Michael Kim Riegelman is elected as Moroccan of the Month for his outstanding services for the Moroccan community. Wafin would like to thank people who show respect and affection for Moroccan people and Moroccan culture, and build paths and bridges to communicate their knowledge to others.
As the Modir of the NYC Arabic Language & Culture Club, Michael Kim Riegelman has been fulfilling the third goal of the Peace Corps’ mission ever since returning home to NYC from Morocco in April, 2003. ‘Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans’ – at a time when so many Americans have misconceptions and negative stereotypes of Muslims and ‘Arabs’, this third goal has never been more important.
Michael lived and worked in Morocco as an Environmental Educator with the US Peace Corps from 2002-2003. His stay was cut short due to the suspension of the program in April after the American invasion of Iraq. “The readjustment of coming home was far more difficult than I’d anticipated”, Michael said. It wasn’t just the fact that everyone around me was speaking English again, but the clear prevalence of anti-Arab sentiment which I saw and felt.
Wanting to stay in touch with the Arab community, Michael found a position working with the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn as an ESL teacher. He taught English while continuing to study Arabic for the summer, before accepting a position at the United Nations Secretariat. While working as a conference management assistant during the 58th General Assembly, Michael had the opportunity to meet with President Bush and the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI:
‘It’s a long story, and pretty funny, but the brunt of it was that I had the chance to meet President Bush after he gave his speech to the GA.’ I asked him if he’d introduce me to the King of Morocco. He asked me why. I said I’d recently served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. He then grabbed my shoulder and walked me over to Mohammed VI and his entourage, introducing me as ‘one of America’s finest – he served as a PCV in your country.’ I then proceeded to speak with the King in Darija for about two minutes, sputtering out everything I could. I made him and his guards smile, as Bush stood shocked beside me, totally unexpecting me to speak Arabic and not knowing what I was saying. Afterwards, Bush complimented me on my ‘exceptional language skills’ and asked what I’d said. I told him it wasn’t important, just greetings and salutations, and then returned to the back room to work. This little adventure even got press in the NY Times Sept 29th, 2003
It was during this time that Michael became involved with the NYC Arabic Language & Culture Club. With less than 70 inactive members, he took over the club and in the scope of a short year brought its membership to nearly 700 international members. The club’s mission is to promote the diverse cultures of the Middle East and North Africa through educational and social activities. Part of MeetUp.com, the club gathers regularly to attend concerts, plays, lectures, art exhibitions, movies – you name it – but everything has an ‘Arab twist’ to it. Michael provides free monthly ‘Learn the Arabic Alphabet Workshops’, as well as hosts club Dinner Parties at his small studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, Madhattan.
Although not Moroccan, Michael’s love for Morocco truly shows in the generous volunteer work he gives to the club. Recently having completed the Cambridge University CELTA Certificate (TESOL), Michael chose to leave the UN to pursue his interest in teaching, and is currently looking for a job in the United Arab Emirates. He holds a BS in Outdoor Adventure Education from Northland College (1999)– perhaps the leading Environmental Liberal Arts college in the country. He’s also taught English at the American Language Center (ALC) in Marrakesh as well as studied Arabic at the Arabic Language Institute (ALIF) in Fez. Michael also supports the High Atlas Foundation, and is a current member of NAAP-NYs Community Outreach Committee.
To obtain further info on the NYC Arabic Language & Culture Club, please visit http://arabic.meetup.com/45/about or send a direct eMail to him at [email protected]