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Unlocking Student Potential: A Direct Study in Morocco

December 15, 2017

Alex Werndli wearing a maroon shirt, standing in front of a window

Alex Werndli wearing a maroon shirt, standing in front of a window
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

Studying abroad in an Arabic-speaking country was a natural choice for senior Alex Werndli, who is studying Arabic and is fascinated by Middle Eastern history.

The double-major in history and Arabic studies, a new program offered by the Department of Asian Languages & Literatures, spent the spring of his sophomore year in Fes, Morocco. The country was “of great interest to me because of its French colonial past and Middle Eastern cultural influences,” said Werndli.

History advisor Rich Kott encouraged Werndli to apply for the department’s prestigious Hedley Donovan Scholarship, which allowed him to extend his stay in Morocco through the summer, conducting research. “I’ll be honest, I was intimidated [by the prospect] at first, but Rich was very encouraging, and I felt like I had a pretty good shot at the scholarship—I just needed to plan out what I wanted to study specifically,” says Werndli, who put together a research proposal with the support of his professors and some fellow students.

He decided to investigate how colonial agricultural policies affected Moroccan identities and communities. To do this, he examined advertisements from the French colonial era, sifted through archives, and interviewed local experts at the Institut Agriconomique et Veterinaire Hassan II, the Centre National de Documentation, and the Ministry of Agriculture. Werndli’s research attempted to gauge colonial agricultural initiatives and the effects they might have had on how the population perceived certain corporations or farming strategies. “I don’t think I could have done the research I did without traveling to Morocco. It was extremely helpful for finding primary sources and also gave me real-life experience of what graduate student life could be like.”

Werndli’s dream is to study the environmental history of the Middle East and Africa as a graduate student, while continuing to build his Arabic language skills. “The road ahead is pretty uncertain, but I feel prepared and ready to take on the next steps because of my experiences in Morocco and from the help of members of the history department,” he says.