Moroccan Study Program Promotes Cultural and Historical Awareness

Moroccan Study Program Promotes Cultural and Historical Awareness
A few Cal Poly Pomona students moved aside on the right for “traffic” in the medina in Fez, Morocco. (Photo by student James Appel.)
Students visited the Sahara Desert during their month-long study program in Morocco. (Photo by student James Appel.)
Hiroko Kumada, a second-year Hotel
and Restaurant Management major, gives her final
presentation about the Moroccan trip
after returning to Cal Poly Pomona.

Seventeen Cal Poly Pomona students watched the sunset on the horizon of the vast Sahara Desert, swam in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean Sea and ate tajines, lots of tajines; all the while earning 12 units.


The undergraduates were the first group of Cal Poly Pomona students to embark on a month-long study abroad program to Morocco this summer. Al Akhawayn University, nestled in the Atlas Mountains, acted as their home base while they branched out weekly touring the country and learning first-hand about its history and diverse culture.


History Professor Mahmood Ibrahim led the group as teacher, translator and tour guide.


“It was nice to see something like what I have been learning about for the last three years in Mahmood's classes,” said History student Sean Perry. “I wanted to go to the Mid East and this was the closest thing to it.”


Ibrahim planned his lectures and reading assignments based on the trip's itinerary. Unlike a typical history syllabus organized in chronological order, geography dictated what the traveling students learned about at any given time.


“It's better than a classroom. When I was teaching about Fez, we were in Fez,” Ibrahim said. “You appreciate the hardships of desert traveling especially in the Middle Ages, when you walk in the desert. … It just makes leaning a lot more concrete. It's not just theoretical, it's real hands-on.”


Though he had never been to the northwestern African country until this trip, Ibrahim went well prepared with the help of Faiza Shereen, director of the university's International Center.


Shereen developed the Moroccan program before coming to Cal Poly Pomona in 2005 when she worked at the University of Dayton. She has been to Al Akhawayn University several times to research and lecture throughout the university's short history. Founded in 1995, it is the only university in Morocco to follow the same academic calendar and style of American universities. Other Moroccan universities have year-long sessions, so until recent years it was not easy for American students to study in Morocco, Shereen said.


She handpicked the hotels, restaurants and culturally significant places to see like local artisan marketplaces and mosques.


James Appel, a Management and Human Resources student, said the insider tips were greatly appreciated by the students.


“We wouldn't have known the little details,” he said. “The trip would have been more touristy. We went to a lot of places that probably wouldn't even be in a guide book.”


The trip lasted from June 10 until July 10. In August, the students met again to give presentations about their experiences. They were each required to write a research paper and a journal.


During that last week of the trip, Provost Tomas Morales visited Al Akhawayn University and met with the president and provost. Morales and President Rachid Benmokhtar signed an agreement to foster a number of initiatives to further develop an international collaboration between the two institutions.


“We want to expose students to more opportunities,” Morales said. “AUI really is a fine institution. It's in a beautiful setting.”


Shereen hopes to expand the program by next summer.


For more information about the International Center and its programs visit