A study abroad trip to Morocco brought together students outside a classroom in the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences (CLASS) building for more than course credits.
Mahmood Ibrahim, professor of history in CLASS, organized a three-week study abroad trip to Morocco. They traded the classroom for a bus and the whiteboard for the sights of the country.
Their journey took them from the coast to the mountains and through the desert before returning to the coast. The lectures with Ibrahim were real-time discussions of sites the group passed through.
“We would be driving around, and he [Ibrahim] would be telling us about the areas. We were constantly learning,” said history graduate student Jessica Wu. “It was just so much more hands-on because we got lost in the culture.”
A historical landmark the group visited in northern Morocco was Volovulis, an ancient Roman city.
“I wanted the students to experience the site itself and see how the planes unfold in front of them,” said Ibrahim.
During the group’s extensive itinerary, they also visited Chefchaouen, a once-sacred town forbidden to foreigners, the Sahara, Fes, Tangier, Casablanca, and Rabat, among other cities and towns. As a way to serve as their own historians on the trip, Ibrahim had students document their observations and feelings in journals.
The constant movement was beneficial for students.
“We had a lot more immersion in the local culture because of how we traveled,” said engineering student Gregory Sleeter. “That was part of the fun. The culture shock and then adjusting.”
CLASS history graduate student Hannah Legacy felt like a different person after returning.
“They welcomed us in their homes, sang, danced, and fed our study abroad group,” said Legacy. “Connecting with these people whose lives are so different from ours was impactful since we connected through a simple smile, hug, or handshake.”
Many of the students shared how vastly their perception of Morocco has changed.
“You build a negative perception of how it is and how that country is going to be, but experience proved the perception all wrong,” said Lucero Fernandez, a kinesiology major.
Ibrahim expects students to return from the trip feeling accomplished and confident in themselves.
“This is one of the reasons why I love educational abroad programs; you are exposed to different ways of dealings, different cultures, different languages, and assumptions,” Ibrahim said. “Altogether it’s strange enough that it’s going to take some internal thinking to adjust to what’s going on. It is an opportunity to expand their minds and experiences.”
Once back home, Fernandez described feeling accomplished in her travels. However, after settling back into a routine, Fernandez wished she was back in Morocco. This December, she will go back with her fellow traveler and new friend, Wu.
Studying abroad encourages the students to rely on each other for support away from home. This group of students started to form connections, not only with the customs and culture of Morocco but with one another. They started off the trip as strangers with the only common ground being Cal Poly Pomona. Now, they have a shared experience that bonds them for life.