Bennett College: Welcoming the World with Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants

Bennett College, in Greensboro, North Carolina, has been named as a Fulbright HBCU Institutional Leader each year since the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs inaugurated this recognition.

The college hosts two Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) annually as part of its commitment to providing international language and cultural education to their students, whether they can go abroad or not.  

Suzanne Elise Walsh, Bennett College’s president, says, “At Bennett, we welcome the world to our campus. We also encourage our students to have an international experience before graduating.”

President Walsh says that receiving the Fulbright HBCU Institutional Leader designation for the fourth year in a row is a testament to Bennett College’s commitment to supporting an environment of cultural exploration for our students and faculty.

“The first taste of the world for many of our students happens on campus with our FLTAs,” she said. “They bring cultural programming in addition to teaching languages,” encouraging students to see “more of the world” because of classroom interactions with FLTAs.

Bennett College FLTAs make a lasting impact on their students

According to Dr. Anne Hayes, Executive Director of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Fulbright FLTAs teach foreign languages like Arabic, Yoruba, Zulu, and Swahili, and offer cultural programs for the whole college community.

Hayes says the impact they make at Bennett is reciprocal, since FLTAs benefit from “mentoring and professional development …most of our recent FLTAs are now in Ph.D. programs all over the world, reinforcing their dedication to global engagement.”

Sharing Moroccan Culture in North Carolina

For Sofyan Essarraoui, a former Bennett FLTA who is now doing doctoral research on international migration, sharing his language and culture in North Carolina was just the beginning of his partnership with Bennett College.

Essarraoui came to Bennett to teach Arabic courses in 2019 while also taking courses in education. Essarraoui originally applied to the Fulbright Program to expand his international knowledge and teaching skills.

“The use of technology in the classroom is different here than it is in Morocco,” said Essarraoui. “I have learned how to use technology in a way that helps me teach more efficiently and helps students learn a language more effectively.”

While at Bennett, Essarraoui became even more interested in introducing his U.S. students to Moroccan culture. He found that his students at Bennett, a women’s college, were most interested in exploring women’s experiences in Morocco. Essarraoui says that “one question I am continuously asked is ‘What are we allowed to wear in Morocco?’ Students have certain perceptions of how women dress, how women are treated, and what life is like for Moroccan women. There are many pre-conceived notions that stem from media, but I want my students to see for themselves how Morocco differs from what they might imagine.”

Bringing Bennett College Educators to Morocco

Essarraoui had previously worked as a tour guide for the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism; he also had experience managing a project on participatory democracy and public policy for a program co-funded by the European Endowment for Democracy. He had a unique opportunity to build stronger ties between his home country and Bennett College.  

He helped Bennett’s Global Studies team design a travel itinerary for their grant proposal for a month-long research excursion in Morocco and offered to serve as the in-country program coordinator should they receive the grant.  With Essarraoui’s assistance, Bennett College wrote and received the college’s first-ever Fulbright-Hays Short Term Group Project Abroad (GPA) grant. The project gave Bennett College’s faculty and staff the opportunity to learn about issues impacting women abroad, with a focus on women and democracy.

According to Hayes, Bennett’s mission and history as a women’s HBCU committed to civic engagement and social justice contributed to the strength of their detailed submission. The goal of their Fulbright experience was to compare and contrast the American Civil Rights Movement with Moroccan women’s work to participate in democracy, and share the results with Bennett students and the Greensboro community through a symposium once they returned.

Group of people sitting around large table at Democratic Association of Moroccan Women
Meeting with Moroccan women activists at L'Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (Democratic Association of Moroccan Women)
Experiencing Moroccan Traditions and the Rich History of U.S.-Moroccan Relations

In preparation for their exchange, Bennett’s 2022-2023 FLTA Soukaina Bakhout, also from Morocco, taught the group some basic Arabic. Essarroui served as their in-country program coordinator, leading them to what Hayes described as “beautiful sites” and “meaningful meetings with Moroccan Women’s Organizations.” The team of Essarroui, Hayes, and eleven other Bennett College and Guilford County Middle College faculty then spent a month traveling in Morocco in July 2023, learning about the country’s culture, history, language, and Moroccan women’s democratizing efforts.

A highlight of their project abroad was visiting the American Legation of Morocco. The legation, which formerly housed the U.S. diplomatic mission to Morocco, was the first American public property abroad. It served as a CIA base during WWII as well as a Peace Corps facility, and is now a museum and research center. There, the Bennett faculty members met Essarraoui’s friend, Abdelbaar Mounadi Idrissi, who had been a Fulbright FLTA at Jackson State while Essarraoui was at Bennett. Idrissi now works for the American Legation. He recently translated a book about Moroccan culture by American professor Eric Calderwood and is now working on translating a book called Black Morocco.

Group of people standing around exhibit in museum

Idrissi guided them through the exhibits of the museum that explained how Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country in 1777, and that America’s oldest trade treaty is with Morocco (“signed in 1786 and still standing”). The group learned about how performer Josephine Baker, while living in Tangier, gathered intelligence for the United States during WWII. They also learned about the American writer, musician, and artist Paul Bowles, who lived in Tangier for fifty years. Bowles gathered 72 hours of recordings of traditional Moroccan music from all over the country, which have since been digitized for the Library of Congress. Hayes and the other Bennett faculty and staff members appreciated learning about the “rich history of the Moroccan-American relationship.”

The Bennett Fulbrighters ventured to southern Morocco to Essarraoui’s hometown of Zagora, where they learned from artisan jewelers and potters. They spent a morning at Tamegroute Pottery, where Essarraoui’s uncles showed them how they’ve made pottery for five generations.

Two people standing next to podium presenting gifts from Morocco to university president
Moroccan citizens shared gifts with the College. A special caftan was presented to President Walsh (center) and a hand painted plate, made by Fulbrighter Sofyan Essarraoui’s family at Tamegroute Pottery, was presented to the College.

The Bennett College educators also visited their recently returned FLTA, Soukaina Bakhout, who welcomed the delegation to her family farm outside of Casablanca. Her family shared a beautiful spread of homemade cakes, cookies, and butter, accompanied by walnuts and dried fruit. The Bennett group walked the farm to see the olive and fig trees and livestock while learning about family roles and farming traditions.  

Sharing “Women and Democracy in Morocco” with the Community

In October 2023, Bennett College hosted a “Women and Democracy in Morocco Symposium” as part of its Founders Weekend activities, celebrating the college’s sesquicentennial anniversary. Members of the Greensboro community as well as students, faculty and alumnae were invited to join the  symposium and hear first-hand about the participants’ summer studying current issues in Morocco.  

Participants presented their Fulbright-Hays projects, which included designing courses and curriculum, creating a faculty-led study abroad program, and creating an exhibit that highlights the themes of Moroccan women, civic engagement, activism, and democracy.

They expect that the first study abroad programs to Morocco will be implemented in January 2024. The Bennett educators have already begun to share their experiences in Morocco in their classrooms as well.

Bennett College continues to host new FLTAs to pave the way for even more international collaboration in the future. Shortly after their return from Morocco, Bennett College’s Global Studies team welcomed two new Fulbrighters, Yassine Edder from Morocco and Siphelele Ziyanda from South Africa, who will serve as Foreign Language Teaching Assistants for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Bennett College’s Global Studies team took the newly arrived FLTAs, along with other international students, to a local Walmart to help them settle into their homes for the year.

The Fulbright FLTA Program supports students in learning foreign languages, developing multi-cultural competencies and preparing to work in a global economy. This program funds early career English teachers from overseas to teach over 35 languages at U.S. colleges and universities. When a college applies to host an FLTA, they can specify their language needs. Fulbright FLTAs are selected by U.S. Embassies, Fulbright Commissions and Bi-National Centers in their home countries, and are matched with U.S. colleges and universities according to the host institution’s needs and preferences.

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