An American First: Major Musa’s Moroccan Degree

TALIM Jamil Musa Promotion
Major Jamil Musa (center) and his graduating class

The following is a guest post by US Air Force Major Jamil Musa, a C-17 instructor pilot assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.  A couple of years ago we wrote about his experience as an Olmsted Scholar and a friend of the Legation.  Major Musa studied at Mohammed V University from 2011-2013 earning a master’s degree in the immediate history of Morocco – the first American to do so.  We congratulate him on his achievement.

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Having spent over two years living in Morocco with my family and studying history at Rabat's Mohammed V University as part of the Olmsted Scholar Program, my recent return to Rabat to defend a master’s thesis spurred an unusual homecoming.

Considering my post-fellowship reintegration as a pilot in a U.S. Air Force flying squadron, there has been adequate passage for the development of perspective.  Many factors including hard work, persistence, and a healthy bit of luck, no doubt contributed to my successful completion of a degree predominantly instructed in Arabic and thus becoming the first American to graduate from the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences at Mohammed V University.  However, the key-contributing factor is tied to the notion of embrace.

TALIM Jamil Musa Thesis Defense

Jamil Musa at his thesis defense

As an American student and non-native Arabic speaker in a Moroccan setting, I experienced many highs and lows throughout my time at university.  Honestly, the fear of failure and a smidgen of cognitive dissonance surrounding the daunting goal of earning a degree led me to often reference Mark Twain: “I’ve never let school interfere with my education.”

TALIM Mohammed V attestationAlthough there is certainly wisdom in Twain’s dictum concerning the peripheral lessons associated with immersion and study in a foreign society, earning a degree is ironically a pleasant physical reminder of such intangibles.

More than a piece of paper, the degree is a material representation of the welcome and patience demonstrated by all of those who provided assistance along the way.  That is, it denotes an embrace… an embrace from my Moroccan classmates, faculty, neighbors, and friends… an embrace by the generous people affiliated with organizations such as TALIM, MACECE, the US Embassy and the Olmsted Foundation.  For this, I am quite thankful.

Of course immersion and study in a foreign country is not something unique to my family or me; it is something multiplied across the globe and experienced by people from a myriad of nationalities and various walks of life.  However, it seems appropriate to perhaps reduce such profound occurrences to the simple concept of embrace.

Fittingly, the venue for such a revelation is itself a symbol of this plain yet powerful gesture: Sultan Moulay Suleiman's 1821 gift of the American Legation not only signifies the 1787 Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship and Amity (also more than a piece of paper), it epitomizes the very embrace experienced by an Air Force officer and his family in Morocco nearly two centuries later.

Text & photos by Major Jamil Musa, USAF

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