A Moroccan student who has traveled the world is documenting and studying the integration of Arabs and Muslim students in Western countries.
Yasmine El Baggari is an Arab college student in her fourth and final year of study at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts who educators say is doing remarkable things that include conducting intensive studies of integration of Arab-Muslim students in Western countries.
El Baggari is also launching a new venture to promote intercultural understanding by matching world travelers and hosts by shared interests.
– Building on her State Department exchange year at a Kansas high school, El Baggari, who is from Morocco, has traveled to 40 countries and 38 US states in just five years. She met world leaders across business and government, aided by the kindness of strangers.
– In 2013, she received a Global Migration Grant and traveled to 15 countries in Europe and interviewed Arab-Muslim students on the topic of the culture of integration. She said, “That experience taught me about myself, my values, and about honoring my values without having to assimilate.”
– El Baggari’s first intensive intercultural exchange experience began during her participation in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, funded by the U.S. State Department, which provides scholarships for students aged 14-17 from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend one academic year in the United States. The program was established by Congress in response to the events of 9/11. El Baggari’s scholarship brought her to live in Overland Park, Kansas, where she attended high school for a year at Blue Valley Northwest High School.
– Her new venture Voyaj.com will match hosts and travelers by shared interests for authentic cultural exchange via brief homestays. She has represented her venture at the White House, World Economic Forum, Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and more.
When she was 17, El Baggari left her home in Morocco on a US State Department scholarship to spend a year at a Kansas high school and introduce Americans to her Arab culture and Muslim faith. Five years later, El Baggari, now a college student at Hampshire College who has since traveled to 40 countries and 38 US states, has launched a global web venture to match travelers and hosts worldwide by their shared interests and experiences, and arrange brief home stays to bridge cultures and “open hearts and minds.”
El Baggari is currently leading a team of a half dozen technology entrepreneurs in developing her online platform, branded Voyaj (www.Voyaj.com). Last year, she put her college studies on hold and traveled to meet with leaders of world airlines, hospitality companies, technology companies, global organizations and governments to forge partnerships for her venture. This fall, a couple media outlets reported on El Baggari’s accomplishments, including Forbes and the HuffingtonPost.
El Baggari’s desire to experience the world and develop this global model have resulted in significant grants and invitations over the past five years to speak at international events and conferences, including at the White House, and also to conduct research at renowned institutions.
These opportunities included:
– World Economic Forum, Jordan, 2015, Invited Speaker
– “She Leads Africa” Fellowship 2015
– Global Social Business Summit, One Young World Ambassadors, Berlin, Germany, 2015, Invited Speaker
– Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Morocco 2014: Panelist on women’s entrepreneurship panel with Vice President Joe Biden
– Top 100 Most Influential Traveler Bloggers for Millennials, Wash DC 2014: White House, National Security Council event
– Harvard University Summer 2014: Conducted grant-supported research on women’s rights, terrorism, Islam’s influence on politics, economics and social life
– Global Migrations Grant, European research, Summer 2013: Conducted research in six countries in Europe on “Identity, Morality, and Cultural Evolution” for Arab-Muslim students in Europe.
– African Studies Association Conference, Baltimore, MD 2013: Presented research on the social, religious and cultural identity of Arab/Muslim students in Europe
– Middle East Studies Assoc Conference, New Orleans, LA 2013: Presented on Moroccan Women’s Empowerment: Political and Civil Socioeconomic Reforms
– People to People International, Atlanta, GA 2010: Ambassador and Panelist, International Student Panel
This year, El Baggari is back in college completing her final year of studies at Hampshire and connecting her undergraduate thesis, developed with the advisement of her Hampshire faculty committee, to the mission and development of her venture, Voyaj. Her thesis focuses on the intersection of the sharing economy and cultural encounters.
El Baggari explains that unlike platforms like Airbnb, Voyaj will not be based on monetary exchange between hosts, because she says, “money is a barrier to meaningful relationships. Our values are ‘give give get.’ You can’t just take, you have to give.”
Thanks to the hospitality of strangers, her interest in people, and her outgoing personality, El Baggari has visited 40 countries and 38 US states within the past five years. She has been welcomed in homes by many people supporting her dream to travel and make the world a better place.
“As I travel, I tell people about my dreams to see the world. I meet people, we strike up a conversation and find we have common interests, and often they invite me to stay at their home. I invite them and their friends to stay at my home in Morocco,” says El Baggari.
“I’ve stayed with families, farmers, truck drivers, even visited Richard Branson’s home in Marrakech. My dream today is for other people to experience the world, if that’s what they wish. If you’re open to the world, the world opens up to you. What matters is good relationships with people.”
El Baggari’s goal is to advance cultural understanding using proprietary technology to provide an affordable way for people to experience other cultures. “I’m building the world’s first serendipity engine,” she says, “I believe in allowing serendipity to happen in your life.”
Her undergraduate thesis at Hampshire, called a Division III project, will detail the model for her new venture and proprietary technology that will inform the operation of Voyaj. She’s authoring her thesis under the advisement and support of Hampshire college faculty, including Omar Dahi, Lee Spector, Will Ryan, Vika Gardner, and Daniel Ross.
Hampshire College is one of the nation’s leading colleges for entrepreneurship, ranked #6 on Forbes 2015 list of most entrepreneurial colleges. More than a quarter of Hampshire graduates have started their own organization or venture. The development of Voyaj’s digital platform is being supported by a $59,000 grant awarded in 2014 by Hampshire College’s Seed Fund for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, made possible by a $1million gift to the college by alumnus Michael Vlock. Click here for more info.
Her goal with Voyaj is “to remove fears and stereotypes between people.” She says she’s seen countless examples where people’s biases were transformed by developing relationships with people of different cultures.
For El Baggari, Voyaj also represents her joy in helping people who are traveling to find a home and family to stay with. She says, “Those interactions are always amazing. I thought, how can I scale this, how can I use technology to take it to a different level? I believe that millions of meaningful interactions between people, across cultures, can help ease the world’s pressing challenges.”
About Hampshire College
Hampshire College is among the most innovative colleges in the country, challenging students to design their own education and recruit a faculty committee to guide them. The model has been described as a “graduate school for undergraduates.” Since it was founded in 1970 by the leaders of four sister colleges in the college town of Amherst, Mass., Hampshire has demonstrated success as its experiential education has been emulated nationwide, and as its roster of alumni have distinguished themselves globally. More than a quarter of Hampshire graduates have started their own organizations or venture, which landed Hampshire on Forbes 2015 list of most entrepreneurial colleges. The College is among the top 1% of US institutions whose alumni advance to earn doctorate degrees. Hampshire is part of the Five Colleges consortium, through which our students share classes and resources with the students of Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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