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.
Alessandra Testa will be volunteering at the Al-Akhwayan Azrou Center for Community Development in Morocco! As an Unofficial Ambassador she plans on serving and building strong relationships during her time abroad.
The original post was written by Alessandra.
Bonjour, and salaam aleikum! My name is Alessandra, and in two weeks’ time, I will be serving as an ‘Unofficial Ambassador’ in Morocco. This is my reality–travelling over 3,000 miles to a country that I have only heard of in the news and read about through blog posts, websites and travel guides. If you had told me that at this time last year I would be packing my bags to teach English in a country that I equated merely as ‘Arabic-speaking’, I wouldn’t have believed you in the slightest. Thankfully, I’ve learned quite a few things since then.
My decision to volunteer through America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA), a citizen-based diplomacy initiative aimed at fostering cross-cultural connections between ordinary Americans and people from the Muslim World, traces its roots back to a high school senior and her desire to study Arabic. Why Arabic? As a native Italian speaker, I wanted the challenge of learning a language that seemed as far away from the Romantic languages as you could get. What I had not expected was for this beautiful language to act as a gateway to a culture and lifestyle that was so different, so enthralling, and so unfamiliar from everything that I grew up with in my sheltered New Jersey town.
In the weeks leading up to my time in Morocco, my reasons for volunteering with AUA began to change. I went in with the limited perspective of looking at solely what I would get out of this internship experience, and I realized that my intentions leaned more towards being a passive observer. Now, my aims (and anxieties!) center more on what I hope to give to others. As a part of my service agreement with AUA, I will be teaching English at a local NGO, the Al-Akhwayan Azrou Center for Community Development. From what I understand, I have some very big shoes to fill—but my goal is to develop adaptability in a situation that will demand for it. Previous experiences with tutoring high-school students in Italian and prison inmates in GED-level math and grammar taught me the importance of using empathy to value individual differences. When facing difficulties, I will watch my surroundings, learn from my students and adjust accordingly.
The most exciting part of my volunteer work will take place both inside and outside of the classroom. As an ordinary American interacting with ordinary Moroccans, I will volunteer my nationality, culture, perceptions, and way of thinking about the world—by simply being myself. To me, this is the best part about being an Unofficial Ambassador. I’m excited to face the unknown and unfamiliar, and I can’t wait to see what will become my new normal.
Once I set foot in Morocco, I want to experience everything and revel in an immersion into a culture that is not like my own. I don’t want my experiences to be clouded by my expectations for what I want to happen or what I think should happen—rather, I want to take each situation, live in the present, and enjoy each minute of it. Whatever the outcome of my six weeks in Morocco, I know that it will be an amazing experience like no other. Until then, I’m still here in New Jersey…planning, packing, and preparing, and then going back for more! Ma’salaama and goodbye for now!