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Fulbright Scholarships

MOROCCO | Wednesday, 23 July 2014 | Views [570]

 After class on Wednesday, we met up with Nisrine and followed her through the quiet residential area to the office for the Fulbright group. As we were walking in, someone behind us recognized Nisrine and told her (and, by extension, us) to go in, he'd be down in a few minutes.

 We signed in in a nice guestbook. Unfortunately, Natasha, who went right before me, took the last entry of the current page. So I turned a page and found no bold lines dividing the information into simple boxes to fill out. Making sure to write in the correct area was nearly as challenging as stopping my handwriting from shrinking. Besides basic legibility requirements, I needed to be a good model. So I tried to right largely, and in about the right area. Then I went to the sofa to sit down.

 We waited around a little bit, then the guy from earlier came down, pulled over an extra chair, and started talking.

 His name was Jim, and he'd been a Fulbright coordinator in Rabat for 5 years. Prior to that point, he'd been a teacher and done research in Northern African Geography. He's spent most of the last five years in Morocco, though he has visited other Northern Afrian countries, several years and a fair amount of of political change ago.

 The Fulbright Scholarship was started by Senator Fulbright in 1945. It exists in 155 countries, and about 50 of them run it out of a commission, and not the US embassy. Morocco is one of them. In 1952 the Fulbright Scholarship in Morocco started, and in 1982 the commission was formed. About 2/3 of the funding comes from the US, and 1/3 comes from Morocco.

 Over the past 10 years, 2.3 million people have received Fulbrights related to Morocco. The scholarship for Moroccan students allows them to get a Masters and/or Ph.D. from a US university. The Fulbright covers everything, from tuition to flights to a stipend. There are around 45-50 students in the US studying on a Fulbright in any given year.

 For the US students, there are two main programs. Both are year-long programs, with the option of an additional 6 months of Arabic study, allowing students to either teach in a Moroccan university or conduct Ph.D. research. The research has a wide range, but tends to focus on what is unique about Morocco. He gave the example of a student currently in Morocco researching art history.

 The process for applying to Fulbright begins in the fall, when specifically being somewhat dependent on the college you attend. In January people at the Institute of Education Research read through the applications and reject about half of them. The ones that aren't rejected are forwarded on to the Moroccan office, where they make decisions, usually notifying people in April. The accepted people go to a five day conference in June to meet up with the other Fulbrighters who will be in the Middle East, and they come to Morocco in September.

 He spent a lot of time talking about the ETA (English Teachers Abroad?) program, since that's what the general interest was in. Morocco is one of the few countries where the Fulbrighters will be plunged straight into being university instructors and not teaching aides, or something like that. Fulbrighters are also the only people able to teach directly at a public Moroccan university, since they're the only ones who can somehow dodge the law prohibiting foreigners from teaching. As such, public universities are missing native speakers, which make Fulbrighters especially valuable.

 Jim and Nisrine started talking a bit about her college experiences. On learning she'd gone to school in Meknes, he talked about the student they had there for 6 months. After he was verbally and physically threatened, he was transferred to a different location for the reminder of his stay. What happened? Strikers had come in to interrupt the class, closing books and declaring that class was over. When the teacher told the class that they'd meet outside, the strikers started threatening him. That was the worst case for the teachers, but milder cases are common.

 “A Moroccan university is more like a badly run factory,” he explained. By which he meant the humanities side of a Moroccan university. The humanities side is physically separated from the science side, mostly to stop the disruptions from the humanities side from leaking over. In the science side, teachers show up on time, classes run when they're supposed to, and students don't strike. In the humanities side it might take four weeks for the teacher to start showing up to class, so the students stop showing up. When they do, it will be a race to get caught up, interrupted by strikes.

 There are several different groups that are usually responsible for strikes. The Islamists think that college is for studying and anything fun should be prohibited. The Secularists think that the Islamists are wrong and should oppose them every chance they get. The Berberists think that everything should be taught in Amazigh. They sometimes support the secularists, but not always.

 If that weren't bad enough, a couple years ago the Moroccan universities switched from offering four-year degrees to three-year. Why? Because the Europeans were doing it. Unfortunately, Morocco didn't have the funding or other resources to make that transition. To add insult to injury, around that time many teachers quit, because they could afford to. Because of this inefficiently compacted schedule, literature is not part of any English classes. So a good student can graduate with a degree in English without having read a play by Shakespeare or a poem by Keats.

 I've been hanging around education majors too long, because my main reaction to hearing about the Moroccan universities was “has anyone done research into that?” I asked if any of the Fulbrighters research question was about the educational system. The short answer was yes, but not recently. The sheer chaos of the universities is fascinating. What does it take to succeed in that kind of environment? What are the longer-term consequences? Does it work to physically separate the two parts of the school and why? It would probably make for unique research.

 In case we weren't deterred by the environment we would need to be working in, he concluded by giving us advice about what the Fulbright commission was looking for in their ETA program. Above all, they wanted two things: interest in Morocco and proven ability to teach English. Being here for a summer program was a great start, and would presumably help us write good personal statements about why Morocco apart from “It seemed easy to get a Fulbright.” (Morocco is probably of average difficulty, fyi). For the teaching experience, they wanted things like “I taught English to refugees,” or “I did a summer program teaching English at Paris Lycees.” The language that the students spoke doesn't matter, but that experience is incredibly helpful for the application. Finally, if you wanted to do research in Morocco, they're looking for people who had done prior research. The better written the proposal is, the more likely they are to accept it, because it's clear that the project is important to the student.

 As we were leaving, he encouraged us all to apply for Fulbrights, and to send him an e-mail if we did, mentioning that we'd visited him. I'm not sure if that would be able to tip a decision, but if I'm waiting for a decision after mid-January, I'll probably send him an e-mail. Just to be on the safe side.

Tags: fulbright, research, strikes, teaching, university

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