College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Morocco Study Abroad 2019

A study abroad trip to Morocco brought together students outside of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences (CLASS) for more than course credits.

Dr. Mahmood Ibrahim, professor of history in CLASS, organized a three-week study abroad trip to Morocco. They traded the classroom for a bus and the whiteboard for the sights of the country. 

Their journey took them from the coast to the mountains, through the desert and back to the coast. The lectures with Dr. Ibrahim were in real-time as he discussed the history of the places they passed through. "We would be driving around, and he [Dr. Ibrahim] would be telling us about the areas. We were constantly learning," said Jessica Wu, a history graduate student. "It was just so much more hands-on because we got lost in the culture," said Wu. 

One historical landmark the group stayed at in northern Morocco was Volovulis - an ancient Roman city. "I wanted the students to experience the site itself and see how the planes unfold in front of them," said Dr. Ibrahim. During the group's extensive itinerary, they also visited Chefchaouen, a once sacred town forbidden to foreigners, the Sahara, Fes, Tangier, Casablanca, and Rabat, among other cities and towns. As a way to serve as their own historians on the trip, Ibrahim has students write in journals everyday to document what they have seen, and how it made them feel.

The constant movement was beneficial for students. "We had a lot more immersion in the local culture because of how we traveled. That was part of the fun. The culture shock and then adjusting," said engineering student Gregory Sleeter.

History graduate student Hannah Legacy felt like a different person after returning. "They welcomed us in their homes, sang, danced, and fed our study abroad group. Connecting with these people whose lives are so different from ours was impactful since we connected through a simple smile, hug, or handshake," said Legacy. 

Many of the students shared how vastly their perception of Morocco has changed. "You build a negative perception of how it is and how that country is going to be, but experience proved the perception all wrong," said Lucero Fernandez, kinesiology major. 

Ibrahim expects students to return from the trip feeling accomplished and confident in themselves. "This is one of the reasons why I love educational abroad programs; you are exposed to different ways of dealings, different cultures, different languages, and assumptions. Altogether it's strange enough that it's going to take some internal thinking to adjust to what's going on. It is an opportunity to expand their minds and experiences," said Dr. Ibrahim. 

Once back home, Fernandez described feeling accomplished in her travels. However, after settling back into a routine, Fernandez wished she was back in Morocco. This December, she will go back with her fellow traveler and new friend Wu. 

Studying abroad encourages the students to rely on each other for support away from home. This group of students started to form connections, not only with the customs and culture of Morocco but with one another. They started off the trip as strangers with the only common ground being Cal Poly Pomona. Now, they have a shared experience that bonds them for life.