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There are a series of unexpected connections between the State of Utah and the country of Morocco.

Both the University of Utah and Southern Utah University have established study abroad programs with local educational institutions bringing Utahns abroad and Moroccans to the Beehive State.

One of the U.'s programs, Going Global with the College of Education: Morocco, is directed by Jennifer Shontz Burrow-Sanchez, who hopes that through this initiative, students will "develop a well-rounded understanding of modern and contemporary Middle East and North Africa."

The U. also has launched a Professor Exchange Program bringing Moroccan academics to Utah, who will teach courses focusing on North African affairs. The program's director, Professor Robert Goldberg, also heads the Tanner Humanities Center. The purpose, he emphasized, is to bring academics and students together in order to improve mutual understanding, "and enable both Americans and Moroccans to gain fresh perspectives about the life, society, culture, and politics of the respective nations," he said.

Brigham Young University also will send its students and faculty to Marrakech and Fes during the summer of 2013 through its Global Diplomacy Study Abroad Program. Organized by the Kennedy Center for International Studies, the program offers students a more intensive, politically oriented experience in North Africa, allowing for BYU students to cultivate debate skills and learn in-depth about diplomacy.

Outside of this opportunity, some students, such as Greg Coy, have received U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarships. Coy completed an intensive two-month program. He described his time in Morocco as "one of the most engaging and enriching experiences of my life."

In terms of diplomatic ties, one of the seven Honorary Consuls for the Kingdom of Morocco is a Utah native and resident named Keith Martin. In addition to being a lecturer statewide and in Morocco, a director of an international business and the former director of the World Trade Organization of Utah, Martin hopes to encourage the Utah-Morocco partnership through his diplomatic post. He actively supports the state's individual relationship with the North African kingdom, articulating the profound impact of Utahns' individual friendships with Moroccans. Martin believes those bonds have the potential to be as, if not more, powerful than those cultivated by national leaders.

Another instrumental organization with ties to Morocco based in Salt Lake City is the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy (UCCD). The UCCD was incorporated in 1967 as the sister organization of the Fulbright Program. It seeks to bring up-and-coming diplomatic leaders from 130 nations, including Morocco, to the United States for a series of workshops and cultural exchanges.

The UCCD's Executive Director Laura Dupuy noted that the Arab world is the top priority of U.S. foreign relations, and within this world, Morocco is a critical link. She hoped that the organization and the nation's relationship with Morocco will remain positive and allow for the States to develop more positive relations with its neighbors and in the North African region in general.

Dupuy highlighted the benefits of Utah's personal relationship with Morocco that exists outside of the realm of national politics. She believes the mutual awareness of resources will lead to positive partnerships that would otherwise have not existed.

Keith Martin emphasized the historic importance of the connection between the United States and Morocco, as it was the first nation to publicly recognize American independence from Britain. Today, the State of Utah remains grateful for this centuries-old olive branch.

Through non-profit, corporate, governmental, and educational partnerships, the Beehive State is working toward improving foreign relations as Laura Dupuy put it, "one handshake at a time."