Student: Nabil Khan. School: Swarthmore College, where he is a senior. Achievement: Khan, 21, originally from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, received a Fulbright Fellowship for 2007. A psychology major with minors in biology and English literature, he will live in several Moroccan cities and study how Western psychiatric practices adapt to the country's Muslim culture.
School: Swarthmore College, where he is a senior.
Achievement: Khan, 21, originally from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, received a Fulbright Fellowship for 2007. A psychology major with minors in biology and English literature, he will live in several Moroccan cities and study how Western psychiatric practices adapt to the country's Muslim culture.
At Swarthmore, Khan has been active in Swarthmore for Immigrants' Rights and the Muslim student group, and is coeditor of Remappings, the Asian/Asian-Diaspora literary publication. He was also a biology peer tutor and a member of the steering committee of the 2006 "Beyond the Box" conference on critical multiculturalism.
What he'll do: "I'll be interviewing people [at a hospital], nurses and doctors," he said. "But also somehow, I'll get to interview patients and families, too. Outside of that, I'll also be interviewing religious leaders and traditional healers to get a sense of how people view mental illness, how it should be treated, how it affects people. In the culture, how widespread is the concept of psychology?"
Western psychology: "I feel like the way psychology's developed in Western culture, it's sort of more done on a one-on-one basis. There is family therapy and group therapy. But mostly one-on-one. There's a lot more things that can be dealt with with drugs. . . .
"In American culture, psychology is very pervasive. People are very used to using the language, and seeing a therapist isn't as stigmatizing as it is in other countries."
Questions he wants to explore: "If there is stigma, how it works, and how it's dealt with by people working in the profession. If there is stigma, how do psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses deal with it? How do they view their role? Does it feel like people accept them? Does it go against their culture to medicalize every mental illness, or even view problems as illnesses?"
Why the difference in Morocco: "You can look at it in many ways. But economically, like with some Muslim [cultures], people don't have the money to spend on mental issues. Physical, more obvious health concerns are probably bigger concerns. . . . I think it's probably less to do with religion, but just more with, for the want of a better word, culture."
Impressions of Morocco: "It is a Muslim country. But it's also North Africa and like the western-most Arab country. And it's right by Spain. Historically, it's been influenced a lot by Europeans. It was colonized by Muslim Spain and France, and there's a lot of Western residents there, expatriates. And tourists who want to go to the Middle East, either Morocco or Turkey are sort of the first places they go to. So I think it's not quite as the opposite of the West as we might think."
His interest in psychology: "First of all, as a field, it's very broad. There's the very obvious problems in the brain that lead to physical issues. There's sociology, too. And philosophy is also part of it. Like, what is the mind? What role does spirituality play in ourselves?
"I like the brain. I think it's the coolest part of the body. And it's so complex and mysterious still."
Traveling: "It's really important to just get out of your own world. I think for everyone in general, not just college students. We tend to get caught up in our own lives and our own issues.
"I'm not saying people shouldn't exercise or hang out with friends. But I think actually leaving a place and going to another one, it makes you more aware of how insignificant you are. How there's millions of people, billons of people, living around the world without the same issues as you, and they're fine. Or they're not fine. They have different issues than you. It sort of gives you more perspective on yourself."
Plans: "I don't know. I've always thought of going to medical school and maybe doing public health stuff also. But who knows? I'm kind of hoping the Fulbright will give me more of an idea."
What a professor says: "Number one, he's very smart. But also, he's adventurous. He's willing to do new things and see where they go. And that includes going to a new place," says Jeanne Marecek, a Swarthmore psychology professor who taught Khan during his sophomore year.
- Ed Mahon