Fulbright Fellowship Honors Senior
More national honors have come to UMass Amherst. Among this year’s crop of Fulbright Fellows is Anissa Talantikite ’09 (political science). The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Fulbrighters are more than students, scholars and teachers. They are valuable contributors to the exchange of knowledge, skills, ideas and mutual understanding. Based on bi-national partnerships and open, merit-based competition, the Fulbright Program offers unique opportunities for enrichment and leadership development as well as access to facilities and a vast community of alumni.
“I’m honored to have received this award,” says Talantikite, who last year received a Dean's Opportunity Scholarship from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst. “For me it means that you don’t have to come from wealth or a big family name to have an opportunity like this. Now is not the best time to find a job, so the Fulbright allows me to continue my studies.”
With her fellowship Talantikite will be heading to Morocco to research the connection between argan oil, a centuries old sacred resource in the southern province of Agadir, and Moroccan Berber identity. By doing a case-study of Targanine, a women’s cooperative in Agadir that produces and sells handmade argan oil, Talantikite will examine the link between preserving tradition and promoting female socio-economic development in this rural, underdeveloped region of Morocco.
Talantikite explains, “Targanine offers Berber women, many of whom are unmarried, the chance to work, to participate in courses funded by the coop, and to build a sense of personal empowerment. But there are many questions that surround the commoditization of this sacred oil, and I am curious to explore the evolving place of these women in their community and national Moroccan society as their employment redefines their identities.”
Research in Morocco, Talantikite says, will be an important stepping stone in her personal and intellectual development. “Besides connecting with my own Berber heritage,” she notes, “I feel strongly about the substance of my research. Who knows where it will take me?” she ponders, but says that after returning to the States she expects to earn an MA in international development studies with a specialization in the political economy of North Africa. “Following graduate school, I hope to work at a nonprofit organization that puts my studies to practice. I’d also consider pursuing a career at the Department of State where I had an internship last summer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.”
Her experience there, Talantikite notes, motivated her to apply for the Fulbright. “I learned that I can’t know much about the Middle East and North Africa until I spend time living there. We can only hope to understand a society by getting to know its history and culture. It’s like trying to derive meaning from the election of President Obama without first looking at the history of race relations in American society. I’ve realized that politics is so much more than who’s leading—or not leading—the government. It’s more a question of the people who live in the society. In Morocco, I’ll definitely be focusing on the people.”
Having grown up in Salem, Massachusetts, Talantikite is the daughter of an Irish-American mom, a special education teacher, and a Berber-Algerian dad, a chef. “That explains my love of good books and good food!” she laughs. Senior year in high school she received an award from UMass Amherst alumnus Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric and also a Salem native. “It was a full-ride scholarship to attend his alma mater, so here I am, thanks to his generosity.”
Talantikite opted for the political science major after being intrigued by a course on Political Islam. “I’m kind of a news junkie too,” she admits. Each semester on campus has been very different. “I like this about UMass Amherst. I’ve been very selective about my courses and have taken several at Amherst College. Many of these have been related to the Five College International Relations Certificate program that I’ll receive when I graduate. Several professors have been especially supportive as teachers, mentors and advisors.”
During the fall of 2008, Talantikite studied abroad at Université de Pau in France, honing her French skills, and this semester she began Arabic studies through the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages. Her research project in Morocco also requires a fair command of Derija to communicate with non-French speakers there. Starting in September, Talantikite will participate in the five-week language training program at the Arabic Language Institute in Fes to study Moroccan dialectical Arabic. She also plans to engage an Arabic tutor throughout her stay in Morocco.
“I hope to be a student all of my life,” Talantikite says, noting that she expects to do a lot of reading, traveling and interacting with people. “I could spend the whole day reading, but I also enjoy running. I guess that’s the whole mind-body balance. Someday I’ll run the Boston Marathon, and I want to be that woman who’s 75 years old and still logging in 10 miles!”
April 27, 2009