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“They are so much like my kids back home”– Reflections from S2S Educator, Eric Northard

Eric Northard is currently visiting the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center in Casablanca, Morocco with the School-2-School program. In this post, Eric reflects on the incredible relationships and thought-provoking experiences he has acquired during his stay.

It’s been an amazing ten days.  Traveling to Casablanca, Morocco has been an incredible experience, made even more memorable by the warmth and hospitality of the people I have met.  At the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center (SMCC) I have been welcomed warmly and enthusiastically.  The staff, volunteers, and kids have engaged me openly.  They are really curious to learn more about me, and are also motivated to practice their English language skills.

The staff and students at SMCC have shared so much of their lives with me over the last ten days.  They talk openly about their hopes and aspirations, as well as how they are preparing to be successful students and citizens. They flock to lectures and classes to learn new skills and develop linguistic and academic proficiency.  The center offers a wide variety of programs in English, French, and Spanish, tutoring in math and physics, and a vast array of social and recreational classes.  Kids and teenagers from the community love the center.  They are disappointed each day when we close SMCC for the evening meal, and even more so when it is announced that the center won’t be reopening afterwards.

S2S participant Eric Northard, an educator from Grand Rapids, MN, teaching a civics lesson at the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center

S2S participant Eric Northard, an educator from Grand Rapids, MN, teaching a civics lesson at the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center.

Being here during Ramadan has been enlightening.  It’s a special time, and certainly fasting is not a common practice for most of us.  My hosts have been both surprised and pleased that I’ve chosen to join them in this.  For me, it’s been a chance to be a part of the rhythm of this season.

In fact, one of my biggest takeaways from this experience so far has been to surrender some of the individualism that characterizes my own society, and to respect and acknowledge the collective nature of Moroccan society.  For example, as an American- and as a fairly seasoned traveler- I’ve been used to doing things on my own.   Out of respect for my hosts, and their concerns for my safety and comfort, I’ve tried to be sensitive to their wishes.  I think that’s served me well, although when my host Amina tries to push more food on me I’ve finally learned to politely but firmly say no.

The coolest part of this experience has been living with a Moroccan family.  I’m so happy that I strongly advocated for staying with a family, rather than the hotel originally offered to me.  Amina, her 17-year-old son, and her 12-year-old daughter are amazing hosts.  They have taken it upon themselves to show me the best of Casablanca. They are surprised by my interest in the daily life of Sidi Moumen, the community where they live.  Salah (Amina’s son) treats his hosting duties as his personal undertaking. He has spent hours showing me everything in Casablanca, and even brought me with his friends to a traditional Moroccan hamam.

At SMCC, I’ve both led and participated in workshops, discussions, and lectures. I held a lecture about where I am from, programs on Critical Thinking and Civic Education, and conducted a curriculum planning workshop for teachers and parents. I also met with program staff and Rotarians in Casablanca to discuss planning for future student exchange programs.  I’m especially pleased to say that Mohammed, SMCC’s English Program Coordinator, will likely be visiting us in Minnesota this September.  Many of my students know him from our digital exchanges, and I can’t wait for them to meet this awesome guy in person!

I have been really pleased to see that the students at SMCC continue to follow and interact with my students on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.   They want MORE connections!  Their impressions have been funny: “American students look so old compared to us…” and “You have so many blonde students!” The kids here are great.  They are so much like my kids back home.  They’re funny, engaging, and talented.  They would get along great.

Eric w students 2_Gillen_June 2016

Eric with some of the students at the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center.

Yesterday, the Vice President of SMCC gave us a tour of Rabat, which was beautiful. The staff at SMCC scheduled a free day for me today, so Mohammed accompanied me from Rabat to Fes.  Ok, I begged him to join me, but I didn’t have to twist his arm. We are staying in the breathtaking medina. What a treat!

This coming week I’ll have more sessions and workshops, many more hours of conversation with students, and I’m sure some great new and unexpected experiences.  I’ve got all kinds of new info and experiences that I can’t wait to share with my students and community!  I feel so lucky to be a part of the School-2-School program, and I am so appreciative of my wonderful hosts for this experience.

Until my next post,



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This entry was posted on June 15, 2016 by in Volunteer Related.
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