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Teaching and Living in Morocco

Joy Campbell from Michigan

Joy currently serves as Executive Associate Director for the Center for Language Education and Research (CLEAR) at Michigan State University and also is an instructor in MSU's English Language Center. She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband Kyle, whom she met in Morocco.

Joy with young Moroccan children
Joy and Moroccan students in the "dar chebab" center.

From 1998-2000, I lived in a small town in southeast Morocco, teaching English in a community youth center with the Peace Corps.

The center was called a "dar chebab" (house of youth), and offered a variety of activities for both boys and girls, including a chess club, some sports equipment, and my free English classes.

As I came to realize through the ups and downs of trying to organize classes, recruit students, and retain them for extra after school sessions, the Peace Corps experience isn't always what you expected when you ventured out of the United States and off into the world.

When I had taught in France previously, I had a schedule, a supervisor, and staff meetings. Morocco taught me tolerance of ambiguity, and the incredible importance of flexibility and a well-developed sense of humor.

The experiences I had and friendships I developed with Moroccans were, in the long run, to have a larger impact on me than my actual hours in the classroom.

To that end, following are some of my journal entries from those two years, to give you a glimpse into my teaching and cross-cultural experiences.

July 1998
(The first time I saw my site) Hot. That's pretty much the word that comes to mind right now. Yesterday it was so hot I couldn't even write about the heat… I'm in an oven. The wind blows with the force of a thousand hair dryers. Rich (the name of my town, pronounced Reesh) is red. And brown. And dusty ochre. And just plain dusty.

A striking view of clouds over Imilchil

Got invited to a home today! Much of the time was spent laughing hysterically at my mispronunciation of Arabic letters (never mind whole words)… And couscous - good Lord, what a mess!

You sort of take some veggies or meat and mush couscous around it until you have a ball, which you pop into you mouth. Theoretically. Much of the couscous actually wound up in a trail between the common dish and my lap, where more if it landed before I got it in my mouth.

Language was pretty crazy today. I'm beginning to wonder what possessed them to have me learn Berber when my predecessors spoke Arabic. Lots of crazy mixing and matching today—Arabic, Berber, French, English. Frequently in the same sentence!

Yaughheww! I just had a cockroach crawl up my back as I was falling asleep! Aaargh blech! First order of business tomorrow: roach powder. (Later) I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, hoping he didn't have bereaved family members about to mount an attack to avenge his cruel and untimely death-by-hiking-boot. He didn't, as it turns out.

(When classes finally began) So, classes… The kids are enthusiastic. Lots of hand-waving and "Teacher! Teacher!" calling. I despair of ever getting them to call me Joy.

Joy teaching her students
Joy teaching a class of enthusiastic students

Things are going pretty well. I consistently have 20-25 first year students, and second year has been growing steadily. From 9 I'm at 18 now, from one girl to eleven!

In general, the students seem to be motivated (otherwise why would they come to class after school?), and their enthusiasm shows in their "Teacher, Teacher"—calling and hand waving. In fact, I'm surprised by how young they seem. For the most part they're fifteen or sixteen, but I definitely don't remember acting like they do when I was a sophomore. They seem like more of a junior high level as far as maturity, but then that makes them more willing to take risks, too, so it may wind up being an advantage.

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