Pictured at Riad Hidden, a traditional Moroccan house where UT Martin students stayed in Marrakesh, Morocco, are (front row, l-r) Dr. Carrie Humphreys, UT Martin assistant professor of political science and international studies; students Mary Lane Minatra, of Rockvale; Meera Patel, of Arlington; Savannah Stanely, of Mt. Juliet; and Willie McNeal, of Somerville; Ikram Ouinkhir, riad manager; (back row) students Brooke Boshers, of Mt. Pleasant; Stone Craft, of Medon; Kalen Royal, of Clarksville; Alex Dunn, of Dresden; Erin Young, of Halls; and John Fritts, of Ardmore.

UT Martin students visit Spain, Morocco with McWherter Institute

Third-year students in the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Ned Ray McWherter Institute have the opportunity to travel internationally during the spring semester each year. The 2019 trip included stops in both Spain and Morocco, making this the first time an NRMI cohort has visited two continents in one week.

NRMI is a unique personal and professional development program that not only prepares select students for the workforce but gives them opportunities to visit places they may never see otherwise. This international travel opportunity differs from a traditional travel-study because it is planned by the students themselves. The class votes on which country or countries to visit, with the primary criteria being that English cannot be an official language and the U.S. dollar cannot be the official currency.

The students also divide the days of the trip among themselves, and each two-person team is responsible for planning the itinerary for their chosen date. This results in a widely varied schedule, which this year included palace and city tours, camel rides, bullfighting, cooking classes, European marketplaces and hiking. Erin Young, a junior chemistry major from Halls, said she and her partner planned a full day in Spain. After visiting the Royal Palace and the largest flea market in Europe, the group participated in a food tour of the city.

“We had two guides, and it was about three hours long,” she said. “They took us to different popular spots in a small area of the city … and we would go and sit down at whatever restaurant it was for 10-15 minutes and try whatever specialty they had. Our guides would order for us and then bring it to us and explain the significance of the dish and what it was made out of.” They ended the evening with a live flamenco show. “I was just amazed at all the energy they had. … It was really cool to see that side of the culture.”

Traditional cuisine was a theme throughout the trip, and the group’s time in Marrakesh, Morocco, included a cooking class.

“We were making chicken tagine, which is a traditional Moroccan dish. We got the chickens, and they were live. This man just pulls them out, and he starts preparing them. … It was really surprising because we could watch it all happen,” said Mary Lane Minatra, a junior agriculture major from Rockvale. The group then purchased vegetables and other ingredients from the marketplace and returned to a traditional residence to prepare their lunch with the instruction of a local woman. “We didn’t just watch someone else do it; we got to do it ourselves.”

Visiting a developing country like Morocco showed the students another side of life and caused them to think about the conveniences they take for granted in the United States.

“I think a lot of us don’t really appreciate what we have here until we see something somewhere else, and so I was able to come to the states and realize that some of the things we have here are taken for granted,” said Minatra. She said many stereotypes the students held about visiting a Muslim country were proven to be false, and participating in daily life firsthand has caused many of the students to abandon those beliefs.

The NRMI program and the associated travel opportunities are funded by outside donors. Young and Minatra both recognize that such a trip is a rare chance to experience the world without breaking the bank.

“I think it’s incredible that we can have the opportunity to go to the other side of the world for no cost at all to us, and that’s something that not everybody gets the chance to do, so I’m really grateful for that opportunity,” said Minatra.

For more information on the Ned Ray McWherter Institute and its programs, contact Joyanne Gansereit, program coordinator, at 731-881-3620 or gansereit@utm.edu.


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