A Moroccan Summer, All Expenses Paid

Eli Binder, ’15  

Over the summer, I travelled to Morocco on a program through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, or NSLI-Y. NSLI-Y is a State Department-sponsored program that provides high school students scholarships to travel throughout the world. Its goal is to expose American citizens between the ages of 15 and 18 to languages and cultures not commonly taught in the United States, as well as to promote America abroad, on a personal level. NSLI-Y sends students to Jordan, Morocco and Oman to study Arabic; China and Taiwan to study Chinese; India to study Hindi; South Korea to study Korean; Tajikistan to study Persian; Russia to study Russian; and Turkey to study Turkish.

NSLI-Y has two types of programs: summer term and academic year. Summer programs are 6-8 weeks and offer over 120 hours of language class. School year programs last for about 9 months and offer over 10 hours of language class per week.

Both programs provide full scholarships and include living stipends. During my time in Morocco, I lived with a host family and received a weekly allowance to supplement living expenses. On this stipend, I was able to live comfortably, often with money left over.

While NSLI-Y is funded by the State Department, it is administered by contracted non-governmental organizations. American Councils, an NGO, manages the admissions process and then assigns students to different NGOs in their country of choice. Each program begins in Washington DC for a pre-departure orientation, and then students travel together to their program location. After settling in, students move in with host families or into their dorms. Every program has on-location support and regular meetings with resident coordinators.

I received a scholarship to travel this summer to Rabat, Morocco, with an NGO called Amideast. There were 15 students on my program, and we lived in pairs (and one triplet) in host families across Rabat. Living with host families was really fun and interesting: everyone developed close relationships with their parents and siblings and learned a lot about Moroccan culture.

Rabat, the capital of Morocco, is a relatively small, quiet and very livable city. When we were not in class, on cultural trips or with our host families, we were free to do whatever we wanted. One of the greatest parts of the NSLI-Y program was the cultural immersion we received while exploring the city by ourselves, and hanging out with Moroccan friends. Very cheap taxis, public transportation, great food and an amazing ancient walled city made exploring our new home a great linguistic and cultural experience.

Every weekday, we had 4 hours of Arabic classes, with 7 kids to a class. The first three hours were Modern Standard Arabic, the formal, business Arabic that is spoken by all educated people across the Arab world. Although we all started off with no, or very little, prior Arabic experience, we moved incredibly fast and after a few weeks of study, we could hold basic conversations as well as read and write.

During the fourth hour, we learned Darija, colloquial Moroccan Arabic, which is a mix of Arabic, Tamazight (the language of the native Amazigh people), French and Spanish. While Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of Morocco, along with Tamazight, Darija is spoken in most homes and in public by almost everyone. This class was less formal, and we learned through music and games.

Most days after class, there was a cultural activity. We went on excursions with Moroccan high school students, had conversation practice with university students, and explored Roman ruins and a traditional carpet souq. We also had a community service project, where we helped build a garden in the park of community center for Sub-Saharan African migrants in Morocco.

Many BHSEC students have participated in NSLI-Y. This past summer, Danya Levy (Y1) also went to Rabat, Morocco. She loved the program, and said that her favorite part was “getting to really experience and be immersed in Morocco, being able to explore a new and exciting place every day and getting to constantly try new things.” She said that while the program was very challenging, it was certainly worth it, and that she is very happy with the amount of Arabic she was able to learn.

Last summer, former BHSEC student Alessandro Bruni traveled to Zhuhai, China with NSLI-Y, where he lived with a host family. He said, “I loved the trip, I’ve never been so independent. Most importantly, I realized how traveling abroad can give you a new frame of reference for understand the world and your role in it, and provide cultural exposure.” Alessandro has continued to study Chinese and hopes to live in China for a year abroad in the near future.

Vashti Wagner (Y2) also participated in a NSLI-Y program last summer. She lived in Seoul, South Korea with a host family. Her favorite part of her trip was having an adventure every day, whether it was a structured cultural activity like dance or cooking classes, or exploring Seoul independently. She says that NSLI-Y helped her become aware of different lifestyles and gave her perspective on life in the United States. At the end of program, she spoke Korean at an intermediate level.

NSLI-Y scholarships are merit-based. The first stage of the application involves writing a few essays and answering questions, along with school transcripts and recommendations. Then, semi-finalists are chosen and are interviewed, and in March or April, applicants are notified if they have been selected. Applications for the 2014-2015 programs are due November 5th. The application and more information can be found at http://www.nsliforyouth.org.

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