By Katy Sly
Her usual attire of maturity and formality gives instant respect, but there is something new, something different. At closer look, a flash of her wrist reveals an intricate henna design that starts to fade like the memories into her tanned skin. Only weeks before the pasty plant had been dried, mixed and drawn onto these hands, a small token of experiences taken back from a Moroccan adventure.
Mary Ellen Kasak-Saxler, the spunky, yet classy French teacher at Stillwater Area High School returned mid November from her six week stay in Morocco full of new stories and adventures thanks to Fulbright, a national organization that promotes intercultural understanding and the sharing of knowledge throughout the world.
When the sun rises, fast. When the sun sets, feast. Kasak-Saxler had the opportunity to experience Ramadan, one of the biggest celebrations in Islam, while on her trip to Morocco.
“The school day surrounded around Ramadan,” said Kasak-Saxler, “School in fact was pushed back 45 min. because of the lack of lunch in the middle of the day.”
Kasak-Saxler described the nightly routine of Ramadan, “Around 6 o’clock, the sun set, and everyone was out. Everything opened up at night, all the shops opened and it was very animated.”
Kasak-Saxler shadowed and co-taught an English class in Morocco. She described the student’s first impressions as being a little shy. “I think they were a little intimidated, but they were very curious,” said Kasak-Saxler. She brought letters, movies, photo projects, including one on American food and music to Morocco to help the kids see what day to day American life was like.
“The hardest thing was to get to know their names. They are so different. In a regular classroom you would say, that’s Emily, or that’s John. It would be something you can relate to, but in Morocco it would be something you’ve never heard before. I wrote a list to try to remember, but it was challenging,” said Kasak-Saxler.
The Moroccan students had lot of questions about American culture. Kasak-Saxler describes some of the questions they had. She said the Moroccan students were interested in things like American thoughts on the Bush administration. One student even asked her if her students were addicted to drugs.
“They didn’t know much about day-to-day lifestyle, how students drive to school, how kids work or spend their free time. They read about the United States mostly in text books on topics like immigration and unemployment,” said Kasak-Saxler.
America is a world apart from Morocco, but there are those who dare to bridge the gap and those who inspire intercultural connection. Kasak-Saxler plans on continuing connection to her Moroccan hosts and the integration of more Moroccan studies in her French classes. “I was surprised by it. It was a different lifestyle, a different mentality,” said Kasak-Saxler.