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Moroccan student appreciates opportunity to study at Southeastern

February 7, 2023

When older Americans think of Morocco, Humphrey Bogart and the 1942 Academy Award movie Casablanca probably come to mind.

But how do Moroccans perceive America?

“America is so different,’’ said Jesse Anas, a sophomore finance major from Morocco, and the only student from that country attending Southeastern Oklahoma State University in person. “It has everything – forests, deserts, mountains… Everyone here drives a car – in Morocco, you must be very rich to have a car.’’

Other pursuits limited to the well-to-do in Morocco include golf, tennis, and yes, the piano.

“Not many people can afford to buy a piano,’’ Jesse explains. “And there aren’t many piano instructors, so the cost to learn to play the piano is very high.’’

The Kingdom of Morocco, with a population of 38 million, is a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Casablanca, Morocco, is its largest city with 3.8 million inhabitants.

Ironically, it was movies, television, and the internet that helped influence  the 21-year-old to emigrate from his native country last May. As a freshman, Jesse attended a Moroccan university – one of only 14 in the country — but he long sought the opportunities available in the United States.

He says he spent a year researching Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia before deciding to obtain his VISA and pursue his education in the U.S.  A large number of Moroccans study abroad in such countries as France, Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Russia, and Canada, in addition to this country.

Southeastern is home to 30 undergraduate international students, representing 25 countries. India, Mexico, and Canada have the most students attending  SE.

“America is the best,’’ Jesse said. “Being here will make me a better person and give me a better education.’’

The quiet, soft-spoken college student speaks four languages (Moroccan Berber or Darija, Arabic, French, English) and chooses his words thoughtfully and precisely. And although he’s only learned to speak English since he arrived in this country last year, he’s quite fluent and articulate, albeit a little self-conscious at times.

“I learned to understand English by watching television in Morocco,’’ he said. “Moroccans are obsessed with American movies and TV shows like Breaking Bad. But I only learned to speak English after coming here and being around people and  listening to people.’’

He also discovered his eventual destination – Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Durant, Oklahoma — during his internet research.

“It’s the best decision I ever made,’’ Jesse said.  “People ask if I get homesick, and I say, ‘how can you feel homesick if you’re in the United States of America?’ “I think those born in America should appreciate being from here – it’s so free.’’

Jesse grew up “middle class’’ in a large Moroccan city; his father is retired military, his mother a stay-at-home mom, and he has an older and younger brother.

He says his family was supportive of his decision to leave home, but “thought it was a big step – as a family, we had never even traveled outside the country – we’ve spent our whole lives in Morocco.’’

Jesse says he prefers the small-town atmosphere of Durant, although he has visited the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Being in a small town can do you some good – it makes me happy,’’ he said.  “I like to go to Main Street here. I like to go places and take pictures, and I went to  Dallas where there are monuments, and then I went to that place where there’s a lot of bulls (Fort Worth Stockyards).’’

He admits his one weakness here is “fast food.’’

“Fast food,’’ he says. “I like all fast food. I go to McDonald’s every day.’’

Jesse is currently taking general education courses, and his career goal is to stay in this country and eventually start his own business. In addition to his studies, he is a student worker on campus in the Henry G. Bennett Memorial Library.

He gets occasional questions from other students about his cultural background, with the most frequent being, “do you have water and the internet in Morocco?’’

And how about that famous movie Casablanca that so many Americans associate with Morocco?

Demonstrating that he has already learned some American cinema history, Jesse replied with a sly smile:

“The movie wasn’t even made in Morocco – it was filmed in Hollywood (Warner Bros. studio in Burbank).’’