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.
Bethlehem Mehari Belachew, born in Ethiopia, is a rising senior studying Political Science and French at Furman University, in Greenville, South Carolina. In addition, she is working toward minors in Middle East and Islamic Studies, and Poverty Studies, making this internship even more meaningful to her! Bethlehem will be teaching French in Tarmilaat village, Ifrane, Morocco for the 2015 Summer Service Internship. Read her pre-departure blog below!
Teaching and Learning Languages in Morocco
Hello, my name is Bethlehem Belachew, I am from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and I am a rising senior at Furman University. I am currently a double major in Political Science and French with minors in Middle East and Islamic Studies and Poverty Studies. As I have been looking for an internship that tied in all, or most, of my areas of study, I was overjoyed to learn about the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors’ program in Ifrane, Morocco.
I must admit that I was not as enthusiastic as I should have been in the days after I finalized my internship plans. I assumed it was due to school work and responsibilities that piled at the end of the semester, I learned afterward that it was for a completely different reason. As a foreigner in the US, I occasionally found myself correcting people’s prejudiced and often stereotypical view of Ethiopia, and sometimes Africa; hence I couldn’t get myself to imagine a country I knew so little about. One could easily wander into “orientalist” territory in thinking of arid climate, perhaps the veiled women, or maybe snake charmers.
So, I have been intentional in my preparation so to be fully conscious of what that awaits me. I’ve read and studied the history and geo-politics of Morocco, and the North African region in general. And I have become quite interested in the Arabic language. As a speaker of another Semitic language, I find Arabic moderately difficult and extremely rich. My studies further motivated me to read up on the Moroccan dialect and Berber that is spoken in Morocco. I am hopeful that it will all help me bridge certain linguistic gaps with the students who I will be teaching French and English. Who knows, they might even be encouraged by the fact that I too am in the same process of learning a different language.
From a previous experience of teaching students in an impoverished community, I feel confident in saying I know what things to strive for, although this time, the cultural and linguistic context differs. Two years ago, I taught English to seventh graders who barely knew the basics. I was personally challenged by their, rather frequent, question of “why do we need to learn English?”
After much thought, I realized that it was wrong of me to have thought mastering English would drastically change their lives. I accepted and respected their goal to help their parents, at home or in the market. I also took it as my duty to help them think of things they normally wouldn’t be exposed to, things beyond themselves and their families. In the same manner, I do not expect my students in Morocco to master the tenses and conjugate each verb by the end of our summer together, although that would be nice. I hope they will see why learning an international language like French or English is so important, and how it may help them in the long run.