An ideal place for a Middle Eastern Studies major Past Review

By (Middle Eastern Studies/Linguistics, The College of William and Mary) for

Study Abroad in Egypt at the American University in Cairo

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My experience in Egypt was absolutely worthwhile, and though it is not the easiest type of study abroad experience, it added a whole new dimension to my understanding of the Middle East and my understanding of myself as an American. I am a Middle Eastern Studies major and I had traveled to Morocco and Turkey before I came to Egypt, but the experience of living abroad forced me to deal with culture shock over a longer period of time. I think the way that I had to adapt my expectations to fit the world around me was the most valuable insight I gained. There were plenty of minor annoying things at AUC, but it was worthwhile to be enrolled directly in a university and take classes with Egyptians. I would recommend this program, but in a more general sense, I would encourage people to explore the less conventional study abroad locations. It'll be a lot more difficult at the time, but you'll get more out of it in the end.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months
The term and year this program took place: Spring 2010

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

In general, my Arabic classes are fantastic, and I'm learning a lot more because they are held 4 times a week compared to twice a week back home. However, I'm also in two non-Arabic classes, and the workload (and the quality, to a certain extent) is a lot less than what I am used to.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Since I was directly enrolled, I dealt directly with the administration at AUC. The advisers in the International Programs Office were not particularly helpful, and dealing with anything administrative was a pain since they send you around to a dozen different offices before you get what you need. However, to a certain extent the inefficiency is just a cultural difference. It's easy to get things done if you're willing to be persistent.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The AUC dorm is located in Zamalek, which is an hour bus ride from the new campus. Despite the inconvenience, it has a good location near downtown Cairo. There is also the option to live in the dorms on the campus in New Cairo, but the suburb is still developing and for now feels like it's pretty much out in the middle of nowhere.

* Food:

There are no kitchens in the dorms, and not even a communal fridge or microwave. This wasn't really a problem financially since food is so cheap here, but it gets to be unhealthy, and inconvenient, to eat falafel and koshary for every meal.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

AUC offered trips to places around Cairo in the beginning, which was a good way to meet people. I also went on an AUC trip to Luxor and Aswan, which I'd also recommend. I felt comfortable planning my own trips with other students after the first couple weeks, but it was nice to have it taken care of in the beginning.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Thankfully I haven't had any major health issues here, but the health care system is not up to par with what it is back home. Stomach issues are the major thing to watch out for here, but there's a clinic in the dorm and plenty of pharmacies to get medicine if you need it. Sexual harassment is a big problem in Egypt if you're a girl, and it's usually in the form of stares or rude comments. However, as annoying as it is, I never particularly felt unsafe. There are a lot of police on Cairo's streets, so the actual crime rate is relatively low.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? The cost of living in Egypt is relatively low, so I spent very little on food even without a kitchen. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you can't really use credit or debit cards in Egypt, and you have to use cash for pretty much everything. There are plenty of ATMs around, but the international service charges add up so it's better to take out large amounts and use them less frequently.


How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
Language acquisition improvement?

I never used Arabic outside my Arabic classes at AUC since all the Egyptians there speak English. I mostly spoke Arabic with taxi drivers, waiters, people I asked for directions, etc. A lot of people in Cairo speak English, but I still found myself using Arabic more than I expected to.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Direct Enrollment

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • International Students
  • Americans

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I'd highly recommend this program, but only if you're willing to be fairly independent and take care of a lot of things on your own. It's also a pretty significant cultural adjustment, and you need to be prepared to get a lot of attention as a foreigner. To a certain extent this is true anywhere you go in the Middle East, but harassment is the worst in Egypt. However, it is possible to adapt to life here if you've got an open mind, and I'd say that the cultural insight you get is worth all the trouble.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Zionism and Modern Judaism

Course Department: HIST333
Instructor: Sherene Seikaly
Instruction Language: English
Comments: The workload of this class was nearly comparable to that of similar classes at William and Mary, which is unusual for AUC. My only criticism is that the lectures themselves were sometimes a little unorganized, but the readings were interesting and the professor was very knowledgeable.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Intermediate Arabic

Course Department: ALNG203
Instructor: Abdel-Fattah Hamdi
Instruction Language: Modern Standard Arabic
Comments: This course is classified as intermediate at AUC, but it would be the equivalent of ARAB306 at William and Mary and covers the first half of Al-Kitaab Part 3. This class is really challenging, and we've done a lot of papers, oral presentations, and reading passages while learning new vocabulary and advanced grammar concepts. I definitely had more work for this class than any of my others, especially because it meets 4 times a week, but it was worth it because of how much my Arabic has improved.
Credit Transfer Issues: I haven't returned home yet, but I have pre-approval credit for the class.
Course Name/Rating:

Intro to Colloquial Arabic

Course Department: ALNG109
Instructor: Seham Bedawi
Instruction Language: Egyptian Arabic
Comments: This class was an intro to Egyptian Arabic for people who have taken two or more years of Modern Standard Arabic. The professor didn't really speak English, so we were immersed in it from the start. I learned a lot of colloquial Arabic from living in Egypt and listening to this professor talk 4 times a week, but the class was extremely lacking in organization. We usually just discussed random topics, like women in Islam and politics. These discussions were interesting, and I suppose in a way they helped us get better fluency in the language, but it would have been nice to have more practical and situational vocab that would help us get around in Cairo.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Arabic of the News Media

Course Department: ALNG206
Instructor: Mona Kamel Hassan
Instruction Language: Modern Standard Arabic
Comments: I enjoyed this class a lot. We read news articles in Arabic from Al-Jazeera and watched news clips to improve our listening skills. We didn't use a textbook and there wasn't much emphasis on memorizing new vocabulary, but I became a lot more comfortable with the style of Arabic used in the news.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Development Agencies

Course Department: POLS304
Instructor: Lamia Bulbul
Instruction Language: English
Comments: I took this class because I was interested in international development, but the workload was kind of a joke. There were three papers, but the first two were only 1-2 page reaction papers, and the third was 3-4 pages. The professor lectured occasionally, but every day there was a different pair of students who would present the reading, usually not in a way that was very engaging. This was the only class I had that had a majority of Egyptian students, and while that was an interesting cultural experience, I didn't feel like it was a very high quality class overall.
Credit Transfer Issues: