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 is a rising sophomore at The College of New Jersey and is teaching English at the Al-Akhwayan Azrou Community Center in Morocco during the summer.
From 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., I team-teach three levels of English at the Al-Akhawayn Azrou Center for Community Development with my fellow Unofficial Ambassador, Neethi Vasudevan. Our students approach learning English with an intensity that I have never seen in any other language class. We have students who are adults with PhD’s in Physics or Engineering who bluntly told us that they need English for their professional careers. Children and teenagers want to travel to the United States or Britain, and that they also want to learn English for future jobs. They treat Neethi and me with the respect and trust that come from high expectations—and to occasional laughter as we blunder our way through the language barrier!
For my first few days, I regret to admit that I was not very empathetic towards people who desperately wanted something that I took for granted. I felt uncomfortable in my role as an American in Morocco. I began to feel like I was viewed as nothing more than an opportunity to practice English, and I questioned my ability to give what I had. I was completely taken aback in a store when the tired-looking clerk told me in halting English how he had taken English classes before, but they weren’t helping him, and if I could give him some resources so he could practice and get better? He had such a hopeful look on his face. I rattled off a few ESL websites and wished him luck.
Then, I saw the situation for what it really is: I’m surrounded by people who are highly self-motivated and know how to get what they want—and I’m in a unique position to make that happen! It takes a lot of humility to admit that you want to improve at something, and a lot more of it to accept instruction from a short, 19-year old female. At the very least, English is nothing more than an acquired skill, and I am very lucky to be in a position to share freely with others.
For native English speakers, it’s pretty easy to take our knowledge of English for granted, and that’s where I made my mistake. It was a great feeling to go back to that store and find out that the clerk had acted on my suggestions—and they helped him a lot! I love it when our students interrupt us to ask for clarification on a word or tell us that they do not understand something. My newfound sense of compassion enabled me to let my inhibitions of being ‘different’ go, and now my focus is not on what I don’t have, but what I can give. Insha’allah, I have three weeks left to make that happen!