Presidential Interns Feature Series: Madeleine Zahn


Introducing the 2020-2021 Presidential Intern Cohort. In this feature series, AUI presents one of the five interns working at Al Akhawayn University this year. The interns come from a variety of backgrounds and each brings their own skillsets to their respective offices. The AUI internship program (PIP) is a post-graduate professional development opportunity aimed at giving recent graduates from a liberal arts background international work experience while also providing the AUI community with the opportunity to benefit from the exchange of cultures and ideas that a diversified international community can provide. 


The intern featured this month is Madeleine Zahn. Madeleine is serving as the Presidential Intern for the Campus Life & Athletics Office. She grew up in Missouri where she attended Missouri State University, graduating in 2020 with a degree in Geography and minors in French and Sustainability. She first visited Morocco on a weekend trip, and knew she wanted to return someday. During her time in Morocco, Madeleine hopes to improve her language skills in addition to experiencing the culture, cuisine, and history of Morocco. She looks forward to working with staff and students to build community and friendships at AUI this year.


Madeleine, what do you want the AUI community to know about you?

As mentioned above, I am the intern for Campus Life & Athletics- you can usually find me hanging out in building 14 in the Athletics office. Outside of work I like to cook, especially experimenting with new recipes. I have tried a handful of Moroccan dishes, including lentils and harcha, but I hope to try more throughout the year. If I’m not in the kitchen then I am most likely watching Netflix, reading, or taking a walk.


You’ve served in your office for around two months now. What aspect of the Presidential Internship Program would you say you were most unprepared for? Did anything surprise you about AUI?

What surprised me about the Presidential Intern Program is the work that I have been doing. Prior to my arrival, I was unsure what I would be able to do with campus life since we are in the middle of a pandemic. Luckily there is still plenty to do, my work ranging from running social media accounts to organizing events on campus, all to keep students engaged. While it is quite difficult to cultivate student engagement with Covid guidelines, this has been a great time to listen to what students need and want on their campus. 


Were there any difficulties adjusting to working in Morocco? How did you overcome these challenges?

As with any new job, there is a learning curve, so it takes time to adjust. Having worked internationally before, coming into this position I was aware that the U.S. has a very intense style of working, contrary to other countries. It took time for me to remember to slow down and adjust to a different work pace.

Another difficulty was the language barrier. Prior to coming here, I thought I would be able to communicate in French fairly easily. Alas, upon arriving it became clear that my French skills are merely mediocre. Additionally, while people speak French in Morocco, many other languages are also used in conversations, making it difficult for me to understand. Thankfully, my coworkers and friends have been kind and patient enough to teach me some Darija.


How has the experience of international exchange evolved in the context of a global health crisis? Have you had a chance to get to know Morocco despite the restrictions in place due to Covid? 

My experience of international exchange in the context of a global health crisis has been a learning experience, to say the least. While it would have been ideal to travel around more as part of my exchange, I think staying in Ifrane has allowed me to experience exchange in a different way than if there was no pandemic. I find myself invested in the community more. For example, I frequent the same tajine place each week, so much so that the waitress knows my order.

Additionally, I am lucky to still be able to experience Morocco despite the pandemic and travel restrictions. A few of the interns and I went to Rabat over the Eid al-Mawlid holiday. We visited Chellah, the old medina, the Kasbah of the Udayas, and ate lots of good food. I also recently went to Meknes for some shopping at Marjane. While it is unfortunate that travel is restricted, I am happy to live in Ifrane where nature is abundant and there is always something to do!


How do you see yourself using the skills learned from the Presidential Internship Program in your future career/life?

In the months that I have been here I have been able to gain more skills than I could have imagined. I think that any international work experience teaches you to adapt quickly and be patient with yourself while you learn about the new world around you. Additionally, I see myself using the language skills (French & Arabic) that I have been developing during my time here. I am unsure of what my next steps in life will be, but I believe that everything I learn during this internship will be applicable for my future career.


Tell us one interesting fact about yourself:

I really enjoy running! I ran cross country in high school and have completed many 5k races and a half marathon (21 kilometers). I find that running is a great form of stress relief, it also allows me to listen to new music or catch up on podcasts and audiobooks. While running is not for everyone, I think exercise is important to overall health and wellbeing.