By Gaston Lacombe, Public Service Language Center -Educational Advising Center
From September 2 to 5, 2002, I had the great honor to be invited to participate in the Middle-East/North Africa and South-Asia bi-regional conference in Rabat, Morocco. My gracious hosts, Kristen Cammarata, REAC for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Kathleen Alam, REAC for South Asia, had invited me to present the “Business Strategies for Overseas Educational Advisers” workshop, as well as to participate in a panel on outreach programs. Some other guests at the conference included Phillip Ives, Jean Frisbie and Ella Clement from the Department of State, Lia Hutton from Amideast, Ed Kelly from ETS, Robin Pettinato from Petersons, Maria Lesser from the College Board, our favorite expert on accreditation Amy Lezberg as well as a few US-Based university professionals.
I have to admit that previous to this conference, I knew very little about advising in these regions of the world and I was acquainted with only a handful of their advisers. Needless to say it was exceptionally fascinating to talk to my colleagues from these parts of the world, during as well as after the sessions. We all have been affected by the events of September 11th, but our hardship in Europe is nothing compared to what these advisers have experienced, working in Arab countries, in Muslim countries, in Israel or in India.
On the one hand, there were a lot of negative post-9/11 reports coming from these advisers. Some of them reported a great decline in the number of clients, insurmountable problems in getting visas for their students, or having to face severe personal hardship because of their affiliation to the USA. One of the stories that stands out in my mind is about the advising center in Lahore, Pakistan. The adviser there, Lubna, works from the US consulate, which at the moment strictly controls the access of non-employees to its facilities. Therefore, potential clients cannot even access her advising center. She is only allowed to meet three people a day, and even then, she has to talk to them through a bulletproof window. Her main professional concern right now is to maintain the flow of information about US universities and colleges, even if her office is not accessible. She works hard on doing outreach and conducting individual meetings in schools and universities instead of in her office. Considering the obstacles she has to face, Lubna’s work as an adviser in Pakistan is nothing less than heroic. Yet she is just one of the examples from those two regions, where almost all adviser have to go out of their ways to continue doing their job and meet the needs of their clientele while living in an often hostile environment.
Nevertheless, not everything at this conference dwelled on the negative. It was also a chance for these advisers to share information on their success stories after September 11th. This was a unique chance for many of these advisers to discuss the programs or advising techniques they undertook to maintain their clientele and their positive image. There was a lot of talk about extra outreach programs, about diversifying their services, about the US Embassies getting more involved and providing more support to educational advising centers and about how the REACs and the Department of State work very hard to maintain a positive presence in these countries. The majority of advisers from these regions seemed to have adapted very well and quickly to the post-September 11 world. As in every region of the world, one of the main character traits of educational advisers is positive and optimism, and this was especially evident at this conference.
In addition, as in most conferences of this kind, there were presentations on fund-raising schemes, proposal writing, undergraduate and graduate admissions, visa issues, ETS concerns, college fairs, outreach, etc. While everything was presented with the specifics of the Arab world and South Asia in mind, I still was able to participate in many session and extract useful information.
This article would not be complete without talking about the wonderfully sunny country that is Morocco. Since the conference was from Monday to Thursday, I added the weekend before and the week-end after the conference to my trip to explore what else Morocco had to offer. I had time to visit the cities of Fez and Marrakech, and had a marvelous time in both. The sights, smells and sounds of these cities are truly exotic and at the same time indescribable, and they truly deserve a visit by anyone looking for a bit of fun and adventure!