Skydiving In a Hijab: the Wonders of Exchange Programs

You never know what those International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) people will get up to.  At Saturday's gathering in Mdiq (a northern Moroccan seaside town between Tetouan and Ceuta) of alumni from the US Embassy's various scholarship and visitor programs, the introductions were supposed to address the question "what do you miss most about your experience in the US?"

Most of the returned visitors and scholars (there were a number of former Fulbright grantees as well) recalled a favorite American mentor, or maybe a guilty addiction to cinnamon buns.

But one young woman, sedately dressed in her hijab and long caftan, recalled her time in Kansas, and especially her skydiving adventure.  General pandemonium at the mental image of her jumping out of a plane into the Kansas sky.  Her immediate neighbor, another hard-charging hijab-wearing young midwife, said of our skydiver – "she's crazy."

So much for breaking stereotypes.  But that's the beauty of the US Government's exchange programs.  What happens when you send a teacher from Tangier to Kane, Pennsylvania, "The Black Cherry Capital of the World?"  Well, she comes back with unforgettable memories of her welcome in Small Town USA, and the American kids come to have a better understanding of the world, and why their French teacher was from Morocco and not Marseille.

What else do those exhange visitors do?  They paint portraits of Barack Obama.

TALIM Obama El Moujahid closeup
Mohammed Said El Moujahid not only imagined President Obama in Tetouan, but he presented his work to the US Embassy and received the thanks of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in return.  Had I stayed for the entire day, I would have come back with even more anecdotes.  But that is not the point of this post.

The purpose of the meeting was to encourage alumni to network, and to join ready-made networks like the Moroccan-American Friendship Foundation (MAFF, not to be confused with the MFAA, the Moroccan Fulbright Alumni Association, or the Moroccan American Circle, which also fosters mutual ties between citizens).

The State Department has initiated a major effort to tie together past participants in its myriad exchange programs, simply called State Alumni (there is also specific Moroccan Facebook page for State alumni).

On the alumni side of Americans who have experienced Morocco, there's the CLS Arabic "Alumni Ambassador" program.  Here's the profile and interview with a recent graduate of our 2011 Tangier CLS session.

We're glad to see a concerted effort to capture the experiences of this diverse group of people and encourage them to network.  Yesterday's exchange visitors – as we've seen with a number of heads of state and other world figures – are tomorrow's leaders.

Gerald Loftus

1 thought on “Skydiving In a Hijab: the Wonders of Exchange Programs”

  1. Totaly superb, rounding up all the great points tackled during the event. I have witnessed the importance of those ties: “we realy need them” i always said. Yet, thanks to the US Embassy of Rabat Morocco, it has become acheiveble with a special taste of past, resent, and current State Alumnus.

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