Skip to main content

Eating From the Proverbial Communal Plate

When East Side resident Dennis Krantz used to think of Morocco, he thought of movies such as "Casablanca."

From now on, he and his family will think of 17-year-old Marouane Smaili and the 10 months that the Moroccan youth is living with them as part of a federally funded cultural exchange program.

(Moroccan exchange student Marouane Smaili has introduced the Krantz family to Moroccan cuisine, which is eaten from a communal plate. From left are Dennis Krantz, David Krantz, Smaili, Jenna Krantz and Susan Krantz. During his stay, Smaili is considered part of the Krantz family. )

Since coming to Tucson in August, Smaili has become very much a part of the family, host parents Dennis and Susan Krantz said. They also have two biological children -- Jenna, 13, and David, 15.

The Krantzes and Smaili sit down to family meals and talk about their day, relax by watching television shows such as "American Idol," go on vacations and attend church together, even though Smaili is a Muslim.

Some parts of the Krantzes' culture, such as singing in church, were new to Smaili, he said. And vice versa: The first time they sat down to eat a Moroccan meal, Smaili started eating with the serving spoon. In Morocco, he was accustomed to everyone eating from a communal plate, rather than serving the food onto individual plates.

When they have time to eat a Moroccan meal as a family, the Krantzes now eat the Moroccan way.

"This is the most fun thing we've learned," Dennis said last week during such a dinner.

Cultural exchange is a fundamental part of the Youth Exchange and Study Program, the U.S. Department of State program through which more than 700 high school students from predominantly Muslim nations are currently studying in the United States.

Smaili's native country is 98.7 percent Muslim, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

He is one of five Youth Exchange and Study Program students in Arizona, according to Ayusa International, a non-profit organization that has helped administer the program since 2003.

"The idea is that they experience America," said David Beiser, Ayusa's Youth Exchange and Study Program director.

Since coming to the United States, Smaili and the Krantzes have gone with other exchange students and host families on a weekend trip to Disneyland and have visited the Grand Canyon. He's also been to Washington, D.C. And in turn, Smaili has taught Americans -- the Krantzes and people outside his host family -- about his homeland. He gave a presentation about Morocco to the youth group he attends at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 8051 E. Broadway.

Part of the American experience is that, although we're a diverse country, we're one nation, Beiser said. "That's a message we try to communicate on a worldwide scale."

The program also aims to encourage thinking with an open mind, along with the concept of volunteering and community service, Beiser said.

Smaili volunteers at St. Paul's and has helped carry equipment for the marching band at Santa Rita High School, 3951 S. Pantano Road -- where both he and his host brother, David Krantz, go to school. Smaili is a senior and Krantz is a sophomore.

He will go back to Morocco in June, but it won't mean the end of his international travels. After he finishes his last year of secondary school in Morocco, he's considering going to an American university and plans to eventually become an international businessman.

Contact reporter Danielle Sottosanti at 618-1922 or at


A new outlook from Moroccan exchange student Marouane Smaili's perspective:

Five misconceptions people have about Morocco and Islam:

  1. The religion is very strict and based on violence.
  2. The culture is strict.
  3. The people are closed-minded.
  4. Only people of the African race live in Morocco.
  5. The country doesn't have technology such as cell phones and the Internet.

Five things he learned about the United States that he didn't know:

  1. The culture is diverse, interesting and simply fun to learn about.
  2. People are open-minded, sociable and respectful.
  3. The educational system is very interesting with a lot of freedom -- elective classes -- and cool activities.
  4. There is a full mix of cultures and races.
  5. There is a cultural mix of food and ways of cooking. 

For more information on the program: