Building International Bridges
Photo by Diego Mendez-Carbajo
The Morocco Initiative sent nine members of Illinois Wesleyan to Al Akhawayn University
in Ifrane, Morocco, to establish collaborative projects and ties.
July 15, 2009
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – A group of nine faculty and staff from Illinois Wesleyan University
recently traveled half way around the world to help establish ties with a university
in Morocco. The participants were part of the Morocco Initiative, sent to the North
African nation to explore possible collaborative projects, discuss research and meet
with counterparts at Al Akhawayn University (AUI) in Ifrane, Morocco.
“We came to Morocco to learn, to experience and to share,” said Associate Dean of
Curriculum Zahia Drici, who led the group of five faculty and two staff members along
with International Office Director Stacey Shimizu. Those chosen for the Initiative
were Academic Outreach Librarian and Associate Professor Lynda Duke, University Communications
Staff Writer Rachel Hatch, Environmental Studies Director and Associate Professor
of Environmental Studies and International Studies Abigail Jahiel, Hispanic Studies
Chair and Professor Carolyn Nadeau, Associate Professor of Economics Diego Mendez-Carbajo,
Associate Professor of Economics Ilaria Ossella-Durbal and Career Consultant Robyn
Before leaving for their weeklong trip to Morocco in June, the group met throughout
the spring semester and explored topics of research in a seminar format. Readings
and discussions about Morocco included areas such as women’s role in contemporary
society, the nation’s environmental challenges, cultural influences of Spain, public
higher education and economic relations between the European Union and North Africa.
When in Morocco, the group scheduled several days of talks at AUI, and also set out
to experience the people and culture of Morocco, making trips to historic areas of
several cities. The group dined with Professor Saloua Zerhouni, who has applied to
become a Fulbright scholar at Illinois Wesleyan this fall. A political science professor
at Morocco’s largest university, Universit Mohammad V – Souissi in the capitol city
of Rabat, Zerhouni arranged meetings for the Illinois Wesleyan group with faculty
and administrators at Mohammad V.
Photo by Diego Mendez-Carbajo
Professor Carolyn Nadeau and Associate Professor of Economics Ilaria Ossella-Durbal
examine the spices of a market vendor in Morocco.
“This is how we build international bridges,” said Nadeau, who came to Morocco to
study the influence that Moroccan Amazigh (or Berber) tribes played on today’s Spanish
cuisine. Although she has studied extensively in Spain, Nadeau has never had the chance
to cross the eight-mile stretch of water between Spain and Morocco. “I was able to
walk through the markets, taste the food, talk with scholars about my research and
visit with librarians at both the University of Fez and Al Akhawayn,” said Nadeau.
“The physical connection to this part of history was overwhelming, in the good sense
of the word.”
Jahiel, who has been actively involved in sustainability education, said she had a
productive meeting with Professor of Environmental Science Bachir Raissouni, the Executive
Director of the Centre for Environmental Issues and Regional Development (CEIRD) at
Al Akhawayn University. “Through my meeting with Dr. Raissouni, I learned a great
deal about Morocco’s institutional structure for addressing environmental issues,
how it has developed over time, and how it has functioned in reality,” said Jahiel,
who has done extensive study of these issues in China. Jahiel added that she and
Raissouni are exploring the possibility of holding a sustainability workshop at Al
Akhawayn similar to the one Jahiel coordinated at Illinois Wesleyan in 2006 and that
Raissouni expressed interest in visiting Illinois Wesleyan.
Like Jahiel, other professors came away from Morocco forming collaborative relationships
or additions to their research. Mendez-Carbajo, who will be the incoming chair of
the Economics Department this fall, said he is looking into the possibility of creating
a May Term course with a professor from AUI that would focus on money and banking
issues in Islamic nations. A native of Spain, Mendez-Carbajo worked on the topic of
North African-European Union relations while a graduate student in Madrid. Traveling
to Morocco offered “a unique opportunity to revisit problems under a new light,” he
said. “Morocco is, in so many ways, invisible even though it is so close to the country
where I grew up.”
Photo by Diego Mendez-Carbajo
Members of the Morocco Initiative gather for tea at a riad in the ancient city of
Rabat before journeying to Al Akhawayn University.
Ossella-Durbal, who teaches development economics at Illinois Wesleyan, said she is
also looking into the possibility of developing a May Term course examining the economics
of tourism, which could include lectures by professors at AUI and travel to Morocco.
“I came on this trip because I wanted to learn, learn, learn, and I was not disappointed,”
she said. “There is so much potential for new research for me in this area of the
world.” According to Ossella-Durbal, all travel is educational. The daughter of an
Italian employee of the United Nations, she grew up in developing countries across
Drici and Shimizu met with officials at AUI and Mohammed V with the goal of not only
determining areas of collaboration and exchange, but discovering avenues and formats
to make the interactions possible,” in Drici’s words. “All the people we met at AUI
and Mohammed V expressed a strong interest in creating ongoing programs with Illinois
Wesleyan,” said Drici, who was impressed by the collaborative projects and research
evolving from the trip.
One of the goals of research is to share information with others – an idea embraced
by Duke in her informational studies for The Ames Library. While in Morocco, Duke
initiated a tour of the Bibliothque Nationale du Royaume du Maroc in Rabat, or national library of Morocco, and spoke with AUI’s Vice President for
Academic Affairs Abdelhamid Lotfi, who is the acting director of the library at Al
Akhawayn. “What struck me was how similar the issues of information literacy are regardless
of culture,” said Duke, who discussed with counterparts the need for students to “go
beyond Google” in their research. “We are encouraging students to learn how to find
and evaluate sources, and use them appropriately and ethically.” Duke said. AUI will
be introducing the concept of information literacy across the curriculum, an area
where Illinois Wesleyan has been focusing. “There will be many avenues for collaboration
and learning in the future,” Duke said.
Career Consultant Robyn Walter provided insight on career development to officials
at Mohammad V, and worked closely with her counterpart at AUI, Ikram Benseddsik. “At
AUI, Ikram is the only career services professional in the entire country,” said Walter.
Morocco’s higher education system is working to adapt elements of what is called the
“Anglo-Saxon” or “American” model of teaching, but the concept of career planning
is new to the nation. “Quickly becoming Ikram’s only link to our shared profession,
I was glad I could affirm a common richness and efforts in our work with students,”
Drici said she believes the trip was a success, judging from the positive response
the Illinois Wesleyan group received in Morocco from the universities. “Their strong
interest in learning more about our own institution, about its people, policies, procedures
and programs, gave us an opportunity to begin exploring the feasibility of establishing
cooperation and exchange programs for students, faculty and staff,” she said.
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960