Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mo'rockin the Suburbs: Back to Residential Saint Paul

Two things that intensely drew me to Macalester’s campus were its reputation for academic excellence and the opportunity to study abroad. In my opinion, these two characteristics happen to be indefinitely intertwined forming a truly ‘Macalester’ education. If academic excellence is such a high priority, why limit your student body to one campus? Or one continent for that matter? Study abroad exemplifies Macalester’s mission of inspiring its students to be responsible and informed global citizens in our international community. I had been planning to take advantage of this opportunity since I had turned in my application almost four years ago, and last semester I was able to do what about 65% of all Mac students do – study abroad.

My program was an experiential academic program run through SIT (School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT). My particular program was focused on Multiculturalism and Human Rights and shed light on both the fascinating melting pot of different cultures that call Morocco their home – Amazigh, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, African and European – and the past and current human rights violations that the country’s history exhibits. The program also provided coursework in Modern Standard Arabic. Learning Modern Standard Arabic was useful although language become a juggling act of balancing and striving for proficiency in both the standard dialect (which we learned in school) and regional dialect, Darija, which was spoken on the street and in our host stays. Throwing French into the mix concocted a both frustrating and exhilarating stew of multilingualism.

I was able to travel freely within the country both with the program and on my own. Program-run excursion included hiking in the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas mountains and riding dromedaries and watching the sunrise in the Merzouga Dunes. My personal travels extended from the northernmost region of Morocco – the city of Tangier boasting both Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts – to the southern occupied territory of the Western Sahara. Here are a few highlights of the semester:

1) Peaking mountains in the blue city of Chefchaouen

2) Herding sheep in the shadows of the Atlas mountains

3) Discussing the current state of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, as well as its predicted future, with Sahrawi while in Laayoune

4) Watching the sunrise in the Sahara

5) Discussing exorcisms with a a fqih (Moroccan Arabic: فقيه , an expert in Islamic law, science and arts)

The last occurrence was in relation to my independent study project (ISP) which was a major reason for my attraction to this specific program. Students spend three weeks near the end of the semester working on an ISP, pursing original research on a selected topic of interest to them. The ISP is conducted in Rabat or in another approved location in Morocco appropriate to the project. Given Morocco’s comprehensive background of multiple ethnic, as well as, medical customs being available to the general population, my project’s basis lied in ethnographic research with various medicinal practitioners in two urban centers in Morocco: Fez and Rabat. Field research about the different healing practices available in these areas ranged from interviews with medical practitioners at a pharmacy and clinic, professors of pharmacology and social medicine, a fqih, custodians of healing shrines where saints had been interred, and an attar (Moroccan Arabic: عطار, an herbalist, spice vendor, learned sellers and prescribers of herbal remedies with curative medicinal plants). Most of the ethnographic data presented in my study was drawn from conversations with the fqih. My own research was based predominantly upon participant observation supplemented by formal ethnographic interviews, meetings and consultations with public health workers and professionals, as well as informal conversations with individuals about health, illness and medicine. I did all of this in the hopes of showing how any given individual may navigate through a medically pluralistic society. It was an extremely rewarding experience and most definitely heightened my preexisting interest in different cultures and public health – as expressed by my major in Anthropology and a concentration in Community and Global Health.

The semester abroad was a phenomenal experience and I would highly recommend living and studying abroad to every single person I meet. This was my second experience living in a foreign country for an extended period of time and Macalester has definitely helped to foster my constant desire to travel. This time around, however, I was able to get credit for it.