October 25, 2010
While living in Morocco for almost five months, Knox College student Rozina Kidari connected with her ethnic heritage and gained a better idea about the kind of career she wants to pursue.
"I feel like I've grown so much," said Kidari, pictured above, second from right. "It allowed me to completely break free of my comfort zone."
Now a sophomore at Knox, Kidari grew up in a Phoenix, Arizona, household headed by her single mom. After graduating from high school, Kidari wanted to travel, so she applied for the YES (Youth Exchange and Study) Abroad program, sponsored by U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"I really wanted a chance to see Morocco," said Kidari, whose father was born in that country. "I thought that would help me understand a little bit about my own heritage."
Those hopes came true when YES Abroad chose her to study in Rabat, Morocco.
Several weeks after arriving in the northern African country, Kidari took a train from Rabat to Kenitra, where a houseful of relatives waited to meet her for the first time.
She recalled the experience in an essay that was published in The Huffington Post. "Words can't even begin to describe the emotions I was feeling when I opened the door and my grandmother or ‘muilella' pulled me into her arms and told me that I was a ‘diamante' or diamond," she wrote.
There and in other situations, Kidari said, she got a close-up look at Moroccan hospitality. At her grandmother's house, for example, "They were all handing me cookies and tea, and giving me hugs. I felt like a celebrity or something."
Her host family also was friendly and supportive. "They immediately treated me like family," she said. "The Moroccan people have such a hospitable culture. When you enter their home, they make you feel so welcome."
Moroccan hospitality often involves plenty of food and drink, so Kidari quickly gained an appreciation for lamb and other dishes. Which were her favorites? See the list below.
Kidari traveled throughout different regions of Morocco, and she taught English classes a couple of nights a week to students ranging in age from 11 to 60. "It was one of my favorite experiences," she said. "I was really afraid to do it at first. I thought I didn't have the credentials, but I found I liked teaching."
On the final night of classes, students threw a surprise party for Kidari and the other English instructors, giving them homemade presents.
She views Morocco as "a home away from home" and would like to return.
The trip is helping to shape Kidari's academic career at Knox. She has not yet declared a major, but her interests include integrated international studies and creative writing. She chose to attend Knox on the recommendation of her high school English teacher, who encouraged her to pursue creative writing. He told her that Knox offered a top-notch program.
Going to Morocco "has really pushed me onto the international relations path," said Kidari, a member of the International Club at Knox. "It's influenced me to pursue that -- and to travel more."
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.