Montana State University

studentlivin'@msu: Terry brings Montana country to Morocco

March 30, 2005 -- by Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


A trek to the pyramids of Giza was one of many adventures experienced this year by MSU students Shannon Terry (left) of Great Falls and Matt Root of Golden, Colo. The two are on a year-long exchange at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, an MSU sister university. Photo courtesy of Shannon Terry.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Bozeman -- Shannon Terry tells a remarkable story of love and adventure that might have been very different had she not enrolled in an Arabic language class nearly two years ago at Montana State University.

Terry, a senior at MSU from Great Falls who is majoring in sociology and minoring in religious studies, is nearing the end of a year as an exchange student at MSU's sister university, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.

It is not the traditional location for an exchange student, and Terry's experience has been anything but ordinary. She has partied in Paris during spring break, ridden a camel into the pyramids at Giza on Christmas Eve and visited a henna souk at the medina in Fez.

"I have had the opportunity to snorkel in the Red Sea, ride a Felucca down the Nile River, stroll along the Champs Elysee, conduct research in rural villages, and learn to Arabesque dance," Terry said. "Never did I think that I would be living in Morocco in my lifetime. Morocco has provided me with a greater understanding of a culture usually looked down upon by America. There is no substitution to living in a different culture for a year and I would not have been able to obtain this understanding without the relationships I have formed."

Terry says that her year in Morocco was rooted in her desire to travel and understand other religions and cultures. So, while most students fulfilled foreign language requirements by enrolling in Spanish or French, Terry enrolled in the challenging and award-winning Arabic language classes taught at MSU. MSU leads a consortium of seven universities that offers tele-networked courses in Arabic language and Islamic culture. The first year the students study Arabic in interactive video classrooms, monitored by a native Arabic speaker. The second year the students can chose to study at Al Akhawayn.

Matt Root, a liberal arts major with an emphasis in global cultural studies from Golden, Colo, minoring in religious studies, also was enrolled in the class. While wrapping their American minds around Arabic words and phrases, Terry and Root discovered they both had a yen to see the world. Terry convinced Root to study in Morocco rather than Egypt and they are two of the three MSU students on an exchange at AUI. Somewhere along the way, their friendship bloomed into romance. They became engaged on Sept. 3, Terry's 21st birthday, and plan to be married next year in Bozeman, shortly after Root graduates.

"It was a beautiful evening and an unforgettable birthday in Morocco," Terry recalls. "It truly was amazing."

Terry has kept friends and family updated on her daily goings on via e-mail messages and photos. She has written about the frogs and itinerant cats on the Al Akhawayn campus and a bird that flew into her room every morning in the fall. She has written about storks in the ancient ruins of Cellah outside Rabat, as well as excursions to the Sahara, the Medinah in Fez and a trip to Marrakech to visit the family of her roommate, Khawla, during the Islamic feast of Ramadan. Terry experienced "ftour," or the evening break from fasting during the month-long religious celebration, with her roommate's family.

"You eat dates, pastries, hareera (a special soup), strawberry milk, lemonade and many other Moroccan dishes. It is excellent," Terry wrote. "You usually eat ftour around 6 p.m. and then you eat a big dinner between 11 p.m. and midnight and then you eat around 4:30 a.m. to start the day." Terry said exchange students were exempt from the daytime fasting required by Ramadan, but she tried to participate in the cultural experience. Besides, "food is not always available so you end up fasting even if you did not plan on it."

Equally picturesque were Terry's descriptions of the Islamic holiday Eid Al Adha, commemorating the Prophet Abraham's (Ibrahim) willingness to sacrifice his son for God. Muslims in Morocco sacrifice sheep that have been blessed and distribute the meat among neighbors, relatives, the poor and hungry.
"We went to town with our friend David and walked around for a few hours watching people slaughter sheep and then they burned the heads of the sheep on the street corners," Terry wrote. "They eat the brains in the skull after it is burned. It is a great delicacy here in Morocco."
While in Morocco, Terry has worked at the AUI writing center, read texts and typed papers for a blind student, become involved in the AUI Christian community and lead a weekly youth group for teenagers and danced in a popular belly dancing (Arabesque) troup.

"And, I am leading a country line dance in the talent show at the end of the semester," Terry writes. While at AUI, she also completed a senior capstone project for MSU sociology professors Steven Swinford and Kristi Clark-Miller on international students' adjustment to new cultures.

Swinford said while it is unusual to have a student complete a capstone project while on exchange, the department approved it in Shannon's case because "we had no concerns about her ability to do a quality piece of capstone research while away." "The results of her work are currently being applied by the international student office in Morocco to assist other students with the transition to a new culture," he said.

Terry said she enjoyed the research process so much, she continued her work into the spring semester with a new group of exchange students. Among her most memorable classes in Morocco was a course on international women and society taught by John Shoup, a professor at AUI who is originally from Billings.

And one day she and Root were surprised by a visit from MSU architecture students.

"It was so wonderful to see people from home," she wrote. "I knew that I would recognize a few of them because they came into Barnes and Noble this summer looking for books on Morocco. But when I walked in the restaurant it was a very nice surprise to see an old friend, Maisie (Sulser of Billings), who lived across the hall (from) me freshmen year in Hapner and we have not seen much of one another since. There was also a student, Jessica Nelson, who was in theater with me at CMR."

Terry said she and Root have already bought their tickets back home for May 19 and cannot wait to see the Rocky Mountains again. Yet, they have cherished their time in Morocco.

"Morocco is ... a surreal experience that I would never change," Terry writes. "I have met some amazing people and had experiences that most people can only dream of. I have brought some Montana country into Morocco. My experiences have changed my outlook on life and what I can achieve.

"We can not accept the world as others see it; we must experience it for ourselves and make our own judgment, and only then can we truly understand ourselves."

Contact: Yvonne Rudman (406) 994-4032