Twelve students at The University of Texas-Pan American shared their impressions of a month-long stay in Morocco this summer during the Annual Cultural Immersion Colloquium held Aug. 20.
Funded by the Integrated Global Knowledge and Understanding Collaboration (IGkNU), the all expenses paid program focuses on cultural and language immersion and is directed toward fostering global knowledge, understanding and leadership skills for the next generation.
"The goal of this program is to have students return to UTPA with the knowledge of another language and culture and hopefully give them a better perspective of the world we live in," said Nick Weimer, IGkNU manager. He said the program was built upon a faculty exchange between UTPA and Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, where the students were housed.
Student participants included sophomores Janet Fernandez Clark, Celia Crystal Martinez, and Manuel Fernando Tizcareno; juniors Nadia Tamez-Robledo, Estrella Lizzeth Medina, and Desiree Diann Ortiz; seniors Omar Doria, Lynnette Danielle Aguilar, Janet Marisol Alvarado, and Saba Sareh; and two graduate students that participated as teaching assistants with IGkNU.
During their stay, students had the opportunity to travel to the cities of Marrakech, Fez, Tangier, and Casablanca and also went on professional visits and educational tours to places such as the Parliament, Ministries of the Interior and Social Development, and the Hassan II Mosque.
"We put Pan Am on the map in Africa," said Dr. Aziza Zemrani, UTPA assistant professor of Public Administration and director for the Morocco Cultural Immersion Program, who formulated the program with the support of administrators from UTPA and Mohammed V University as well as the UTPA Office of International Programs.
The presentations ranged from Tamez-Robledo's emotional poem depicting the sights, smells and sounds of an unfamiliar culture to Tizcareno's painting of a Moroccan sunset - a site he said that was universal and most memorable to him. Accompanied by Moroccan music and photos of their experiences, many of the students talked about their struggles and triumphs in learning Arabic, their lack of knowledge or misconceptions about the culture, and the transformative nature of studying in another country.
Ortiz described how the trip changed her to the colloquium audience of faculty, University administrators, family members and friends.
"I know that after this experience I will never be the same," said Ortiz, who is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. "I have grown immeasurably as a person and scholar in such a short period of time. I have discovered new strengths in myself and gained a new sense of identity in an interconnected world."
For Martinez, a sophomore majoring in biology/premed, the experience made her more adventuresome.
"It gave me a chance to push myself beyond my usual limits," she said.
Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said he hopes this groundbreaking program starts a cultural immersion trend creating further partnerships with other foreign universities.
"We hope this program is only the beginning of the development of many global classrooms around the world in which our students can further their cultural understanding of global issues," he said. "This will be one of many programs to develop the mission of UTPA to enhance student's competitiveness in today's global society."
IGkNU is a program created from the Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence, which was funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It seeks to prepare students to be the next generation of leaders not only in national security and intelligence fields but also as global leaders at large. IGkNU's programs focus on advanced interdisciplinary studies, research, cross-discipline team communication and critical thinking skills. For more information on IGkNU, go to www.utpa.edu/egknu.