By Eryn Finnegan President
UMF Interim President Eric Brown recently visited Al Akhawayn University (AUI) in Ifrane, Morocco, to establish a student exchange program, effective starting the 2019-2020 school year. A public, nonprofit liberal arts college situated in the Middle Atlas mountains, AUI possesses many similar characteristics to UMF.
Brown pointed to AUI’s population of 2000 students, American-based curriculum and English-speaking opportunities as major reasons for partnering with AUI. Brown also cited AUI’s course catalogue, noting that the way they set up their classes and majors is similar to UMF.
“Some schools you really need to speak the language, such as [Le Mans University] in France,” Brown said. “Here, any student can get by with ‘survival’ Arabic and be very home at that campus.” AUI has several international students from the U.S., Europe, and Africa.
Brown expressed interest in creating further student teaching opportunities for Education majors, noting the private K-12 school attached to the university.
“We’re looking into having Ed majors do their student teaching there if they so choose to,” Brown said. “It’s a pretty unique system; I think the high school is technically on the campus itself, and the K-8 campus is just a ten minute drive away.”
AUI also has a program called “presidential interns,” focused on graduating students who might be interested in a Fulbright or the Peace Corps. For either a semester or the whole year, they place students in different administrative parts of the school, such as first-year students or working with admissions or curriculum.
The city of Ifrane has a market, a downtown with shops and restaurants and nightlife, 10-15 minutes from campus. Brown offered a small smile as he scrolled through photos of his trip on his iPhone, showcasing the colorful tapestries and cloths, tall piles of spices and architecture. Leaving the city and approaching campus, Brown also saw 800-year-old Cedar forests, snow and apes flying through the trees.
“When people think of North Africa, they tend to think of deserts and camels, but this school is very much like us in geography and climate,” Brown said. “They had snow on the ground, they have a snow and ski team, and the opportunity to do serious skiing in the High Atlas mountains. I’m hoping to entice their students to come ski in Maine.”
Brown discussed his first trip to Morocco nearly 20 years ago and how this trip led to this new partnership between UMF and AUI.
“I traveled through Morocco for a summer about 20 years ago, and one of the places I stopped was this (at the time) brand new university, AUI,” Brown said. “Twenty years pass, and we’ve been thinking, where else can we extend opportunities for our students? I thought back to AUI and early this summer, I reached out to the president, Driss Ouaouicha. He agreed there were similarities between our institutions and he invited me to visit and give me a tour of the campus and surrounding area.”
Brown said that both presidents agreed that the missions of their respective universities are largely the same, embracing liberal arts education and teaching students critical thinking.
“[UMF’s mission is] supporting the liberal arts in a way that draws the best out of students and professors, through undergraduate research,” Brown said. “A well-rounded, comprehensive education, being able to really think with versatility about a range of issues; that’s at the heart of the liberal arts mission for me.”
According to their website, AUI’s mission is “educating future citizen-leaders of Morocco and the world through a globally oriented, English -language, liberal arts curriculum based on the American system,” as well as “[enhancing] Morocco and [engaging] the world through leading-edge educational and research programs.”
Brown also spoke of significant differences, particularly in terms of culture. “There are very few clocks; banks here always show the time, but there, the day is structured around Islamic prayer times,” Brown said. “It doesn’t feel as rushed, as if every minute has to count down to something. It’s more in-tuned with the natural rhythms of the day, sunrise and sunset.”
“There’s a lot of continuity between our institutions,” Brown said. “If you’re interested in international business or North African cultural studies, a lot of their programs go along well with ours. They contribute to a rich and historic tapestry.”
“I don’t think we’d find another school in the world so close to our mission and feel,” Brown said.
Students interested in learning more about Al Akhawayn University can visit their website at http://www.aui.ma/en/.