For one Superior High School graduate, the chance to study abroad was a year-long course in national security.
Jack Bergum, a 2012 Superior High School graduate, jetted to Morocco on Aug. 31 and returned home to South Range June 2. A national Boren Scholarship funded the opportunity to learn Arabic in the Middle East.
"I think the intent of the Boren Scholarship is to teach an understanding of other cultures," said Bergum's mother, Kelly, a counselor at the high school. "The best way to protect is to understand."
In exchange for the opportunity to study in areas of the world that are critical to national interests, Boren scholars are required spend at least a year working for the federal government. That's a perfect fit for Bergum. His dream job would entail working for the State Department as a foreign service officer or a diplomat.
Now a senior at the University of Oklahoma, Bergum started taking Arabic classes his freshman year of college. The four years of Spanish he studied in high school weren't a big help.
"Arabic is much harder," he said. Another kink came when he touched down in Meknes, Morocco, a city of about 1 million. The modern standard Arabic he'd learned in college didn't mesh with the Darija dialect spoken in the city.
"I got better, but it's a process," Bergum said. This was more than a language course for the South Range man.
"It helped me grow as a person dealing with people from a different culture," he said.
The weather in Morocco was warmer, with temperatures in the 90s and 100s during the summer months and down to the 50s in the winter. Donkeys pulling carts shared the road with motor vehicles, and there was no law against jaywalking. Bartering was the practice in open-air markets known as souks and diet staples included breads, cooked fruit and couscous. The city's mosques aired daily calls to prayer.
When the South Range scholar couldn't journey home for Christmas, his family came to him.
"It was nice to see how he'd assimilated," said Kelly Bergum. "We totally relied on him to communicate — taxis, transportation, food."
They stayed with one of Bergum's professors, getting a first-hand glimpse at family life in Morocco. It broke a lot of stereotypes. For example, many women walked the streets without head coverings and held jobs.
"The perceptions we had before we went and what occurred were really different," Kelly Bergum said. They found that, regardless of whether you live in South Range or Meknes, "people are people everywhere."
The trip made the world seem smaller for the whole family, less scary than media portrayals.
"I just think it's great to see what the world has to offer," Kelly Bergum said. "We'll see where this takes him."
Bergum is on course to graduate in 2016 with a double major in political science and international security. Despite the year in Morocco, he will graduate on time. For that, Bergum credits advanced placement courses he took during high school.
"I hear that from students from Superior," Kelly Bergum said. "If they do college credits or AP, they either graduate early or study abroad."
The Boren Scholarship is available nationwide, one of many opportunities Superior High School graduates have taken advantage of.
"It's interesting what people do when they leave high school," Kelly Bergum said. "If you have the right tools and the right mindset, you might find an opportunity you didn't know about."
With one trip behind him, Bergum is preparing for a summer trip to Tanzania with the Superior Sunrise Rotary Club. Members of the rotary and Pilgrim Lutheran Church will team up to build rainwater collection tanks and a church in Piaya, a village of 400 people, next month.