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Home »» Moroccan Of The Month

Aziz Elbehri  [ March, 2006 ]
Aziz Elbehri

I grew up in Rabat where, like everyone else, I attended public schools, including Hassan II High School and then to the Institute Agronomique et Veterinaire (IAV) Hassan II in 1979. It was still a period of relative opportunity in Morocco; and with a baccalaureate on hand one could still hope to go further. I still remember the night of the Baccalaureate results when we had to anxiously wait for hours in front of the newspaper offices in Rabat to grab that special edition which lists students who passed the baccalaureate. Of all the possible degrees, the Baccalaureate held a certain mystic, as it was more than a degree but was a kind of right of passage (something I am sure other Moroccans can identify with).

Since then my education and academic pursuits took few twists and turns. I chose to pursue Agronomy instead of Medicine as my family encouraged because, as I explained (with naïve futuristic insight) in a letter to my high school physics teacher, “I thought I was preparing myself for a future where living in green or natural surroundings will be luxury in our fast changing world and agronomy seemed appropriate for that.” During my years at IAV it was nice to come to know and befriend fellow Moroccan students from literally every town and region of the country—something truly special and unique about my experience at the Institute.

In July 1983, along with many other fellow IAV students and faculty, I arrived to the University of Minnesota (U of M) for a sponsored graduate program. During 18 months at the Twin Cities, I forged many lasting friendships with the Minnesotans, and developed a special bond with the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (despite its notorious weather), and which I have come to call my “second home”. After returning to and graduating from IAV in 1985, I worked at the same Institute for two years as a research associate pursuing research in internationally-funded Development Projects. During that period, I developed a new interest in economics and saw the critical need for economic analyses in development research. In the fall of 1987, I received a scholarship and returned to U of M for a dual-degree in agronomy and economics. I arrived at the time when the state baseball home team, the Minnesota Twins, won the World Series, its first ever. That was my initiation to baseball which I have come to enjoy; but, admittedly, I have never warmed up even to this day to the American football!

After receiving my dual masters’ degrees in Agricultural Economics and Agronomical Sciences, I moved to the mountainous town of State College, Pennsylvania where I served as a research associate in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Penn State University. During that period, I also got the chance to apply one of my longstanding interests—documentary filmmaking. I produced a locally recognized 60-minute documentary about an elderly world traveler and Pennsylvania native, who happened to also be my grandmother-in-law. As part of that film experience, I came to appreciate the role of small rural communities in forging the history of the U.S.—a far cry from the myth of “rugged individuality” promoted by iconic Hollywood solo cowboys. Towards the end of my tenure at Penn State, my academic interests turned to international economics of trade and development. This led me to Purdue University, Indiana for a Ph.D. degree—completed in 1999. After a consultancy at the World Bank, I took an economist position at the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture where I have been working since. My professional work and contributions are centered on economic policy analysis in international food and agriculture trade.

Currently, I live in Alexandria, Virginia with my wife and two sons (ages 10 and 12) and we take as much advantage as time allows within the Greater Washington Area to feed our multi-cultural life that is American, Islamic, Arabic, and on rare occasions admittedly, Moroccan. I am also a passionate reader of Islamic and European history and their historical linkages. Andalusia and medieval Spain occupy a disproportionate share of my bookshelf space. And, I am still looking out for another opportunity to translate this passion for history into film documentaries.




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