Moroccan exchange students get firsthand look at America
August 11, 2009
By Erin Kim
On their first visit to America, students Meryem Riane, 19, and Loubna Gourari, 18, traveled to Issaquah from its Moroccan sister city, Chefchaouen.
Long before the students made a two-week trip to Issaquah, Issaquah residents and officials took steps to cement the relationship between the city and Chefchaouen.
In 2006, 12-year-old Iman Belali wanted to create a better understanding between America and Morocco, her home country. Iman convinced her parents to start the nonprofit organization, the American Moroccan International Exchange program.
Issaquah residents then traveled to Morocco through AMIE.
After the trip’s success, the City Council established a sister-city relationship with Chefchaouen as an outgrowth of Iman’s request.Another symbol of the sister city relationship is the towering Blue Door next to City Hall. The door was a gift from the city of Chefchaouen.
The exchange program is a key part of the sister city relationship.
Riane said her favorite parts of the trip were seeing the Space Needle, taking a yacht tour, being with her host family and simply being in America.
“Before I came, I knew that America is a developed country,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m in America and I want to show all my friends.”
She said she was glad to learn about America.
“I didn’t dream to be in America,” she said. “Everybody should visit the United States.”
The summer program includes a four-day group forest retreat and a tour of Olympia.
“I like everything,” Gourari said, “It was a surprise to see this other life.”
She said the culture, including the food, faces, and even hair, was different.
In addition to having fun, the students also agreed that staying in America improved their English and knowledge of American lifestyle.
The students stayed with host families during their stay. Most of the host families are Issaquah residents. Some of their daughters travelled to Morocco through the AMIE program last year.
“I feel like I’m with my parents and sister; they love me as I love them” Riane said, “[Being with my host family] is such an amazing experience to learn about the American values and habits.”