Ahlan wa sahlan ya shabab (welcome students),
My name is Shino, and I, along with Badr, will be your Dragons instructors for our June experience in Morocco. I know that you all know each other to some degree, probably sometimes quite well, but Badr and I don’t know you at all! We hope that you will all use this space to introduce yourselves to help us get to know you a bit better before embarking on this experience. If you are willing, we would also love you to share some of your hopes, goals and excitements for this experience.
I’ll start by telling you a bit about myself. My first encounter with the Middle East included putting together my bicycle at the airport and biking into the hectic, loud, dusty world of downtown Cairo at age fifteen. The excess of newness I attempted to absorb overwhelmed me. I was exhausted from travel, lost on how to communicate, and entirely enthralled. My eyes were open. I was ready to learn, to see, to experience a new perspective, new culture, and new language. My excitement did not stop me from facing challenges and disappointments. Instead, it provided motivation to problem solve creatively and to approach each situation with an open mind.
I returned home with many stories, but more importantly, an understanding that there are many ways to live fulfilling lives in the world. There is no one right way, and no reason to fear the differences. I didn’t know it then, but the lessons I learned during that experience would shape the rest of my life. The light in people’s eyes when I spoke my three Arabic words in Cairo inspired me to study Arabic throughout high school and college. The kindness I experienced from total strangers inspired me to work toward confronting negative stereotypes about that region of the world.
After graduating from American University, I worked for an organization called AMIDEAST whose mission is to “foster mutual understanding and cooperation between Americans and peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.” At AMIDEAST I facilitated study abroad experiences for students in Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Oman. I helped set expectations, taught intercultural learning skills, and guided students through unpacking their experiences abroad. Sharing in the journey of discovery and supporting students in stepping outside their comfort zones to find a broader worldview is inspiring. I loved it so much that I completed my Master’s degree at the University of Bath (UK) in International Education and Globalization.
I found Dragons in 2017 and it felt like coming home. The way that Dragons approaches local communities with curiosity and respect aligns with my values. I love working with Dragons on programs in Morocco, and I also work on developing our College Study Abroad programs.
Badr and I have met with your teachers, Devondra, Stella and Stephen about how to create a vibrant, full and educational experience in Morocco. And we are so excited! We hope to challenge you all to move outside of your comfort zones and gain new perspectives. We hope you arrive in Morocco ready to dive in, with openness, flexibility, and curiosity. Our itinerary has us visiting my favorite places in Morocco, so I look forward to sharing the magic of those spaces with you! The feeling of looking out over the ocean from the Casbah in Rabat, the peace of seeing the soft blue buildings of Chefchaouen from high above during a hike, the excitement of the Fes hubbub, and the kindness of the host families in Azrou. Mmmm I can not wait for you to experience it all for yourselves.
That was a bit about me. I look forward to hearing from you all. I know that Devondra, Stella and Stephen are already working closely with you to prepare for this experience. You have so many great resources to get your questions answered, and this Yak Board is another space where you should feel free to ask questions. So, in addition to your personal introductions, feel free to share questions, reflections or anything else as we prepare for this experience.
Shino Marta Yoshen