McDaniel students attend conference in Morocco

McDaniel College students senior Alan Lyons, third from left, and sophomore Keegan Farley, right, attended an academic conference in Morocco Oct. 31 through Nov. 3
McDaniel College students senior Alan Lyons, third from left, and sophomore Keegan Farley, right, attended an academic conference in Morocco Oct. 31 through Nov. 3 (SUBMITTED PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

Before going to Morocco, Keegan Farley and Alan Lyons didn't have a lot of experience traveling to other countries. The Carroll County natives and current McDaniel College students had only gone to the British Virgin Islands and Canada, respectively.
"But I don't count that," Lyons said.
Now their experiences abroad have been greatly expanded after attending a residential, academic conference in Morocco from Oct. 31 until Nov. 3, sponsored by Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Creative Learning Inc., and the Program for Islamic, Turkish and Near Eastern Studies at Washington College in Chestertown.
The conference costs were covered by the program, and a partial scholarship of $500 was provided to each of the students to offset the cost of airfare.
Farley, a North Carroll High School graduate and McDaniel College sophomore, was shocked last school year to be invited to attend the conference by Anouar Boukhars, assistant professor of political science at McDaniel College. The conference was originally scheduled to take place in Paris, France.
Both students had to write a research paper from a list of pre-approved topics and present that paper at the conference. Farley, an Arabic studies and political science double major, wrote about the Arab/Israeli conflict. Lyons, a senior political science and international studies major, honors program student and South Carroll graduate, wrote about whether Syria has ended the Arab Spring.
"I took that as an opportunity to write a paper sort of debugging the way we think about the Arab Spring," Lyons said.
Farley said he took a look at bridging cross-cultural understanding between Israelis and Palestinians in order for a two-state solution to be sustainable.
The two presented to not just other undergraduates, but also graduate students and professors, who then asked them questions. The approximately 50 people at the conference were from all over the world, including France, Turkey, Morocco and the United Kingdom, as well as some colleges in the United States.
Topics discussed included transformations in the Muslim world, issues in human security and social justice, gender in politics and political ideas in the Muslim world and the Muslim world's perception of Islamophobia.
"Because you had that range of degree levels, you got a lot of different questions from a lot of different perspectives," Lyons said.
Lyons roomed with a participant from the Grenoble Institute of Politics in France. Farley said at the conference he had sat next to a girl from Turkey who wore a hijab headscarf.
"There was a lot of discussion over whether wearing the hijab is good or bad, [and] reasons women wear them," Farley said. "So it was interesting talking to her about that."
After the conference ended Saturday morning, students got a tour of Fez, the 1,200-year-old city that is known as the Islamic, religious, spiritual and historical capital of Morocco.
"It's like going into a different world," Farley said. "I had never experienced anything like it."
Farley said it was difficult getting used to how there were no sticker prices on goods, figuring out the conversion rates and haggling down the price of different items. He said it was obvious Morocco was a developing country.
Lyons said there are a lot of differences between the United States and Morocco, but no one seemed drastically deprived not to have some of the modern conveniences commonly enjoyed in America.
"They live just as happily and effectively as we do here," he said.
Even though the conference was conducted in English, many of the people attending would switch from speaking English to French, Spanish and Arabic. Farley said the trip motivated him to be focused on becoming fluent in Arabic.
"I'm interested in going back to Morocco for a six-week program this summer," he said. "I think this conference helped me solidify my interests."
The students may become published because of the opportunity. Either the best papers from the conference will be selected for publishing or all the papers presented will be published, but the students have yet to find out.
Boukhars said the selection process to go to the conference was very rigorous. The two students from McDaniel were selected because of their intellectual caliber, their discipline and their intellectual curiosity. Both students also expressed interest in the Middle East and Muslim world.
"It was a departmental decision," he said. "We just chose the brightest of the bunch."
Only a few universities in the United States and throughout the world were selected to attend the conference, Boukhars said. The McDaniel students exhibited confidence and broadened their horizons.
The experience helped them define their career pursuits and interact with people from around the world, Boukhars said. Lyons was even offered a doctoral scholarship, he said.
"They were good ambassadors for McDaniel College and Carroll County," he said.