Sokaina El Bekri is near the midway point of a high-profile second semester at The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Business Administration (COBA). El Bekri, a native of Morocco and current graduate student in economics, is the college’s first Fulbright Student Scholar and stands as evidence of the University’s rising status as a national higher education leader. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications.
“As the first Fulbright Student Scholar in the College of Business Administration, we are certainly proud to host Sokaina El Bekri,” said James E. Payne, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business Administration at UTEP. “As a former Fulbright Scholar, I can attest to the wonderful opportunities this program provides students and faculty for meaningful international experiences, both academically and culturally. I encourage our students to explore such opportunities through the Fulbright Program.”
El Bekri was a college senior studying at Mohammed V University in the city of Rabat, Morocco, when she decided to apply to the Fulbright Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government that is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through grants to study, teach and conduct research. She subsequently took a job at a private school where she handled bookkeeping, which left her time to study in the evenings for the TOEFL and GRE exams, write personal statements, essays and compile recommendation letters to supplement her application. The process took a year to complete. After being selected, the interview process consisted of a panel of Moroccan and American faculty, the executive secretary of the Moroccan American Commission of Educational and Cultural Exchange (MACECE) and other staff members. Ultimately, it was two years before El Bekri accomplished her dream.
“Fulbright is easily the best thing that has happened me to date,” El Bekri said. “I get to travel around the globe, make friends, learn about what I love the most, and explore a completely new and different environment. It is both challenging and rewarding and has taught me how to be an autonomous and self-reliant individual. Career-wise, I get to practice what I learn about cost reduction. It is safe to say being budget-conscious is difficult to achieve. I still need to work on my obsession with Amazon.
“What I enjoy the most about the program I enrolled in is how engaging the courses can be,” El Bekri said. “There will always be a discussion in class about trending topics that relate to the course. At the end of the semester you always find a sense of connection between all the classes, no matter how different they are from each other.”
El Bekri said she would recommend the graduate economics program to anyone who likes mathematics and analytical thought, as it truly combines economic and financial theory and is a good option for students who do not want to limit themselves to only a handful of career opportunities. Economics majors can apply to different positions in the private and public sectors including in health care, pharmaceuticals and gaming.
In addition to the academics, El Bekri said she has enjoyed living in El Paso. She added that there are some similarities between her home in Morocco and El Paso.
“Summers in southern Morocco and West Texas are fortunately quite similar, which meant I did not have a lot of difficulty adjusting to the high temperatures in August,” El Bekri said. “They both have delicious cuisine available anytime, anywhere. The hospitality and kindness of El Pasoans makes me forget how much I miss home. I have made wonderful friends and met people who I will always remember.”
El Bekri said her professors are visibly passionate about the subjects they teach. She appreciates their availability and guidance.
“I have completed only one semester at UTEP so far, which means there is still a lot to learn before I can say I have acquired the skills I need for my future career,” she said. “That being said, my professors constantly challenge me to do better in class. The workload can be overwhelming sometimes, but my adviser regularly contacts me to make sure I am doing well in class. Schools in Morocco do not have athletic teams, so I enjoy going to the football and basketball games because of the community they create and how they connect people.”
Tom Fullerton, Ph.D., professor of economics and a previous Fulbright Mexico Scholar, helped steward El Bekri through the application process.
“Sokaina adapted very quickly to life in El Paso and the United States,” Fullerton said. “In Urban Economics, she was an enthusiastic student who enjoyed all aspects of learning a new subject that has international applicability. Sokaina has fully embraced the spirit of the Fulbright program and the opportunities for academic advancement provided by graduate course work here at UTEP.”
El Bekri is indeed enthused about the opportunities she has received at UTEP and looks forward to continuing her academic journey.
“The most rewarding part, in my opinion, is looking back at the experience holistically and reflecting on the struggles and accomplishments equally,” El Bekri said.
The Fulbright Program is one of many options available to students looking to gain international experience.
“The U.S. Student Fulbright Program is a highly competitive but fantastic opportunity for UTEP students – especially graduating seniors, recent alumni and graduate students – to gain experience teaching English or conducting research abroad,” said J. Aaron Waggoner, Ph.D., assistant director for professional development and the U.S. Student Fulbright Program Adviser at UTEP. “Like other prestigious opportunities, the U.S. Student Fulbright requires a carefully crafted and edited application. For that reason, I encourage students to review program options, talk to their mentors, and schedule a time to chat with me by late spring. I can then make suggestions and introductions to help them draft those applications over the summer in time for revisions and interviews in early fall.”