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September 27, 2017
Senior Rowan Moreland traveled to Morocco to further her studies in Arabic, but after six weeks of cultural immersion, she left the country with a fresh perspective on Moroccan culture and society.
Though Moreland has always aspired to become involved with international relations, her interests have only recently shifted towards national security and military intelligence. This past summer, Moreland participated in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), a program completely funded by the state department. While she attended school in Morocco for six weeks, she not only studied Arabic, but also became familiar with Moroccan culture and society.
“We spent two to three hours learning Arabic, but there was also a cultural component in which we would learn to write in calligraphy or meet with ambassadors and people from the FBI who were stationed in Morocco,” Moreland said.
Her experience in the NSLI program has further encouraged her to pursue her initial career goals.
“I initially got interested in Arabic because it was one of the easiest ways to get to that path,” Moreland said. “As I began learning the language, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the culture and the people, and that’s what really encouraged me to pursue it.”
In Morocco, Moreland encountered a sense of community and family that she had never experienced in her suburban bubble.
“I would go to a store to haggle a trinket for my sister back at home and I’d stay there for an hour talking to the storekeeper about Arabic, Islam, and how much I was fascinated by the culture,” Moreland said. “Whenever I passed by, I would ask him how his family was doing and he would help me learn new material. This happened everywhere I went.”
Yet, though Moreland considers many of the Moroccan civilians to be some of the nicest people she has ever met, she found a disturbingly stark contrast between the gender norms she was accustomed to and those of Morocco.
In the streets of Morocco, her physical appearance as a Caucasian female stuck out. She recalled an experience of verbal sexual harassment while walking to the bakery with her host father and sister.
“I could feel twenty men looking at me and I kept trying to distract my [host] sister because it was making her uncomfortable, too,” Moreland said. “All of a sudden, she starts screaming at this man who I later found out was very crudely sexually harassing me.”
When Moreland reflects back on this experience, she contrasts the prominent gender inequality in Morocco to American culture.
“In Morocco, you don’t stand up for yourself if you’re a woman,” Moreland said. “You’re not allowed to. When we got back to our apartment, my [host] father started screaming at my [host] sister for what she had done in broken English. But his meaning was clear: we’re girls and we can’t do anything.”
Yet Moreland believes that scarring experiences such as these reinforce the sense of community that surrounded her.
“In Morocco, everyone is family,” Moreland said. “I latched onto this because it was so hard to live there and to experience these things.”
Moreland believes that countries with a predominantly Muslim population, such as Morocco, are inaccurately and unfairly portrayed. She is bothered by western media associating proponents of this religion with extremism and terrorism. Henceforth, she not only hopes to forge new bonds with people from other countries, but also to shine a new light on them for the world to see.
“It frustrates me when I see how much these people are hurting, and a lot of it is due to unfair prejudice,” Moreland said. “After going to Morocco, I want to change that. I am so much more impassioned and motivated to connect with people and understand what they’re going through.”