Students planning to study abroad in the Kingdom of Morocco for the spring semester were informed on Jan. 3 that they would not be able to attend. Following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in November 2021, Morocco closed its borders, initially for two weeks, on Nov. 29. The closure has since been extended through Jan. 31 and could be further lengthened in the coming weeks.
William Mayers, director of the Middlebury Schools in Morocco and Jordan, said that the college recognized when the closure was first extended that students might not be able to enter the Middlebury program in Morocco for their spring semester abroad.
“Before the fall term ended we began reaching out to the program in Jordan and to offices on campus to see what arrangements we could make for these spring semester students,” Mayers said in an email to The Campus.
Makenna Janes ’23 was planning to attend the School in Morocco this spring until Janes, along with other students, was told that the program had been canceled for the spring. Janes and the other students were told to try to enroll in online J-Term classes and were informed they would not be offered housing on campus for the month-long winter term. The students also did not enroll in spring term classes during the normal enrollment period — under the assumption they would be in Morocco — limiting their course options for the spring.
“After two years of a pandemic, I thought that Middlebury would plan for the cancellation of one of their programs a bit better, so that it wouldn't leave students both unhoused and unenrolled,” Janes said.
Mayers, however, said that there would have been options for the students planning to attend the program in Morocco if they had been unable to switch into the School Abroad in Jordan.
“If the students had not been able to go to Jordan they all would have been able to return to campus for both J-Term and spring,” Mayers said.
Janes, along with two other Middlebury students and a student from the University of Pennsylvania, were initially told they could not switch to the School Abroad in Jordan, and that on-campus housing for the spring was not guaranteed. Two days later, however, they were allowed to switch to Jordan after additional host families had been found.
Mayers wrote that initially, host families were hard to find, partially because of Covid-19. Middlebury’s Jordanian staff were also busy with final exams and holiday vacations when the closures became a concern for the spring.
“When the official decision was made not to run the program in Morocco this spring, we didn’t yet have enough host families in Amman to support the Morocco students, so we expected that these students would return to campus for the spring,” Mayers said. “But the staff in Jordan continued their work, and before the end of that week they’d lined up enough homestays for the Morocco students.”
Host families are compensated for providing room and board for students. Mayers said that Middlebury staff also visit homes to discuss expectations with host families.
While Janes is excited about the upcoming semester, the switch has come with some challenges, including learning the Jordanian dialect of Arabic. Finding affordable plane tickets to Jordan has also been difficult.
While programs in Morocco and Jordan may be different, both countries offer intense, intriguing student experiences.
“Much of what students gain from studying abroad isn’t dependent on where they study abroad,” Mayers wrote.
According to Mayers, students learn to be more independent, resourceful and resilient, regardless of study abroad location. He emphasized that speaking in the target language is another key aspect as students become fully immersed.
“Students who spend several months immersed in the language and culture of their host city and country also gain insights into how people in different cultures live, insights that are hard to capture just by reading books, watching films, listening to music, etc,” Mayers said.
“I'm very excited for a semester in Jordan, despite the whiplash of all the decisions,” Janes said.
The Middlebury School in Jordan begins on Jan. 28. Three of the four Middlebury students who initially planned to study in Morocco will attend, while the fourth has elected to defer their spring semester.