Living abroad is an opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone—learn what it means to adapt and live in another culture where norms and values are different from your own. Understanding these boundaries was a huge lesson for UNM junior Brooke Sheldon who is studying in the North Africa.
“Perhaps it was Casablanca, perhaps it was the couscous, or perhaps it was the silhouettes of camels riding out into the Sahara,” said Sheldon when recalling why she decided to take her studies global. “I originally chose to study abroad in Morocco because I wanted to explore more of the Francophone world in Africa. With Morocco’s rich diversity of culture, language, and landscapes it became an obvious choice for my semester abroad. Making the capital city of Rabat my new home was a challenge that I was ready to accept.”
Sheldon is just one of hundreds of UNM students who choose to study abroad. In fact, in the last five years the UNM Global Education Office has increased the number of students studying abroad by 80 percent. These students are gaining experiences that prepare them for an ever-growing globalized world and with heightened fear of terrorism and migration Sheldon says it’s important for students to learn how to see things through another lens in order to gain a clearer picture of what is really going on.
Sheldon has made many new friends in Morocco, both male and female and has confronted different and complex values and expectations about the nature of these relationships within the local culture and even across generations from within the culture.
“Understanding these cultural boundaries is a huge part of studying abroad,” she said. “At the end of my first month here I was evicted from my rental home because of accidentally overstepping one of these boundaries without my knowledge.”
Sheldon began socializing with her new friends in her home. Her landlord noticed and explained that in many Muslim households it is unacceptable for a woman to have friends of the opposite sex over to one’s home unless they are married. The landlord indicated that if Sheldon wanted to stay, she would need to marry one of her friends.
“This experience, although a bit startling, gave me more insight on a different way of life and learning to accept it, albeit different from my own worldview,” she explained adding with humor, “although getting married would be a fun story to tell my friends and family when I get home.”
Sheldon ultimately decided to locate another place to live.
It’s not just cultural understanding that students gain, it’s the experience walking in another person’s shoes, understanding the world not just as an American, but as in Sheldon’s case, a woman with restricted rights and privileges.
“Before coming to Morocco many people warned me about how challenging it is to be a foreign woman here,” she said. Much of this comes from the unwanted attention girls tend to receive on the street. Although street harassment can be tiring, for other girls thinking about visiting Morocco, but are hesitant because of the cultural differences for women, please don’t let that stop you. Experiencing Morocco as a woman made my experience all the more unique, challenging and has helped me grow in ways that I never would have if I had stayed at home in my comfort zone.”
Celebrating International Education
The UNM Global Education Office (GEO) is celebrating students like Brooke during International Education Week. Held Nov. 13 through the 17, the week’s activities include cultural events, performances, and exhibits. All Lobos and Albuquerque community members are invited to participate in these events that will take place throughout the week both on and off campus.
International Education Week (IEW) is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education is an effort to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences.
The Global Education Office will host one event each day, most of which will take place in the Atrium in the Student Union Building on main campus. These special events include: Global Translate, highlighting UNM’s international students, Study Abroad Fair, GIS Day, International Dessert Competition, and the Global Get Down dance party.
In addition, UNM Libraries will host internationally themed collection exhibits and an International Short-Film Festival.
“IEW is a great platform to inspire our international students to share their cultures and perspectives and our domestic students to consider studying abroad,” said David Wright, director of Education Abroad. “I invite the campus and the larger Albuquerque community to browse the calendar of events and get involved in IEW activities.”
The primary goal of International Education Week is for every UNM student and community member to have an opportunity for international connection right here in Albuquerque. UNM is home to a diverse population of international students and scholars from over 99 countries. There are more than 300 study abroad programs in over 50 countries and countless opportunities to experience international education as a Lobo.
For more information contact: Danielle Gilliam, strategic projects officer, Global Education Office at 505-277-6051 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.