Midshipmen Reflect on Moroccan Experience
POSTED ON: Tuesday, January 14, 2020 8:33 AM by 1/C Sebastian Zuleta and 1/C Melissa Ramkissoon
Below is a personal reflection from Midshipman 1/C Sebastian Zuleta and 1/C Melissa Ramkissoon from their study abroad in Morocco.
“Ah Sebastian, Melissa, sabah, al-kheyr”
Every morning before walking up the steps of school to get to the classrooms, the students are greeted by the kindest security guard they will ever meet, Mohammad. Mohammad is in charge of guarding the entrances of the school and looking out for the safety of the students. Every day the students are greeted with a huge smile and the usual “If you’re good, then I'm good.” As Melissa Ramkissoon and Sebastian Zuleta get to their floor, they are immediately overtaken by happy professors, staff members, and their huge smiles, very evidently happy to see them.
“Melissa, Sebastian, Salaam Wa Alaykum! Everything good? How are you all?” says Professor Fatima, or at least one of the Professor Fatima’s (there were at least four). Every morning when Fatima sees her students, she puts on a smile that warms the coldest hearts. Every day she tells the students how important they are to her and how they are the best part of her day.
“Navies, how is everything going?” Next Melissa and Sebastian are greeted by younger staff members, Ahmed, one of the coordinators at the school, and Eamon, an American who was once a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship and actually remained in Morocco to work at the institution.
It seems almost as if before the classes can start and the day can begin, the faculty and staff of the AALIM school in Morocco must make sure that the well-being of their students are met. The hospitality, kindness, and generosity of the staff is unmatched in the opinion of the Naval Academy midshipmen. Every day they feel at home because they know that once they step foot through any of the buildings at school, they are protected and taken care of. It is their sanctuary. There they see and interact with friends and classmates they met from the United States Air Force Academy and other schools that are present. When they are in the building, they are not only friends, but a family. They constantly look out for one another and share quality time laughing, helping each other with problems, and making unforgettable memories together. School was the best place to be. A place of high spirit and the ability to bond with both locals and internationals, while getting an outstanding education.
One of the most vital parts of their day is visiting the little store, or hanout, that four brothers run near their houses. “Vital,” meaning if the brothers do not see Melissa or Sebastian at least once a day, they begin asking around to neighbors and the street guard to see if anyone saw them that day. Every morning, Sebastian and Melissa visit, purchase bottles of water and recharge cards for their phone. They also buy Red Bull at which point Hassan, the eldest brother, gives Sebastian his daily reminder: “Ah, Sebastian, you know that Red Bull is not good for your health, right?”
After going to the gym, their tradition became having yogurt drinks at the hanout before heading home for dinner. After dinner, they return to the hanout to get help from the brothers on Arabic homework or simply bond by sharing life stories and naturally practicing the Moroccan dialect and Arabic. These moments easily became some of the students’ best memories in Morocco.
When school is over, Sebastian and Melissa hurry back home to get homework done and squeeze in a nap before attending kickboxing class. Kickboxing class is always interesting and they learn many new things. Sebastian, who has a lot of experience in martial arts, learns new skills and is even able to teach the teachers how to grapple. Melissa, who has only the USNA experience of martial arts, enjoys the cardio workout but most of all, meeting young Moroccan girls and learning about their lives. They both thoroughly enjoy this class because it provides a great way to maintain physical fitness and also allows them to meet Moroccans in an environment different from school.
1/C Sebastian Zuleta (far left) and 1/C Melissa Ramkissoon (middle) after a kickboxing class session with coaches.
Where meals were concerned, Sebastian and Melissa always felt well-fed. As a matter of fact, they were often fed too well. Per the unwritten laws of Moroccan Culture, a host’s job is to make their guests feel at home and feel loved as much as possible. As a result, the students’ host families always order them to “Eat, eat, take more!”
The incidents above are just a few of the many valuable memories that Sebastian and Melissa made while studying in Morocco. They are happy for the opportunity to represent their country, institution, and families well. Finally, they hope to carry these gestures of kindness and their increased cultural awareness forward when they commission as officers from the United States Naval Academy.