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U.S. Fulbright

Creating Home Abroad and Breaking the Tourist Barrier

July 17, 2020

By Sarah McLewin, 2018 Fulbright ETA to Morocco



After accepting a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Morocco, I began to imagine exploring all Morocco has to offer—mountains, desert, beaches, and cities, each with a unique history and culture.

But once I arrived in my host city, Rabat, I found myself feeling hesitant to spend my weekends traveling. Instead, during my first few months there, I focused on creating a home in my neighborhood.



Creating My Rabat Home

As I settled in, I learned how to manage my teaching responsibilities and work towards my language goals. But there was also a long list of other things to figure out: Where would I copy materials for class? Or pick up a taxi? Make friends? Get a haircut?



Figuring out all of these things was a trial-and-error process. Eventually, I developed rhythms that were comforting and familiar. I got to know the vendors at the vegetable market by my house so that when I walked through the neighborhood, I felt like a member of the community. I found a perfect café where I could grade papers and practice Arabic with the waitstaff. I became a regular at a hair salon where I had interesting conversations about gender roles in Moroccan society. These daily rituals took me beyond tourist experiences and towards creating a community abroad.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy touring Morocco; I will always cherish the memories of drinking fresh orange juice while sitting in the cascades of a waterfall in Akchour, or walking through filming locations for Game of Thrones in Essaouira. However, I especially cherish Rabat because it was my Moroccan home.


How to Create Home Abroad

Creating home abroad can show you that new places do not have to feel foreign. The home you create in your new host country lays the foundation for a unique and authentic experience. Wherever Fulbright might take you, here are some practical tips on making it “home.”

  1. Talk to people – Whether with store clerks, neighbors, or fellow commuters, look for opportunities to create connections with people you pass regularly. The more connections you make, the more you will start to feel a sense that you belong.
  2. Build local roots – There’s something special about your first few weeks in your city. Delay regional trips so that you set up a strong routine in your new stomping grounds.
  3. Try familiar things in a new context – Participate in familiar activities far from home. As an avid salsa dancer in the U.S., I was pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant Latin dance community in Rabat. By joining a salsa studio, I made friends from Morocco, Spain, and France, making my Fulbright a truly global experience.
  4. Try new things – Use your Fulbright as an opportunity to embrace a new hobby, new ways of cooking, and new types of friends. While in Morocco, I found a small gym in my neighborhood that offered Tae Bo for women. I had never tried Tae Bo, but it became a great way for me to meet other women and get to know neighbors.
  5. Become a regular – Whether it’s a café, restaurant, salon, or market, find a place where you enjoy spending time and can visit regularly. By frequenting the same places, you’re more likely to meet people and establish lasting friendships.



Creating home abroad is a unique process for each person. Whatever it looks like for you, embracing your host country and the home you create will create memories more precious than any tourist excursion can offer.

FLTA U.S. Fulbright

From Arabic Student to Anthropologist: Fulbright Full Circle

July 6, 2017

Gwyneth Talley, 2015-2016, Morocco (third from left), at the opening of a festival in Zagora, Morocco with Amal Ahmri and her tbourida troupe.

My Fulbright journey began with one distinct moment: My first Arabic class in 2009 where Tunisian Fulbrighter Beligh Ben Taleb, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), taught me my Alif–Baa–Taas (or my Arabic ABCs) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It was Beligh’s first trip to the United States, first Ramadan in a non-Muslim country, and first American teaching experience. He would set a high bar for all the other Fulbright FLTAs to follow at the University.

I remember the class vividly, full of heritage speakers, curious students who wanted to work in government, and a few looking for a challenging language. Beligh took teaching Arabic in stride and encouraged us to participate in cultural activities by cooking traditional Arab meals, helping us translate songs, and dressing us up in Tunisian clothes. Aside from learning how to introduce ourselves, the most memorable phrase I remember Beligh teaching me was: “I ride horses.”

In the summer of 2010, I took my first trip to Morocco to study Arabic and French. I stayed with a horse training family, which would lead me to my graduate research in anthropology. While learning Modern Standard Arabic, my host family immersed me in Moroccan dialect and culture–specifically their horse culture. I also met the incoming Fulbright FLTA assigned to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Othmane Zakaria. He was born and raised in the city of Meknes where I was staying for the summer. We shared tidbits about our cultures, and I warned him to buy his winter coat in the States because Nebraska winters were not like winters in Morocco.

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U.S. Fulbright

Journey to a Sacred Capital: My Fulbright Year in Morocco

October 26, 2015

Armaan Siddiqi, 2011-2012, Morocco, stands in the historic Tin Mal mosque in the High Atlas Mountains. The mosque, an architectural feat and current UNESCO world heritage site, was constructed in the twelfth century during the Almohad Dynasty to commemorate its famous ruler, Mohamad Ibn Tumart.

After navigating a series of sinuous allies in the sprawling labyrinth that is the old city of Fez, I finally arrive at my destination: the ornate shrine and mosque of Moulay Idriss II—the patron saint of Fez and son of the first ruler of Morocco. I breathe a deep sigh of relief: finally, I’ve found it! I tiptoe in, allowing the sights and sounds of the shrine to wash over me. I find a quiet corner and begin journal entry #1: “This is but the first of many sacred sites I aspire to visit while researching Islam in Morocco this year…”

Rereading the above excerpt, written four years ago as a wide-eyed Fulbright U.S. Student researcher in Morocco, fills me with immense nostalgia and gratitude; my Fulbright experience was, without any exaggeration, one of the most formative experiences of my life, personally and professionally. In delving deep into Islamic history and theology for my research, I not only deepened an understanding of my project (which examined the relationship between Muslim piety and Moroccan politics) but I also realized the tremendous diversity of Islam, and my fellow Muslims.

Living in Morocco as an American Muslim of Pakistani origin made for particularly interesting encounters. Casual conversations with Moroccans, other students and travelers from around the world routinely transformed into profound and passionate discussions on race, faith and politics in the U.S. and Middle East. Little did I realize then that these impromptu conversations would also contribute greatly to my research. Indeed, some of the greatest lessons during one’s Fulbright year arise from the most coincidental circumstances: a chance encounter with a Moroccan-American expatriate at an ATM machine in Fez, for example, led to an afternoon of hearing spooky djinn stories from his childhood with another Fulbright friend researching Moroccan folklore. Through my host institution—the Sidi Mohamad ben Abdallah University of Fez, I was connected with very helpful faculty and students who further enriched my research and invited me to collaborate with their exciting projects.

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U.S. Fulbright

Being Open to the Unexpected: My Fulbright Year in Morocco

July 9, 2014
Jacqueline Bishop

Jacqueline Bishop, 2008-2009, Morocco, at an exhibition of her patchwork quilts made from Moroccan djellabas and scarves in Morocco

Sometimes you go in search of one thing, and yes, you find that one thing, but you find many other things as well. That is what my Fulbright year in Morocco was like.

I went to Morocco to study the burgeoning lifestyle magazine industry that had sprung up in the country over recent years. Within a very short period of time there were several “du Maroc” (of Morocco) magazines being published in the country – Cuisine du Maroc, Architecture du Maroc, Jardins du Maroc – and I was intrigued by the phenomenon. I wondered: Why are all these magazines now being published in Morocco? In time I came to realize that this all had to do with a burgeoning middle class.

But Morocco held many surprises for me. I discovered, for example, a rich embroidery tradition rooted in the history of Morocco. In time, because I am a visual artist, I started to utilize this embroidery in the creation of a series of patchwork quilts. In these quilts, there is a central embroidery around which I used various textiles often associated with women – scarves and djellabas in particular – both to emphasize the main embroidery and to extend the quilts into patchworks. In effect I was marrying both African American and Moroccan art forms.

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U.S. Fulbright

The Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative: Empowering Disadvantaged Youth in Morocco, By Mohsin Mohi-Ud-Din, 2009-2010, Morocco

July 18, 2011

As last year drew to a close, I could not help but feel a longing for what had transpired during my Fulbright grant.  I missed the kids I worked with from three orphanage centers in Morocco.  From the Darna Association, by the beautiful cliffs looking out to Spain from Tangier, to the kids at the Dar Lekbira Association, near Mehdi beach in Kenitra, to the open spaces of Bensaliman, where I worked with young Moroccan artists and the Ministry of Youth on a U.S. Embassy-sponsored event.  I missed the dirt in our hands, the kids’ enduring spirits, their old eyes, their youthful energy and contagious smiles.  Most importantly, I miss their brilliance and creativity.

In Morocco, my Fulbright project used the arts to empower disadvantaged youth on a micro level as a means towards improving the United States’ relationship with the Muslim world on a macro level.  The project became the Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative.

I had applied for a Fulbright grant three times.  On my first attempts, it was difficult to overcome the disappointment of rejection, but with each successive try, I became increasingly aware of what I wanted to actually do.  More importantly, I designed a project that I truly believed in — regardless of whether or not I received a Fulbright grant.  In my application, I designed a blueprint for an endeavor that meant more to me than simply getting the grant.  The project sought to make an impact in a Moroccan community.  From that basic premise, I was able to get local support from orphanages in Morocco. That grassroots support was vital to the project’s implementation and to winning a Fulbright grant.

Once I was awarded a Fulbright grant, I had a limited idea of what I was getting myself into but I knew why I was going to do it.  First, as a Muslim-American, I thought it was important for Muslims in the West to go to developing Muslims countries, live and work in them, learn from them, and share skills as means of fostering mutual understanding between one another’s societies.  Currently, there seem to be increasing fissures between Muslims in the West and Muslims in the developing world.  These fissures will only inhibit the greater Muslim World’s ability to silence extremists and for societies to progress spiritually and intellectually.  Secondly, I thought it essential to use the arts to bridge the East-West divide between non-Muslim-Americans and Muslims in the East.  Thirdly, I wanted to show how the arts are one of the few existing avenues to deconstruct myths held by different social classes, religions, countries, and cultures.  The arts show us that no civilization is monolithic.  They demonstrate that there is no one way to be Muslim, no one way to be human, and despite our diverse paths, the arts can unify us.  The arts remind us of the collective humanity to which we equally belong.  Lastly, I wanted to showcase how the arts can empower disadvantaged youth who otherwise have no space to address and express their grievances, dreams, and where they want to be.  I wanted to create a space for creative and critical thinking as well as innovation.  Spaces for such development are lacking for many youth in developing Muslim countries.  This fuels a toxic combination of helplessness and humiliation that exacerbates today’s cultural and geopolitical challenges.  As I have discovered, the talent, creativity, innovation and drive are there.  Yet the outlets, resources, and most importantly, the state and societal support, are somewhat weak.

Through the Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative, we were able to create a pilot youth arts education program that enabled disadvantaged children in Morocco to write, direct, film, and act in their own short stories about their hardships and dreams.  The initiative additionally led music workshops teaching kids how to read music.  I partnered with the U.S Embassy in Rabat in leading music workshops for the Ministry of Youth in Bensaliman .  My band, Zerobridge based in NYC, led a tour of workshops for Arab youth across Morocco also sponsored and organized by the U.S Embassy in Rabat.  The project left its mark in the culmination of a widely attended screening of all of the kids’ short films at the beautiful and historic Cinéma Rif Theater in Tangier.

When I left Morocco over a year later in March 2010, the last kids I saw were my group from the Dar Lekbira Orphanage.  They were the first group of kids I met and worked with, so it was only fitting to say goodbye to them last.  They changed my life, and from what they told me, the arts initiative gave them a little something to look forward to and confidence to hold on to.  The initiative instilled awareness in them that there are spaces within us that are meant to be discovered: be they spaces for creativity, spaces for innovation, or even spaces for forgiveness.  We cried together as I left.  The kids pulled lint, coins and bracelets from their torn clothes and gave them to me as mementos.  I will never forget them and the films, music and connections we created and discovered.

One of the toughest things I have ever done was to turn my back to the orphans and leave.  As I walked at night on a dirt road, I saw their faces pressed against the windows.  A train roared by to break the silence.  There was a full moon in the Kenitra sky.  The next night, I’d be looking at the moon from a plane.  And it was in this parting moment that it hit me.  Through the Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative, we moved mountains.  Despite the frustration, hunger, drugs, poverty and the broken families these orphans live every day, the creative spark and love we discovered through the arts helped us to overcome helplessness and hopelessness.  We rose above them.  Music, film, and art are avenues for true listening, understanding, and empowerment.  As a Muslim-American who worked in Muslim-Arab country, I can say that the arts, not just politics, are real diplomatic tools in which the U.S. should continue to invest.  The Fulbright Program, and its support of artistic projects, is so vital because it enables cultural and academic spaces to be created: interaction through people-to-people diplomacy, eye-to-eye, drum-to-drum, brush-to-brush, pen-to-paper, and hearts-to-minds.  Programs for educational and cultural exchange, such as the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Program, continue to provide a platform from which meaningful relationships with other nations and people-to-people diplomacy can be achieved.  The street kids, social workers, artists, and Moroccan people changed my life.  Together, through my Fulbright project, we moved more than mountains.  The Fulbright Program and State Department helped us to do this.

This summer, I will continue engaging in the cultural diplomacy started during my Fulbright project and implement a similar project for youth at an orphanage in South Asia’s embattled region of Kashmir, India.  The orphanage is called CHINAR.  These workshops will work on eroding the trust deficit between America and the Muslim world through arts education, empowerment, and communication.

Here are some tips to think about when starting your Fulbright application for a study or research project:

  • First, think of a project that relates to enhancing educational exchange or cultural diplomacy between the U.S .and other nations.   It should be something you are passionate about and something that will enhance your career.
  • Identify a country that has a specific need for your project idea or research interests.
  • Your Fulbright project does not have to be strictly limited to development or academic research.  The Fulbright Program welcomes applications in all fields of study – including the arts, professional fields and sciences.
  • Research and share your idea with institutions or non-governmental organizations that are in the country you’d like to work in.  Securing a host affiliation is best done well in advance of finishing your application. Once you are awarded a Fulbright grant, plan to be flexible and patient in getting your original idea off the ground.  It took me months to get the results and access I needed. It takes time to build trust and partnership networks.  But, if your project is something you believe in, you will get there!
  • If you don’t get the Fulbright, do not be discouraged.  I applied three times!  I tweaked my idea several times and grew more passionate about implementing the right project at the right time.  Don’t give up!

Photo: Mohsin Mohi-Ud-Din, 2009-2010, Morocco

Questions for Mohsin about his Fulbright experiences?  Feel free to email him at