‘She’s family now’: Moroccan teenager welcomed to community, Park Center High

Moroccan exchange student Imane Chatri (front row, right) lived with the family of Amanda and Joe Hauck as part of the Ayusa Program’s YES Grant, and attended Park Center Senior High during her stay. Here, Chatri and the Hauck family visit the Science Museum of Minnesota in January 2017, wearing traditional Moroccan garb provided to the family by Chatri. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Hauck)

Despite political tensions flaring across the globe, one area family recently took it upon themselves to offer some American hospitality to an exchange student from halfway across the world.

Joe and Amanda Hauck, who live blocks away from Brooklyn Center in North Minneapolis, have offered their home to foreign exchange students via the national Ayusa Program’s YES Grant a number of times. The program allows students from predominantly Muslim countries to study in America while acting as an ambassador for their homeland.

“It was established so that relations between predominantly Muslim countries and America could continue the conversation that being Muslim doesn’t mean that you’re a terrorist,” said Amanda, who also serves as a representative for the program. “The idea is to have this grant available to students from predominantly Muslim countries. It doesn’t matter to the program, when the student applies, what their religion is.”

According to Amanda, only the top four percent of students who apply end up receiving the grant. But their latest exchange student, Moroccan 17-year-old Imane Chatri, may have been the most ambitious and motivated the family’s seen. After all, Imane has said that she wants to be the first female prime minister in Moroccan history.

“I was looking on the page where you look for students, and I wanted to have a sister instead of another brother,” laughed the Haucks’ daughter Savana. “I was looking at the girls, and I found one… and I showed Mom.”

Imane, a Muslim who hails from Ksar El-Kebir, Morocco, was ultimately chosen and lived with the Haucks from August of last year until this June. Despite the obvious cultural differences between America and her home country, Imane warmed up to her host family very fast.

“What really surprised me about the U.S. is how accepting everyone was of me, how understanding and welcoming they were,” said Chatri in a message to the Sun Post. “I almost instantly felt like I belonged in Minnesota. My host family did their best to show me around and treated me like their daughter from day one, my friends never once made me feel like an outsider and were incredibly open to learning about my culture and background.”

Indeed, the Haucks have participated in the YES program partially as a means of educating themselves about cultures outside of their own.

“It’s a great learning experience for the kids, for our kids, and for us,” said Joe. “(It helps us) learn more about different lifestyles, countries, and hopefully tries to teach the (students) more about us.”

Chatri was enrolled at Park Center Senior High, where she immediately excelled in activities such as mock trial, debate, and DECA, where she ended up competing at the state level.

“She didn’t expect what was there,” said Amanda. “She was so excited to be in an environment that was so diverse. Even before she came, she said, ‘You don’t understand. You’re telling me I’m going to be walking down hallways and hearing different languages?’ In Morocco, you’re a Moroccan. You’re going to hear French and you’re going to hear Arabic.”

“I was surprised by how quickly the U.S. felt like home,” said Chatri. “It is truly a melting pot of different people cultures and traditions and that’s my favorite thing about it.”

Chatri and the Haucks ended up being thick as thieves, connecting in a myriad of ways as they grew closer to each other.

“She was open to teaching us about Arabic and French,” said Savana. “She taught Cameron how to say things, and taught me how to write things. She was always open to talk about anything: her problems, our problems, how to get over things… she was always there.”

Savana and Imane also connected over subjects like makeup and social media, while her brother Cameron taught Imane the basics of American sports.

“It was late on a Thursday night, and I was watching a Colts game,” said Cameron. “She didn’t know how football worked, so I decided to teach her… how football worked. Later on during her exchange year, it was the beginning of spring training and I was watching a lot of the games, and she said, ‘So how does baseball work?’ So I explained baseball to her.”

The timing of Imane’s stay in America was also striking, as her time in the country coincided with future President Donald Trump’s road to the White House. His rhetoric towards Muslims and Middle Eastern nations made the open-minded and politically aware Chatri nervous, according to Amanda.

“When the elections were happening, she would get absolutely beside herself with anger,” said Amanda. “It actually really brought us together, because we have the same opinion of it. But then, when these things started happening, she said, ‘You don’t understand how this affects the rest of the world.’ It was interesting to hear her perspective.”

Nonetheless, Chatri’s overall experience in the United States was a positive one. During her time with the Haucks, Chatri applied for a scholarship to the United World College campus in Italy, which is usually an extremely competitive process.

“When she was applying for scholarships, she was really excited when she was getting selected, and she did do a lot of applying when she was here,” said Amanda. “She made it clear that this was a really big deal, because usually, only the richest people in Morocco were going to be (selected), because it’s decided by the council.”

Joe also said that thousands of Moroccan youth apply, and those applications are whittled down to 44. Only six end up with a scholarship. The top scholarship ended up going to Imane.

Imane admitted that readjusting to being back in Morocco had been difficult after living with the Haucks.

“The thought that I might never see my American family and friends haunts me everyday,” said Imane. “I miss all of it and would go back in a heartbeat, although I am well aware that even if I do it’ll never be the same, I’d do anything to get one more hug from the people I love.”

The sentiments from the Haucks are the very same.

“We still message all the time,” said Amanda. “We’re in constant communication with her. She’s family now.”

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]