In Fez, our group of students from Duke visited Sidi Muhammad Bin Abdullah University. We met up with the director of the English department and other Moroccan students studying in that department to start a cross-cultural dialogue between life in America and life in Morocco.
The discussion started with the Moroccan students introducing themselves, listing their name and their majors. I was struck by how most of these students knew what they wanted to study and have even decided on the track they will focus on despite many of them being in the beginning of their studies. When it was time to introduce myself, I introduced myself as an undeclared major which was weird considering how all the students knew what they wanted to do already. When they inquired into what that meant, we explained that in the U.S students do not officially declare their major until the second year. This is a major difference between American educational systems and Moroccan ones. In Morocco, students apply to college and decide on the major before starting. As someone who still has no idea what they are doing, I certainly felt more appreciative of the freedom students enjoy in America.
After that the students began asking us about what did we think about Morocco before arriving and what stereotypes do Americans usually have about Morocco. We told them that Americans don’t have stereotypes about Moroccans in particular but there are stereotypes about the Arab World in general. Some of them include the Arab World being very unsafe and dangerous. Some of our parents and family were worried about the prospect of visiting an Arab country because of the way media portrays Arab countries. We discussed with the students the issues of a biased media in the U.S and how attacks carried out by white men are considered lone attacks while attacks by Muslims are considered terrorism. Such biases add to the skepticism the American public has towards Arabs and Muslims.
We also decided to ask students what they though about America, and many of them have spoken that they do like America but are skeptical of the American government and particularly its policies towards the Middle East. This sparked a political dialogue which made me surprised about how well-informed the Moroccan students were about the U.S political system. American students do not have that knowledge about Morocco and so I was very impressed that they seemed to be following the American elections and keeping up with the most recent developments. One of the Moroccan students began critiquing the two-party system in the U.S and how it wasn’t fair that many independent voters were unable to vote because they didn’t register in time.
Another student asked us what we thought about Donald Trump and asked us what are the reasons he was growing popular. We explained that many Americans have irrational fears about immigration and that the media definitely plays a huge role in magnifying these problems and in making Donald Trump more popular.
The talk we had with the students was very eye-opening. I was impressed with how Moroccan students are very well informed about Morocco, America, and the world, and it made me wonder why many American students weren’t this informed about the Arab World. We all came from different places but we can all agree on one thing, that often education doesn’t just come from within the class, but from outside dialogues as well.