Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco, a Journey in Search of Knowledge
Amani Alsaied, NYUAD Class of 2014, shares her travel experience with the Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco January Term course.

Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco, a Journey in Search of Knowledge

The Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco January Term course left us in awe of the gorgeous cities we visited and the incredibly rich and complicated inter-religious history we learned about. Now that it's over, it is hard to believe that the class took only three short weeks of January to complete…so, where to begin this post?

Let's start with Fez. Walking through the narrowest possible roads surrounded by tens of shops of leather products, pottery, shawls, belts, and very persistent Moroccan salesmen, we found Madrasat al-Attarine, a gorgeous piece of architecture designed like many other Madrasas (schools) in 14th-century North Africa, for students — very much like ourselves — traveling from faraway lands to seek knowledge.

And I can't forget Grenada. On a cold foggy day, we wandered around the beauty of the palace-city of the Alhambra, witnessing the incredibly gorgeous wooden curves in the ceilings, the pillars, horseshoe arches, and water running from fountains into narrow channels and throughout the whole city. Alhambra was beautiful to see, and it was much more profound within the context it represents.

This J-Term was incredible. It managed to combine intensive academic work with a beautiful journey through the past.

Amani Alsaied, NYUAD Class of 2014

When I first chose to take the Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco class, I didn't expect to feel so passionately about the history of Iberia. But I later found out that this class is not only about understanding historical events or learning how to write historiographic essays, but also about a deeper personal understanding of our world. The books and articles we've read, discussed, and written about have given us a rigorous academic context of the complex history of medieval Iberia. But the weeklong trip to Morocco and southern Spain provided a completely different level of immersion in this history. Observing locals, speaking to guides, and examining historically important monuments — from Madrasas, mosques, churches, and synagogues to political palaces and cities — is a tangible way to reach an understanding of the complexity of history.

Whether thinking back to the brief conversations we had with the salesmen in Marrakesh, the chaos of the Moroccan markets, or the surreal and confusing experience of being in a "Mosque-Cathedral" hearing church music while seeing Quranic verses cover the walls of the cathedral in Cordoba, we knew we had witnessed the aftermath of a complicated history.

With trips to Toledo, Marrakesh, Rabat, Fez, Tangiers, Cordoba, Grenada, and Seville, our J-Term course was appropriately named in the syllabus as "Rihla fi Talab al-'Ilm," an Arabic expression meaning "a trip in search of knowledge," because we truly traveled for the sole purpose of seeking knowledge. Neelgoon Safdar, a fellow NYUAD junior who took the class, said, "We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about the history of Spain and Morocco and then be able to physically visit the cities where it all happened. It made the whole experience real. We were trying to relive the history."

Amani Alsaied, NYUAD Class of 2014, shares her travel experience with the Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco January Term course.
Amani Alsaied, NYUAD Class of 2014, shares her travel experience with the Interwoven Pasts of Spain and Morocco January Term course.

Such a wonderful and rich journey through history could only be possible through the design of a busy yet fruitful J-Term that embodied the vision of NYUAD: to explore life as citizens of the world. I believe that such classes have a magical ability to influence each student in their own ways.

As a third-year student working toward a double major in Film and Theater, I initially chose this class because I wanted to do a concentration in Arab Crossroads. I had no idea that it would be responsible for a more permanent influence on my plans after graduation. Now, I'm restructuring my current semester and my senior year to be able to explore the University's Arab Crossroads program. I want to learn more, to understand how the past brought us to where we are now. Through my J-Term class, I was able to see how studying history is an important part of my learning as an artist who wants to live and create in the Arab World.

This J-Term was incredible. It managed to combine intensive academic work with a beautiful journey through the past. As I write this post from my dorm room in New York, where I'm starting a new spring semester adventure, I feel very thankful to be part of NYUAD.