From Georgia Tech to Casablanca: American and Muslims Students Cross Borders for a Post-9/11 Encounter


Rebecca Keane  404-894-1720

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How many of us have engaged open discussion on the sensitive relations between between American and Muslim cultures? American and Muslim Georgia Tech students and Muslim students in Casablanca, Morocco came together recently for just such an encounter.

  • Crossing Borders Crossing Borders

How many of us have engaged open discussion on the sensitive relations between between American and Muslim cultures?  American and Muslim Georgia Tech students and Muslim students in Casablanca, Morocco came together recently for just such an encounter.

The catalyst for these encounters was the post-9/11 documentary “Crossing Borders” brought to campus November 8 by the School of Modern Languages. The film follows four American and four Moroccan university students who travel together across Morocco, where the dominant religion is Sunni Muslim. The journey uncovers cultural stereotypes and opens pathways to dissolving those barriers. Filmmaker Arnd Wächter hoped that the interactions he captured on film would create opportunities for intercultural empathy among American and Muslim student audiences. The Georgia Tech audience responded strongly.

“More than 160 students and faculty turned out for this event and they were very moved by the film,” observed Philip McKnight, Chair of the School of Modern Languages.  “The film ended at 7:30pm and ninety percent of the audience remained for a quite lively discussion that went on until 10:15.”

Among them were students Anita Hosni and Ahsan Dharnai, who are studying Arabic, observed that most of the audience were taken aback by how quickly, and how well the eight students [in the film] got along. “There are quite a few clashes on screen, but, surprisingly, most occur between students from the same culture,” they said. “Of particular interest is the special bond developed between Rochd of Morocco and David of America [shown in the photo, above] - two of the most outspoken individuals in the film. Their relationship provided a majority of the laughs, and also sheds new light on how two people from such disparate lands can be so similar.”

Rajaa Aquil, Assistant Professor, Director of the Arabic Languages for Business and Technology Program and a native speaker of Arabic, helped organize the event said, “Students had a lot of questions about Arabs and Islam, women, and other controversial issues that are usually raised, and often times wrongly represented by the western media."

The intense interest among the students prompted arrangement of a further discussion via Skype between Georgia Tech students of Arabic who conversed with students from Hasan University in Casablanca, Morocco.

“Arnd was quite amazing in leading the students in both dialogs. They were very cautious at first,” said McKnight. “But at the end of the conversation, these students decided they wanted to exchange email and Facebook addresses.”

As special focus of McKnight’s outreach for the event were Georgia Tech ROTC students, many of whom attended. The event was funded by the ROTC Language and Culture Project (Project GO, an Institute of International Education grant). Discussion was anchored by a panel that included Wächter; Tech Alumnus Kyle Jessop, who was in the Peace Corps in Africa; Aquil, and Larry Rubin, Assistant Professor from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs whose research and teaching foci include Islam and politics and international security.

Rubin said, “Personally, I found one of Arnd's comments very interesting with regards to building meaningful relationships across cultures. He said, if I remember correctly, that the honest disagreements/arguments are extremely necessary to forge lasting bonds.  It was noted that people tend to avoid political or controversial subjects in some cultures (like the US). I think this is something that many students could identify with.”

The two encounters are powerful examples of the path-breaking intercultural and applied language experiences that the College engages for Georgia Tech students through curricula, the International House student living community, the Languages for Business and Technology and other work/study abroad programs. Such experiences develop lifetime skills that are vital for graduates who will negotiate the social, technological and political contexts of other cultures in a global, interdependent, and multicultural community.

Aquil and Rubin are traveling to Egypt and Jordan, respectively, to arrange Georgia Tech student internships programs.

The School of Modern Languages plans future showings of Crossing Borders. Wächter is touring Crossing Borders in universities around the world.

Photo: David and Rochd, two of the eight students whose journey together was documented in "Crossing Borders". Their outspokeness created a majority of the laughs along the journey. The photos was provided by Crossing Borders.

Read more and offer feedback about the Crossing Borders Education Intercultural Awareness Initiative (IAI) and the documentary at

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Crossing Borders
  • Created By: Lauren Langley
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Dec 21, 2010 - 8:56am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:07pm