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Fellow on a mission to help

Fulbright winner going to Morocco

Christopher Molitoris talks about the Fulbright Fellowship he won that will allow him to do research in Morocco.

S. JOHN WILKIN/THE TIMES LEADER

PLAINS TWP. – When you ask Christopher Molitoris what he studied at the University of Scranton, the affable 22-year-old casually answers, “international studies, philosophy, political science.”

Umm … Was that one major and some minors?

“Three majors and three minors,” he explains with a disarming grin. Those were the majors. The newly minted Fulbright Fellow minored in French, Arabic and economics. He was student government president his senior year. He toiled in El Salvador for 10 days digging up earth where the foundation for a library would go.

And he ran the Steamtown marathon, twice.

So, as he sits on the patio furniture surrounded by impeccable flower beds outside his family’s Plains Township residence, we can’t help but ask: How long have you been an overachiever?

Molitoris laughs again. He never considered himself one and, frankly, doesn’t come across that way. The work he’ll be doing through his Fulbright Fellowship sounds utterly selfless. He’ll spend up to 15 months in Morocco researching the “social and political implications that come from a lack of water.

“A lot of communities in developing countries don’t have a nearby water source. And it’s often the women and children delegated to get water,” he said. “It can take almost a day to get to the water and bring it back. So that’s all they do, every day.”

Which goes to a much bigger issue, he adds, one that recurs frequently in developing countries and affects efforts to help their progress. “A lot of times, women don’t have a voice when these people are reporting their concerns,” he said. Agencies trying to figure out how best to help a community will usually hear from the men, but not the women.

“It slows down progress and makes the effort less efficient.” Those women spending all day toting water could be in school, or at jobs, or taking on tasks that would bolster the quality of life for their families, he notes, but they aren’t even around to say what they want. They’re too busy getting what they need.

Before movie mavens ask, no, his choice of a country in which to do research didn’t spring from classic films like “Casablanca” and “Road to Morocco.” Molitoris picked the fabled African nation on the southern side of the Straight of Gibraltar because it dovetailed with his language studies. Arabic and French are the two primary languages, though he concedes his Arabic may be quite different from what he encounters. Dialects vary greatly.

“Someone in north Morocco might not understand Arabic spoken in the south,” he said. The modern, formal form he learned should be enough to get by, but he’ll have a chance to improve. Along with the regular Fulbright scholarship that covers nine months of research, he won a “Critical Language Enhancement Award,” which will extend his stay in Africa by three to six months, just to study the native tongues.

Molitoris had planned to do some sort of service work before continuing his education even if his application for a Fulbright hadn’t been accepted, possibly the Peace Corps. “I think it will help me get a little more clarity on what I want to do.” He expects to get at least a master’s degree and ideally a doctorate, and is confident it will be in the general field of international studies or conflict resolution.

Right now, he thinks it will lead to a job in the diplomatic corps with the U.S. Department of State, or some similarly focused private or nonprofit company. He credits this urge to serve to the University of Scranton’s Jesuit tradition of scholarship used to promote justice and aid the poor.

“A lot of the direction and influence in my life is due to the people and community at the university,” he said.

Must be contagious. His two younger brothers enrolled there.

He insists that, so far, he hasn’t felt any trepidation about a year in a distant and very different land, though he thinks that might bubble up as the time approaches – he expects to leave in early September. Besides, he adds, “my friends said they’ll come and visit.”

They do know this isn’t quite like visiting in, say, Philly, or even Florida, right?

He laughs, seemingly shrugging off the 3,800 miles he’s about to put between himself and the life he knows.

“They said they’ll come.”

To see a smile like that and hear such an upbeat attitude, 3,800 miles doesn’t sound far at all.

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