad I not only learned a lot about France and Morocco, my eyes were opened to view the world and my place in it quite differently. France and Morocco increased my passion for learning, as a result of this trip I have a better understanding that learning does not always have to be measured by a numerical score on an exam or a letter grade on my transcript. Life is full of opportunities to learn new things, this experience has not only proven that but has also changed my worldview, educational drive, my mind has been opened and my determination to make an impact on this world beginning with helping those in my community is at its peak.
Morocco and France. After experiencing these two very old countries both rich in their distinctive religious and political traditions, there are many similarities but nonetheless apparent differences between them. France today is of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. However, with the French culture primarily centered around knowledge of the language and correct dialect, citizens have to assimilate in order to truly feel like they fit the criteria of what it means to be “French”. Assimilation usually results in losing one’s original self, and with a country as diverse as France, there must be a change to secure the opportunity to be multicultural and French simultaneously. Comparatively, Morocco who is still developing as a country is currently making strides to increase their economic growth, and confront other issues including the struggle to even find a true national identity. As a multilingual society, where many languages compete for social, economic and political capital, Morocco faces much conflict and tension within its borders because of the lack of an official language. Overall, concepts and views on religion, diversity, language and sense of national identity are all dissimilar points when comparing these two nations.
After exploring these two societies, one difference that stood out to me was the difference in views on religion. Overall, the differences in the views on Islam and Muslims were very apparent. In France there is definitely evidence of Islamophobia, as its roots were greatly explored throughout this trip. The history behind this phobia relates back to French colonization. Today, there are about five million Muslims living in France. This is almost 8% of the population, and although this may not seem as much, it’s the largest percentage of any country in Europe. Historically, Muslims came to France following the French colonization of North Africa. Hence, the modern relationship between France and its Muslim population should be described as “an underclass” since its centered around the components of “imperial history and economic exploitation.”Muslim repression in French culture seems to be primarily grounded in secularism, republicanism, and feminism. Regarding the political aspect of secularism, it is organized in the famous 1905 separation from church and state law. With this law having such deep roots in French life it was originally put in place to prohibit the Catholic influence over the government, “state” . In schools, teachers are considered “agents of the state” and are prohibited by that law to display any religious identity openly. And on the other hand, students have been threatened by this law to do the same. In 1989 there was an attempt to ban young girls from wearing the headscarf in schools, but this ban was rejected by the courts. However, as a response to the “war on terror” and the 9/11 U.S. attacks, the 2004 legislation “banned religious symbols” in schools. This law essentially is the forefront of Islamophobia. The “conspicuous” religious signs might as well be “any Islamic signs” since the law specifically excludes certain members of the public and was not intended to be applied equally. From headscarves to long skirts, this was a specific targeting of “separation of church and state” for adolescent Muslim women. The hypocrisy of this law and its position as a tool of Islamophobia are quite obvious. This type of legislation is essentially using education as form of repression and tyranny towards certain groups. So much so that teachers were required to actually report students who showed any signs of support for Islam after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, further providing evidence of the law specifically targeting Muslims. This all goes to show that the French school system’s actual purpose is more so the molding of students in order to assimilate into French society
During our time in Rabat, Morocco we had the pleasure of a guest lecture, Professor Youssi who was a professor of linguistics and highlighted the linguistics problems in Morocco. In, Morocco there is no set primary language of the country as Moroccan Arabic, French, and Berber dialect are mainly spoken. Having no common language of the nation, with very few communities confronting this communication problem, makes this situation very complex. Languages change to meet the communicative needs of the people and as a result there must be a push for a universal language in the country so that the people can properly communicate and overcome the struggles of this complex situation. It’s very interesting that in a way, the middle class has managed to have slightly alleviated this problem (found a solution) by sending their children to foreign schools, in Morocco such as French, American, Spanish schools, and even some Moroccan private schools emulate the foreign school’s tactics. However, they have not found a solution for the lower class who can’t afford to send their kids to those different types of schools reiterating the socio-economic barrier. Experiencing and witnessing this dilemma really opened my eyes to how valuable education really is and how powerful it can be.
In Casablanca, Morocco we had a chance to visit the Sidi Moumen neighborhood gave us the insight that socio economic rankings and standpoints are very important. On May 16th, 2003, the instance of Morocco’s version of 9/11 occurred with 15 perpetrators being responsible for this act of terror. These individuals all came from the Sidi Moumen neighborhood which resonated a message that there may be an underlying relationship with their upbringing and mindset that led up to those occurrences. The impression of the Sidi Moumen neighborhood was tarnished. These tragedies not only changed Morocco’s view towards terrorism but also sparked the idea of creating centers to better the community and its residents helping to recreate a new positive outlook of the neighborhood. Meeting owner of community center and seeing how his passion has affected the women, children and families of the community in a substantial way through their testimonies was very inspiring. Experiencing this trip showed me especially that we should aspire to be the change we want to see in this world. And I will always remember that…
It is my strong belief to live by the mantra, “Never stop wondering and never stop wandering.” With the world’s population clock ticking past 7.6 billion people, I wake up every day seeking to encounter new people and lands that will help shape my destiny. Studying abroad has always been an experience I have longed to take part in while attending college. After being afforded this opportunity I have achieved my goal of widening my field of vision. Overseas travel provided me with a broadened perspective on how people live and experience culture in other parts of the world. I gained knowledge of how those in French and Moroccan culture face life’s every day challenges and make quality decisions. Additionally, I learned how to appreciate and value things and objectives using a more global approach.
In my quest to serve my community within the healthcare field, I became aware of research studies stating that valuing diversity, inclusion and cultural competency are important elements needed to provide high-quality patient care. Those factors were among the reasons I wanted to gain the experience of studying and living abroad. This unique opportunity aided me in cultivating a more global mindset and outlook on diversity in the world and how other cultures handle the subject as compared to the American culture. Reflecting back, this program was essential for my personal and professional growth as a student within our multifarious world. It is important for me, as an aspiring leader in the medical field to remain passionate about serving others but to do that, I must be able to understand others, their struggles and their perspectives. Being inclusive and respectful of the cultural practices, backgrounds and experiences of those patients I serve will be imperative qualities I must possess when providing care.