We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
The following is a post by AUA Service Intern Joelle Peikes written upon her return from Morocco working with students of the Azrou Center.
I have written and re-written versions of this blog maybe ten times since August. I think I have been having a difficult time because I feel that finishing this final entry will mean that my overseas experience is really over. Until now I’ve been living in a strange post-Morocco time frame and I don’t want to let go of it. I don’t want things to go back to “normal” and to leave it all behind. At the same time, though, I must wake up every day and live my life here, and it’s becoming easier and easier to do. Actually, if I’m being honest with myself, it became easy all too quickly. I remember the brief period of reverse culture shock when I first arrived home. I was surprised when one of the hardest things to adjust back to was wearing shorts and tank tops, my usual summer garb. After six weeks of long skirts and harem pants, I felt awkward making the switch back. Strangely enough, that’s when I realized how deeply my experiences of this summer impacted me. I have been so afraid of letting it go, but am now realizing that that would be impossible, because all of it, every detail, every student, every day, every conversation, awkward moment, surprise, and challenge, has been ingrained in me. I carry all of those moments with me in the way that I interact with other people, and the way that I carry myself and approach challenges. Even my expectations of myself have changed. I feel empowered by the work I accomplished this summer, having seen the successes of my students over the course of my time there. What’s even more wonderful is that many of my students from the Azrou Center have stayed in touch, and we continue to impact each other’s lives.
So, what have I learned about the Muslim world? Well, plenty. I learned about Islam through the firsthand experience of living in a Muslim country during the Holy month of Ramadan. I learned about the values of family and community, as well as the famous Arab hospitality, which I was shown by countless strangers to no limit. But I think the more apt question is, what did I learn about the world? This summer I learned that people are people no matter where you are. No matter how different your cultures, languages and habits, you can always find a way to connect. The relationships I made with the people I met in Morocco, even those I only met briefly in a shop or on the street, are some of the most profound and rewarding of my life. I am so grateful to each and every person that opened up and shared a piece of their lives with me, because in doing so they opened up my world to things I never even knew I was missing. This is a gift I don’t think I can ever repay, but for which I am eternally thankful.