Dr. Ghalia Mahdjoub Exclusive Interview – ‘A Strong Connection To My Roots Is Part Of My Daily Life’


Dr. Ghalia Mahdjoub was recently interviewed by RootsAndRoutesMag.com and below is the Q&A session we had with her.

Dr. Ghalia Mahdjoub As Cover Story – RootsAndRoutesMag.com – January 2024 Edition

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your life and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge of my life, I would say, was leaving my home country for the first time, facing a new world, a new culture, and a new way of life at an early age, and having to cope with differences, be they racial or cultural. I had to make it and succeed. I came to France to make it happen and get my Ph.D. Other challenges came up later, but I think I was kind of ready to face them.

Can you share a significant aspect of your cultural heritage that has played a crucial role in shaping who you are today?

Solidarity, patience, and tolerance were, and still are, key aspects of Moroccan culture that I adhere to. These values have helped me live in five different countries. As I grew older, I decided to make them a motto that encapsulates everything I do on a daily basis. Faith in Allah is also a key feature, or should I say the key feature.

What motivates and inspires you on a daily basis?

My two daughters come first, then comes my job and my colleagues. Knowing that I’m going to work to talk to friends makes my life a lot easier. There’s hard work and some hard moments, of course, but I think that’s part of every person’s life.

How do you balance work, family, and personal life?

Being born and brought up in Morocco by a Moroccan mother helps me tackle everyday challenges and balance work and family life. Taking care of a house is part of our education. I can add that I share my life with somebody who understands and accepts the specificities of my job and is willing to help out when and if needed. Sometimes are easier than others, but one should be humble and socially flexible.

Can you describe a turning point in your life that helped shape who you are today?

The turning point in my life was my first child. I had a feeling I not only had something sweet to hold in my arms but a reason to wake up in the morning. It wasn’t simply becoming a mother but having a new mission: being a role model in every aspect (well, as much as I could).

Can you share an experience where you felt a clash of cultural values and how you resolved or navigated through it?

One of the most significant cultural clashes I had in my life happened in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack. When my other Moroccan colleague and I arrived at work, everybody was looking at us in an accusing way (as if we were the culprit), and one of our French colleagues said: “Have you heard about a film called ‘le retour de la barbarie? I have a feeling we’re right in the middle of it since what happened yesterday in Paris.” We looked at each other and felt puzzled. My friend left the coffee room and went back to his office, but I decided to do something about it and say something. I said: “Can we have a coffee and talk about it peacefully?” I told him that I know that 80% of the French population are agnostic and that they cannot understand religions, but these attacks didn’t have anything to do with Islam or Muslims, even if they were perpetrated in the name of Islam. I told him that Mohammad, peace be upon him, faced uglier things in his life than a simple caricature and he resolved them in the wisest and most patient way. The discussion lasted more than an hour, about the value of human lives in Islam and the importance of asking questions and trying to know the others before applying clichés.

Have you faced unique challenges as a diaspora individual, and how did you overcome them while maintaining a strong connection to your roots?

As I said in a previous question, a strong connection to my roots is part of my daily life, meaning cultural and moral values, not necessarily visual or visible aspects. There’s a series of values in Moroccan culture that we thought were gone forever but were ‘funnily’ and against all odds brought back by the Moroccan football team. Things like Nya (goodwill, intention to do good), filial piety, patience, tolerance, persistence, dedication, etc. They might look a bit ‘out of the ark’ to a diaspora, but, believe me, they made a huge difference (all the difference, I should say). The first thing people see in you is your skin color, then your origin, and for many Europeans, you’re automatically not good enough. Some even look at you as if you’ve stolen your position. All you do is show them how good you are at your job and that you have nothing to prove. You have what it takes to be where you are, and they’re not more legitimate than yourself just because they’re native speakers of English or natives of the land.

What is your definition of success and how do you measure it?

I like Winston Churchill’s words about success: ‘Success is Not Final, Failure is Not Fatal: it is the Courage to Continue that Counts’. Success is very seldom an accident; it’s closely linked to hard work and a mix of ups and downs. What counts most is being able to bounce up and or give up when needed and start something new. I honestly don’t have any specific measure to success, but I certainly do not link it to money. It’s something beyond that: being able to balance personal life and work achievements.

Can you share a situation where language presented both a challenge and an opportunity in your personal or professional life?

As a language coordinator, language is at the heart of my job. I spend the day juggling between three languages. We speak a mix of French and Arabic at home, I speak French outside and with my colleagues and speak English with my controllers in the language lab and with my fellow teachers. The funniest language-related situation happened to me in a bank in Marrakech. Once again, you’re being looked at and categorized on your appearance. The bank employee looked at this lady in her djellaba (I love wearing djellabas in Morocco because I don’t like doing that in Europe) and told her to wait. Then there came this group of British tourists who were visibly lost and didn’t know how to get Moroccan dirhams. They asked the ladies behind the counter, but none of them could understand the request or give any instruction. I spontaneously offered to help out with the translation and, guess what? I was taken care of very quickly and with a lot of hospitality.

How do you actively contribute to and give back to both your first and second homes, be it through community involvement, philanthropy, or other means?

To be honest, I‘ve always wanted to contribute to and give back to my native country through sharing my experience be it in aviation or in languages or literature. I’ve found it hard. My offers are always welcomed but never come off the ground. I don’t know why and I have never been given a reason why. I nevertheless do my best to contribute through philanthropy. Unfortunately, no community involvement and that’s precisely why I’m trying to find out how and what community to join in.

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