In military communities, there is a saying that military brats (children of service men and women) are like dandelions—they can grow anywhere. I reminded myself of this as I packed eight months’ worth of modest, desert-appropriate apparel into two large suitcases. In September of 2015, my mom drove me from Fort Bragg, NC, to Washington, DC, with my luggage and a complete lack of Arabic language skills, for my NSLI-Y Pre-Departure Orientation. A few days later, with my Resident Director and eleven other students, I boarded a plane headed to Marrakech, Morocco.
My first international experiences were in preschool, when I lived in Europe due to my dad’s career in the Army. Though I have but whispers of memories from then, perhaps these early experiences helped foster my global awareness. My first introduction to the Middle East came from the treats and gifts my father brought home from deployments—dates, silk rugs, and stories of the kindness of the people there. While I cannot pinpoint a time when I became enamored with the Middle East and North Africa, by the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted my career to lead me there somehow. I determined that learning Arabic would be essential. What drew me to NSLI-Y was the opportunity to learn the region’s most commonly spoken language.
Living in Morocco brought out a side of me that loved to talk to people and hear their stories, which contrasts with my typically quiet nature. I spent many weekends sipping sweet mint tea, chatting enthusiastically with shopkeepers. I think fondly of conversations I had with Mohammed, an older Malian man who immigrated to Morocco years ago and spoke impeccable standard Arabic. We spent hours discussing our very different lives, our home countries, and our religions. In Morocco, I became much more comfortable talking openly with others and was able to engage in cultural exchange and develop intercultural communication and leadership skills. In those transformative eight months, not only did I gain a greater appreciation of cultural exchange and the ability to read, write, and converse in Arabic, but I also gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. What makes us human is our ability to connect with others; to open our hearts and minds and share them with those around us; to care deeply for others, and allow them to care for us, too.
Since my NSLI-Y experience, I have completed my first year of college at Tufts University. My studies and activities continue to draw on and add to my NSLI-Y experience. At school, I busy myself with majors in Community Health and Arabic and a minor in Food Systems & Nutrition. I’m also on the crew team and in Army ROTC. Army ROTC is a college elective program that provides students with military and leadership training. One of the key goals of the program is character development. In ROTC, I have seen the power of teamwork, diligence, and resilience—all of which also played important roles in my NSLI-Y experience. I also gained invaluable leadership skills while I was in Morocco, many of which I have drawn on in ROTC. I think my most poignant experience with leadership in Morocco was in my role as an English teacher for Moroccan students, which required adaptability and communication skills that have carried over to countless other leadership roles.
I have been constantly humbled and inspired by both my fellow NSLI-Yers and ROTC cadets. Among the cadets the most common reason for joining ROTC is the desire to serve our country. There was a similar drive in my fellow NSLI-Y peers and alumni to give back, whether in the form of public service, volunteer work, or even in every day interactions with others. Their desire to help others is admirable, their energy is infectious, and the sense of purpose is motivating. I’ve learned that when unique individuals from varying backgrounds come together to support one another and to work towards higher goals, success is inevitable.
Madeleine participated in the 2015-2016 Academic Year program in Marrakech, Morocco.