Students fly to Morocco for conference on the Muslim world

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November 12, 2013

Alan Lyons and Keegan Farley had never been abroad before traveling to Morocco for an international conference on the Muslim world, but that had no bearing on their confidence or level of knowledge about the region.

Speaking on panels with doctoral candidates, Ph.Ds, and faculty from other colleges, Lyons and Farley rose to the challenge.

Lyons, a senior Political Science and International Studies major in the Honors Program, appreciated the opportunity to exchange ideas with scholars in his field, and to “not only respond, but be responded to” as an equal.

His presentation framed the situation in Syria in a historical context, suggesting that while the conflict in Syria may mark the end of the Arab Spring, the region’s transition is not yet over.  Feedback was positive, especially about his creative visual aid – images of graffiti from the Egyptian revolution, which Lyons had gathered for a project in an Honors course on nonviolence. He is interested in what he calls “dysfunction analysis,” or figuring out why things don’t work.

“My interests tend to follow or go look for the places having the most trouble figuring themselves out,” said the Westminster native, who is currently exploring the driving forces behind the dysfunction of the American government for his senior capstone project.

Double-majoring in Political Science and International Studies and Arabic Language, Farley was thrilled that his audience noticed his passion for peaceful diplomacy and conflict resolution.

“I focused on how to build cross-cultural understanding between Palestinians and Israelis and that was received well by all the people I talked to,” said the sophomore from Hampstead, Md.

Anouar Boukhars, assistant professor of Political Science and International Studies, recommended the students for the conference based on academic standing. He accompanied the students to Morocco and actively moderated a roundtable discussion on Bahrain and Syria.

He could not be more proud to “see our students interacting with students from all over the world and leaving a good impression.” Even the Dean of Al Akhawayn University, where the conference was held, could not distinguish Farley or Lyons from panelists with more education, said Boukhars.

However, the conference was not all work and no play. The attendees spent a day exploring nearby Fez, where they watched local tradesmen at work in a historic tannery, bartered for goods at local spice shops, and “became quasi-addicted to Moroccan mint tea,” according to Lyons.

Both students felt that their experience in Morocco helped solidify their future plans. Lyons has gained clarity on potential academic paths after he graduates, while Farley has confirmed his interest in the Arabic language and the Arab world.

Only having studied Arabic for three semesters, Farley enjoyed the opportunity to try his language skills on native speakers, realizing how far he has come in even that short time. Already looking forward to his next international experience, Farley is considering returning to Morocco for a six-week program in the summer.

“I’m excited that McDaniel’s given me this opportunity,” he said. “I never thought this was something I’d be doing.”

Boukhars said that traveling abroad is an important component to becoming globally educated, which is part of the college’s mission. While the conference offset half of the costs, McDaniel College provided the rest of the funding.

“It’s not enough to just study about the other,” he said.

He looks forward to bringing at least two McDaniel students to Istanbul, Turkey, for next year’s Conference on the Muslim World.