“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller,” said Ibn Battuta, a prominent Moroccan traveler and scholar who first set out to complete hajj in Mecca in the early fourteenth century. His initial attempt failed, but the experience inspired Ibn Battuta to spend the next 30 years traversing the world, likely completing the hajj multiple times in his life. A group of K-12 teachers channeled Ibn Battuta’s spirit last summer on an educational tour of Morocco, organized by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East studies.
Over two weeks the group traveled throughout Morocco, exploring the different cities and the geographic and cultural variation between them. They visited the coastal cities of Casablanca, Tangier, and Essaouira; hiked through the High Atlas and Rif Mountains; traversed the Sahara Desert; and explored the winding streets of the medinas of Marrakech and Fes, among others. Teachers learned about Moroccan culture, history, cuisine, politics and geography, while building relationships with fellow educators.
Participating teachers explained that the trip was significant personally and would also benefit their students. “I traveled to Morocco because I wanted to immerse myself in Islamic culture and educate myself on a religion and region of our world which I previously knew very little about,” said Darcey Brooten, a third-grade teacher from New Jersey. “As an elementary educator… it is so important to open [my students’] eyes to the world at such a young age as they learn to celebrate and embrace global similarities and differences.”
Another elementary school teacher, Ann Hannah, explained that “as a teacher of young children, I try to ignite their imagination about new things. Telling about a trip to a different continent is a great way to share a passion for discovering more about our world… traveling to new places helps me see how much in common we have with people who live in different places. I hope to emphasize the similarities, while learning about differences.”
The consortium collaborated with Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) on the trip, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and helping teachers to travel abroad. Emma Harver, outreach coordinator for the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations at UNC, joined the tour to provide teachers with additional knowledge about Morocco, Arab cultures and Islam; lead reflection exercises; and assist in processing the experience for the classroom.
GEEO aims to introduce teachers to peoples, cultures and places around the world, so that they may share their experiences with their students. This promotes early exposure to greater cultural understanding and knowledge within American classrooms. “Understanding the world around us has never been more important,” shared GEEO’s founder and director, Jesse Weisz. “By spending time abroad, forming international relationships and exploring overseas environments, teachers gain fresh perspectives that deeply enrich their students’ learning and global awareness.”
The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies is a collaboration of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center. As the recipient of a Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the consortium is a National Resource Center. The outreach program supports K-12 and community college educators in deepening understanding of the Middle East through professional development trainings, local study tours, providing access to speakers, creating classroom resources and more.