My main class last year at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad was called the Sociology of Migration. What a time to be taking this class with the influx of many refugees into Europe not only from Syria and neighboring countries, but also increasing numbers of refugees from Africa from countries like Eretria. My class took a weeklong trip to Spain and Morocco to learn about the history of migration between southern Spain and Morocco.
While in Morocco we visited an international private school and chatted with students about our lives, how they differed but more so about how we really are more alike than we thought even though we came from different cultures.
Next we headed on a bus towards the spanish enclave of Ceuta to try to catch a glimpse of the highly patrolled Spanish/Moroccan border. (For those who don’t know there are tiny protected areas in Morocco that belong to Spain called enclaves. The enclaves are named Ceuta and Melilla.) We even got out of the bus at one point to walk across the border into Ceuta by foot as a class and caught up with the bus later.
So many people try to cross that border everyday and end up getting seriously hurt or worse dead in the process. The GDP on the Spanish and the Moroccan side are vastly different, in fact it’s the most economically disparate border in the world with even more of an economic contrast than the US/Mexico border and with even more border protection. I don’t really have any close up pictures of the border because every time we tried to get out of the bus and take a look at the huge fence, border officers would come immediately and tell us to leave. There are hidden cameras everywhere in the hills. To learn more about the border issues in Morocco, you can watch the documentary The Land Between.
Walking across the border was a different experience for each person in the class. We all had different memories flood to us, different associations we had as we saw countless beggars wanting us to help them out with cash, dozens of onlookers watching the privileged Americans just waltz across the border into Spain while they couldn’t. It was kind of a lot to take in. Some people in the class cried. I couldn’t find the tears, just sadness and guilt. However I know that I needed to see what I saw. I know that in the end it was good to be aware of the insurmountable struggles that some people in the area were going through, because I can say something about it, and I can tell this story to people when it’s relevant.
Morocco is a beautiful and special country and even though we only visited for a day, I was so fortunate to not only learn about the struggles in the area, but also to see the beauty of the landscape and the generous, kind people we met there.