Undergrads Do Research in Morocco

Fifteen students fanned out over the North African country in March to learn more about topics ranging from migration to religion

Tufts students with Moroccan political experts

During spring break this year, fifteen undergraduates who are studying the politics of peace in the Middle East got to learn their subject matter firsthand. As members of the Institute for Global Leadership’s New Initiative for Middle East Peace (NIMEP) program, they each had research projects they worked on while traveling in Morocco. 

The trip was organized by NIMEP co-presidents Uzair Sattar, A21, and Atrey Bhargava, A21, along with trip coordinators Kairavi Sarup, A20, and Sara Torres, A20, with help from the Institute for Global Leadership, which hosted daily meetings, readings, and guest lectures before the trip.

IGL alumni Matan Chorev, A05, F07, and Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, A05, also pitched in. Chorev, cofounder of NIMEP, had worked for USAID in Morocco, and is now chief of staff at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, while Koehler-Derrick, who is working toward a doctorate in Middle East studies at Harvard, and took part in NIMEP when he was an undergraduate. 

Tufts Now recently spoke to Bhargava about the trip, and what he and his fellow students learned.

Tufts Now: Did you each have topics you were researching—or were there group projects?

Atrey Bhargava: We all were researching different topics, including water scarcity, urban water systems, migration, Sufism, politics, religion, and reconciliation—and one group project on migration. We were in Rabat, Marrakesh, and Casablanca together, and split into two groups to work in Tangier and Fes.

What did you focus on, and who did you meet with to learn more about your area of study?

I researched the discrepancy between the political left and labor movements in Morocco. For my project, I made efforts to trace the evolution of the historical left and their growing disregard for street protests. I also sought to understand the cross-linkages between different labor protests in the country happening today. I met with independent journalists and university professors, as well as people in think tanks, foreign legations, and the news media.

How did you and the other students communicate with the Moroccan experts?

Many of us are Arabic speakers, and had a great time practicing our Arabic and learning the local dialect. Some are French and Spanish speakers, and that also was of great help because of the huge French and Spanish presence in Moroccan history.

What was your main takeaway from this trip?

The trip provided me with a better understanding of Morocco and has motivated me to further hone my passion and interest in the Middle East. Not only did I make a group of fourteen great friends, but I also learned so much about the many facets of Morocco. In addition to my interviews, I accompanied my fellow students on interviews about topics ranging from the economic integration of Morocco into the African Union to the Amazigh movement. It was also a refreshing experience to be granted autonomy of our own trip and motivated all of us to make the most of our time in Morocco. 

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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