Camels and couscous and sheep, oh my!

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Sophomore Kathryn Rich wanted an earthy, real-life study abroad experience and she found it in Morocco.

A semester abroad through Rowan’s International Center can do wonders for one’s outlook, academic and social development, and professional opportunities.

But, as with all big decisions, choosing to take a semester or summer abroad – and where to go – should be well considered.

Traditional destinations like Spain, England or Italy remain popular with lots of students but, for others, they just don’t cut the couscous.

Landing squarely in the latter group, Kathryn Rich spent the fall 2008 semester in the Kingdom of Morocco, a Muslim North African nation known best by many Americans from the movie Casablanca.

Rich, a sophomore history/sociology major, travelled to Greece while still in high school and was looking for an earthy, real-life college experience.

“I wanted to shock myself a little – something really, really different from anything I’d ever known,” said Rich, 20, of Parsippany.

Studying at Moulay Ismael University in northern Morocco, Rich surveyed the people, places and culture of this exotic land, honed her love of travel and foreign cuisine, and learned to appreciate something she never would have on Rowan’s main campus – a live sheep sacrifice.

Rich, who resided in an apartment with several other American college students, said a Moroccan friend wanted them to experience the true culture – and true Moroccan culture celebrates the ritual sacrifice of sheep.

“The first time I was shocked,” admitted Rich, an inquisitive traveler and fairly strict vegetarian. “(Our friend) Ali warned us beforehand but he wanted us to experience it. Sure, it was shocking, but it was also great.”

Rich said the greatness of that experience was borne of participation in such an ancient, biblical, custom. Young and old, rich and poor, Moroccans sacrifice sheep on holy days and festivals and to honor members of the community.

While some Americans might find the practice odd, the slaying itself is intended to be fast and painless for the sheep and none of the animal is wasted, Rich said.

“One of the times I ate meat over there was after the sheep sacrifice,” she said. “I actually didn’t like it. But I figured this was the freshest and best meat I was going to get so it was worth a try."

Rich chose Morocco in part because of her previous trip to Greece, another Mediterranean nation where she experienced not only the wonders of ancient Athens but day-to-day meals and interaction with the Greek people.

She arranged her Morocco trip through the International Center, Rowan’s on-campus information bank for study abroad and student exchange programs.

Ms. Bond, I presume?

Rich, who studied Arabic ten hours per week at the university (and constantly in markets, coffeehouses, over meals, and at historic shrines) seeks a career in international relations. While she doesn’t know specifically where that goal will lead, she hopes, for now, for a position with the federal government or the United Nations.

She also said the stereotypes some Americans hold of Muslims – that they hate, fear and distrust America – couldn’t be further from the truth. To the contrary, she said, ordinary Moroccans readily differentiate between official American policy and American guests in their land.

“As Americans, we tend to rely too heavily on stereotypes,” she said. “I actually felt safer there than in New York.”

Dr. Edward “Mickey” Smith, director of the International Center, said most Rowan students who travel abroad still visit more traditional locales like England, Spain or Italy but exotic destinations like Belize, Ghana and Morocco are a draw for some.

“Like all of our programs, these meet high academic standards and are safe,” Dr. Smith said. “In the Center we work with students, advisors and our international partners to find the best fit.”

As for cost, he said students may use financial aid awards for study abroad programs during the school year or over summer break. In addition, shorter, faculty-led programs are in development in which Rowan professors take groups of students abroad.

“Two such courses will take place this summer, both of them in London,” he said. “One is a ‘Living Theater’ course and the other an Engineering course on ‘Sustainable Design’.”

For more information about study abroad opportunities, visit the International Center.

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