At this point, life in the Middle East and North Africa is certainly in flux. Every day we learn something new. Since early January, many of us have sat transfixed in front of the TV or listening to National Public Radio about what has been going on in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. Since Spelman has students in the region, including those in our new study abroad program going to Turkey in June 2011, everything is monitored very closely.
We were supposed to have two Spelman students in Tunisia this semester, but none were in Egypt thank goodness. Those students who were to be in Tunisia are in Rabat, Morocco. Because their program is run by the School for International Training, they were moved for reasons of safety and security to join its programs in Rabat, where two other Spelman students were studying. But now that the U.S. State Department travel warning has been downgraded to an alert, they hope to spend the second half of the semester in Tunisia.
While it is a nervous time for us as faculty, administrators, and those directing study abroad programs, the students simply see it as a special time to be in the Middle East. It is a spectacular learning experience. Most of our students in this region are majoring in international studies, sociology, economics, and political science. For them, the world is their laboratory. When I asked them to send me their thoughts for Inside Spelman, they responded with wonderful comments about what it was like to be so close to a revolution. I want you to hear their voices.
Hadiya Sewer, C’2012, wrote, “My Moroccan home-stay family members were the first to inform me of Mubarak’s decision to step down. We were watching the news when images of elated Egyptians waving their flag and celebrating their newfound freedom graced the screen. My grandmother immediately started repeating ‘Hamdoulilah,’ and my brother turned to me and smiled before saying, ’Mubarak is out.’ These are the moments that make my decision to study abroad in Morocco for the spring 2011 semester one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
“I am in the North Africa/Middle East during a pivotal moment in history. I am witnessing the revolution up close. Now, my favorite Arabic lessons take place in the streets of the ’Old City’ as vendors point to their television screens and attempt to share their enthusiasm. Though I only understand ‘Shweya,’ (a little) Arabic, I understand their sentiments completely. Spelman encourages her students to go abroad and learn to be global citizens. Rabat is my home for the next three months. The people in the Medina [the oldest section and the historic heart of any Moroccan city] are my family, friends, teachers and neighbors. Lesson learned.”
Stepping out of the box, Toure Scott, C’2012, who spent fall semester in Budapest, Hungary – our first student to study there – is now in Morocco. She wrote: “Living in Morocco during this revolutionary period has broken through my safe American bubble. I have been put into a crash course of international life and have had the chance to not only see, but examine how the rise and fall of a nation is truly based on the will and demands of its population.”
While these are nervous moments for us, these young women — future leaders of our society — are having the times of their lives. They are the next generation of Spelman women who are making a choice to change the world. We could not be prouder of them. — Margery A. Ganz, Ph.D., is a professor of history and the director of Study Abroad and International Exchange.