Abigail Meinen

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

University of Pittsburgh | Oakland

Heinz Programming Area:
Arts and Culture
International Experience Summary:

As a Vira Heinz Scholarship recipient, she travelled to Rabat, Morocco for two months in the summer of 2015. In Morocco, Abigail Meinen took courses in Moroccan culture and politics, as well as Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. Abby’s interest and focus of study was art as a tool for empowerment and political resistance. She studied the use of art and poetry during the period of time known in Morocco as the Leaden Years (1960s-1970s) as well as the ways that art and writing serve as tools of colonial resistance up to the present day. She also visited community art galleries featuring art that commented on topics such as government corruption, women’s rights, and the influence of religion in Moroccan government, as well as observed murals and street art in Rabat and the many other cities to which she travelled on weekends. Abby was also able to visit a women’s art collective where illiterate Moroccan women make art and furniture from recycled paper and sell it in the city market. Speaking with the founder of the social enterprise, Abby learned about the ways that art is being used as a means of economic empowerment, as well as fostering community among the Moroccan women involved. She hopes to return to Rabat to work further with the collective. Abby lived with a Moroccan host family and spoke Arabic at home. Her free time was spent at the beach with host brothers, sisters, and cousins, who taught her card games and helped her improve her Arabic. She also had many conversations with Moroccan university students about gender, sexuality, art, and youth culture in Morocco. Through language and cultural immersion, Abby was able to gain an understanding of Moroccan life, improve her language skills, and form lasting relationships with family and friends. 

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: Your Identity Abroad

Abigail participated in planning the CEE "Your Identity Abroad" with other members of the Pitt Oakland Cohort. Each of the members of the cohort had unique experiences with pieces of their identities in different parts of the world. In sharing their experiences they realized that cultural understanding, as well as understanding of one's own identity, is key to having a safe and fulfilling experience abroad. The program aimed to start a conversation about personal identity and cultural awareness and the ways that the identity and culture intersect, and sometimes, clash. The program focused on three main facets of identity- generational, gender/sexual, and racial, and asked students to consider the ways that their own particular identity may change when they go to another country and culture. Those who attended participated in an activity in which they were asked to map out their own identity, then discussed various parts of it through roundtable discussions. Cohort members shared their experiences of cultural difference with the group, and the ways that they had to adapt to new cultural norms regarding identity. Those in attendance then discussed the theme of "when to take a stand and when to let it go," after viewing Ash Beckham's 2015 TED talk, in which she discusses difficult experiences and conversations that have arisen in her own life due to her own multiple identities. The program concluded with a SAFE course, taught by Heather Camp and the Pitt Police, about how to be aware of one's surrounding and stay safe in any environment. Overall, the program aimed to remove the "fear factor" from studying abroad and travelling to a new place, through cultural competency, and confidence in one's identity.