On May 5th my students turned in final exams. May 6th, I closed on my first home. On May 7th, I boarded a plane to Morocco with one colleague and thirty students. I graded exams on the plane and the first two nights in Morocco. I was tired. What in the name of all things holy and restful was I thinking?
I know what I was thinking: who turns down an all-expense paid trip to Morocco? ::looks around:: Not me. Secondly, I teach anthropology. I constantly ask students to imagine and consider different perspectives; to dream up worlds in which we learn from insiders’ knowledge; to reconsider what we believe as “right” or “true.” This was an opportunity to take what I do in the classroom and live it with students.
We spent A LOT of time together. 10-12 hours on many days. In some cases, too much for my need for quiet and solitude. The first half of each weekday included language lessons and a course in intercultural communication. In the afternoons, we explored Rabat’s history and culture through organized tours and experiences. On the weekend, we took a trip to Marrakesh where we ate, shopped, talked and (in the case of the students) partied. We also hiked the High Atlas mountains (first time hiking for most), rode camels, and shared in a group reflection session that made me so proud to be one of the professors accompanying this group of students. I would love to share more about those reflections, but that time was sacred.
I did not, however, anticipate how much this trip would influence my pedagogy. Before the trip began, I made a commitment to spend time with each student. In one such conversation, one of the students said, “I love the way you live your life, Dr. Reese. I want to be like you when I grow up. You’re just so cool.” I paused for a while before responding. I looked at her and said, “let me tell you a story.” I told her about struggling with expectations as a teen and college student. I told her about the lure to create a life that looked like someone else’s rather than the one my spirit wanted to create. I told her about my emotional breaking point in which Liz (the bestie) showed me exactly why she is one of the strongest pillars in my life. And I told her about this irrevocable joy that I have now as a result of daily choices to live life on my own terms. Afterwards I said, “what I want for you is to live life exactly as you want, and if some of that looks like mine, great. But if it doesn’t, it is still yours to do as you please, and it is still good.”
That moment (and so many others) made me think about vulnerability in teaching and learning. We ask students to share. We push them to share about their lives, about their opinions, about their values. Where do we fit in this sharing? What is our role in modeling this with students? Morocco was a two week crash course in this for me. I have thought about it before. I thought I was doing it. The two weeks with those thirty students cracked open a deeper that I have not explored in my teaching. I’m thankful that students saw a glimpse of it, took risks to share with me, and trusted me to take the risk, too.
To those thirty students: most of you tried new things. You stepped outside your comfort zones. You laughed. Some of you cried. Many of you kept me up with your loud talking and utter ridiculousness at night (lol). There were moments like discussing “American” values or grappling with having U.S. American privilege as a black woman or conquering fears while hiking in the mountains when I looked at you all and felt immense pride and joy. You all embody so much of what I love about my job. Teaching you all is a redemption of sorts. Through you, I get to be the person I dreamed of. Through you, each day I have a built-in accountability system that reminds me that my outsides (actions) should match my insides (integrity, soul, spirit). Our time in Morocco demanded that you see me beyond the “professor” title. I obliged by showing you. Thank you for reminding me (and I hope each other) that you/I/we do not have to be superhuman. We can be tender, flawed beings and still be magical. Thank you for an amazing two weeks.