Bridging North Carolina, U.S., and Morocco: An Interview with Two Virtual Exchange Participants
The International Foundation for Training and Development and the Onslow County School District's Youth for Sustainable Development Goals Virtual Exchange Program
Basma, a Yemeni American and junior at Northside High School in Jacksonville, North Carolina was interested in communicating with students who share a similar culture. Hajar is a Moroccan student in her second year at secondary high school. Together, they participated in The International Foundation for Training and Development and the Onslow County School District’s Youth for Sustainable Development Goals Virtual Exchange Program, where they raised awareness for and offered solutions to three of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Quality Education, Reduced Inequalities, and Partnerships. In this interview, they reflect on their experience sharing and celebrating the differences and similarities that allow us to connect as humans.
What attracted you to joining a class that included a virtual exchange?
Basma: I spoke to my teacher in passing during class changes after seeing the “Morocco Partnership” flyers. I wanted to get more information on the partnership. I was attracted to the idea of interacting with the students in Morocco because we share a similar culture.
Hajar: This was a new experience for me. From the first time I heard the teachers talk about it, I decided to participate because I would [learn] more about different cultures and I would create relations and communicate with others.
Tell us about your partner.
B: Hajar is a 16-year old Moroccan student in her second year of high school. Her favorite hobbies are drawing and reading, and she would love to try horse riding. Her favorite languages that she wants to learn and master her skills in are English, Turkish, and Korean.
H: Basma is a 16 year old Yemeni participant; she lives in the United States in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Basma is a junior in high school. She likes singing, dancing, and learning new languages and cultures, which I find interesting. She also loves to travel. Basma is a kind and lovely person; she is so sympathetic. From our conversations, I have learned she likes Turkish culture. I’ve noticed she particularly appreciates movies, television series, and the lifestyle.
Describe a project you worked on together to address a UN Sustainable Development Goal.
B: With this partnership, we made a puppet play [to] educate younger kids on how important it is to look out for the Earth and focus on the future. We also pointed out several types of pollution and figured out how we could reduce and prevent it from happening in the future while using recycled art crafts to visualize it out. I hope we can continue participating in global sustainability and participating in small acts that will make the Earth healthier.
H: The virtual exchange was a new experience for [me]. I collaborated with students to work on recycling to reduce the danger of garbage in society and to make people aware about the dangers of pollution. When we ended our meetings, we used to make videos about the project, and [even] made a little ceremony when the American leaders came to Morocco and gave us our certificate. We enjoyed those times, and they are unforgettable especially for me because I learned new things about Americans and their lifestyle.
At the start of the virtual exchange, what did you want to learn about the U.S. or Morocco?
B: I wanted to learn how their education system works, how Islam is portrayed in Morocco, and some travel tips for or a guide of Morocco.
H: I wanted to learn more about the American culture, lifestyle, food, accents, and how foreign students living in America learned to speak English fluently.
What did you end up learning about your partner’s country?
B: What I learned about Morocco is that they do not have a whole school day at once; it’s split up. So, [students] go to school for their first round in the morning, have their break from 2-4pm, then the second round towards the evening. Another thing I learned is that they do not have split gender classes as I experienced in Yemen. Also, the only transportation to school is [by] bus, [whereas] here we have a variety of options, such as walking, car, or buses. While Yemenis and Moroccans both speak Arabic, we have different dialects, so one word can have many ways to say it; learning these slight differences really gets me excited. Finally, I learned that at the school in Morocco, they have a small prayer room, so if the students want to offer the afternoon prayer, they’re able to pray in school. But in the U.S., we must wait until the school day finishes and then arrive home to pray.
H: I learned that Americans love soccer like us. The country is divided into many states. I learned some of their accents, and I got to know some of the foods they eat. At the end of the day, they also want to take care of the world and make a positive change.
Were there any misconceptions you had about your partner’s country before participating in the virtual exchange?
B: I thought that Morocco did not have problems like us. I thought they were vastly different, but I learned that they have the same environmental problems. So, no matter how far they are, we [are] always tied in some way.
H: At first, I thought that Americans did not like other cultures, but after this experience, I learned that they are kind, open-minded, and tolerant.
How did this experience contribute to your personal growth?
B: It made me more aware of our environment and the need to step up and do something about environmental issues. It also showed me the importance of [collaboration on] projects with people around the world to help our own regions become more sustainable.
H: This virtual program made me overcome my fear of speaking with others, and the ideas that we shared during the experience changed my way of thinking and how I perceive the world.
The International Foundation for Training and Development and the Onslow County School District’s Youth for Sustainable Development Goals Virtual Exchange Program is funded by the Stevens Initiative, which is housed at the Aspen Institute and is supported by the government of Morocco.