American University in Cairo

113 Kasr el Aini Street

Cairo 11511, Egypt

 

Disclaimer: The following description of AUC represents my personal opinion; it should not be construed to represent official Trinity College views or endorsement of AUC

 

The only Trinity-approved program in Egypt is the American University in Cairo. I visited the campus on March 18, 2004; I met with some of the staff, including Jan Montassir, Associate Vice-President and Dean of International Students; Tomader Rifaat, Director of International Student Services and Exchange Programs; Dan Tschirgi, Chair of the Political Science Department; and Hannah El-Toukhy, a student. I attended a class and toured both the campus and the dorm used by foreign students.

AUC is currently located in downtown Cairo, a few blocks from Ibn Talaat Square and the Cairo Museum -- one of the world's great archaeological museums. In 2007, however, the University plans to move its facilities to suburban New Cairo. They are crowded in their current facilities and, unfortunately, have nowhere to expand. The move means they will lose one of the best urban campuses I have ever seen; one hopes they plan to transfer things like the amazing, intricate Ottoman-style interior decoration of some of the buildings.

Schedule and curriculum. AUC has about 5200 students, of whom about 4200 are undergraduates, and runs on a semester schedule. The fall semester runs early September to late December (September 7 to December 23 in 2003) The spring semester starts late by US standards, towards early February, and ends late May (February 5 to May 27 in 2004). A three-week winter term with mini-classes runs in January (4-24 in 2004); the summer session runs from mid-June to late (June 13 to July 21 in 2004). Students take 4-5 classes per semester. A standard class is 3 credits. Students must pay extra tuition for credits beyond 15.

AUC offers a typical broad liberal arts curriculum with classes in all the standard fields. Of perhaps special interest to some Trinity students may be the presence of US-accredited majors in Engineering and Computer Science, which makes AUC a possible destination for Trinity majors who would like to study abroad but worry about falling behind in these rigorous majors.

The AUC curriculum -- especially in the humanities and social sciences -- follows the liberal arts college model. Students from Trinity should feel thoroughly at home. I visited a class called Political Science 308, "Comparative Politics of the Middle East," taught by Ejaz Akram -- about 28 students in a comfortable room. The format of the class -- some lecture, lots of discussion of readings -- would be completely familiar to any Trinity student. Dr. Akram challenged his students to defend their views and interpret the readings, and the discussion was lively and interesting; he is clearly an experienced and confident teacher, and the readings sounded both compelling and different from those one might see in the US.

Arabic language. Students at AUC are not required to study Arabic, but obviously the opportunity to learn this language in a native-speaking environment will be the chief attraction for many students who study here (but see below). Students may choose from a variety of options for Arabic, from classes organized by the Office of International Student Services to provide "survival Arabic" through rigorous study of colloquial Egyptian Arabic in the equivalent of 6 credits/semester.

Support for international students. The International Student Services Office, run for 18 years by Tomader Rifaat, herself a graduate of AUC, offers a wide variety of services to support students studying at AUC from abroad. Tomader acts as academic advisor for foreign students, helping them choose courses and plan a program (she likes to encourage students to try new things and take academic risks). She uses the power of her office to reserve spots in popular courses for foreign students, so that they do not get locked out; as a result, foreign students almost always get the courses they want. Her office runs an orientation for new students, three days on campus and one day off. Through the Friends of International Students group which Tomader coordinates volunteer Egyptian students are paired with foreign students; the first event is a potluck supper where the students bring food, so that foreign students can get early exposure to Egyptian cooking. This organization can also help foreign students find Egyptian friends (more on this below). The off-campus portion of the orientation typically involves a trip to Sharm-al-Sheik on the Red Sea, a popular resort town featuring water sports; usually a visit to St. Catherine's monastery in the Sinai is included.

Throughout the semester Tomader's office provides continuing support through a variety of means. Her "Egypt 101" -- not a course but a series of events -- offers travel opportunities and cooking lessons. AUC does not hold classes Mondays and Wednesdays 11-12, and Tomader takes advantage of this to have a regular "open house" for foreign students to come by for snacks, tea, and conversation. Altogether AUC is well equipped and experienced in supporting foreign students.

Living facilities. Students live in a dorm which is located on Qasr el-Neel island in the middle of the Nile river. This island is a locus of luxury and money, rather different from much of Cairo; there are good restaurants nearby (I ate at one quite independently of this campus visit), and the University provides a regular shuttle to carry students back and forth between the campus and the dorm from early in the morning till late at night. (How all this will change once the campus is moved cannot be predicted now, but I would imagine that dorms will in future be integrated with the campus, eliminating the need for the shuttle.) The dorm rooms are comfortable doubles, furnished spartanly (you'll want to bring some things, or much better, buy some great stuff in Cairo to decorate with) but equipped with high-speed internet access. The dorm boasts a computer room, a nicely-appointed gym, a cafeteria, study area, lounge, and a lovely outdoor garden with a fountain. There is a laundromat in the basement and supplemental washers and dryers on each floor; a kitchen is available for student use. Housekeeping replaces and washes linens and towels. A fee reduction in dorm costs is extended to students who extend their stay from a semester to a full year.

Cairo. Cairo is one of the world's great cities. Founded by the Arab conquerors of Byzantine Egypt as al-Fustat, it grew in the mediaeval period into a thriving urban center, host to government offices and universities. Today it is the capital and by far most populous city of Egypt. Noisy, polluted, active day and night, Cairo struck me as an exciting environment for students -- plenty of cheap places to eat, clubs to hear music (my student host told me they open and disappear with bewildering alacrity, so that you have to be a student to know where to go), shops, museums, on and on. Moreover, Cairo is extremely safe -- crime against persons is rare; I saw women walking alone or in small groups at midnight. However, Cairo is an Islamic city -- meaning, primarily, that the Cairenes expect women to dress modestly (no shorts, no revealing tops -- but you don't have to cover your head unless you want to) and everyone to behave decorously, and that alcohol is not so readily available as in the US, and even slightly drunken behavior in public is extremely inappropriate.

What kind of student should think about AUC? Obviously, any student interested in the Middle East should consider spending a semester at AUC. The opportunities to take Arabic and courses in Middle Eastern history, politics, and culture are broad, and the similarity in teaching style and expectations to Trinity's will minimize adjustment. Students will not only meet Egyptians (but here you will have to make an effort; see below) but also a wide variety of US students from different institutions and with different backgrounds.

But AUC should also appeal to students who are looking for something "different" from the usual in their study-abroad experience. Cairo -- and Egypt -- are most definitely not the UK or Australia. Outside the walls of the university awaits a world with expectations and rules that differ from slightly to dramatically from those you are used to in the US. You will learn at least as much outside the classroom as inside at AUC. Time spent in a genuinely different culture will be genuinely broadening, even if you do not make much progress in Arabic (though you should try! -- the Egyptians are astounded and gratified by any foreigner who makes even a slight effort, and your halting Arabic phrases will be rewarded with huge smiles, help, price reductions, and perhaps invitations to meals).

A word must be said about getting to know Egyptians. For Americans, college is typically a place where one creates new friendships and experiments with identity. This is not the case for Egyptians. Unless they are attending AUC from outside of Cairo, Egyptian students will tend to live at home, not on campus. Their group of friends will already be formed -- indeed, their friends are likely to be people they have known since they were in kindergarten. As a result, most Egyptian students are not looking to make new friends. This does not mean that they are unfriendly, or not curious about the Americans in their midst -- they certainly are -- but usually they will not go out of their way to make friends. It will be up to you to make the first moves -- to introduce yourself, start conversations, make that invitation to tea, lunch, dinner. Most Egyptians will respond positively to your overtures, and you may find yourself in turn invited to their homes and brought into their groups. But you will have to take the initiative.

For more information. Explore the links below to find out more about AUC, or contact me or other Trinity faculty who have some experience in Egypt. For details about study abroad, and to plan your semester(s), see the Office of International Programs at Trinity: (860) 297-2005.

Contacts at AUC:

Jan Montassir,  Associate Vice-President and Dean of International Students-- 202-7975740 (in Egypt)

Tomader Rifaat, Director of International Student Services and Exchange Programs -- 202-7975744 (in Egypt)

Jean Isteero, Volunteer Representative -- 202-5761923 (in Egypt), 410-444-6777 (in the US)

Mary Davidson, Senior Student Affairs Officer, The American University in Cairo, 420 Fifth Avenue, Third Floor,
New York, NY 10018-2729 -- Telephone: (212) 730-8800, Fax: (212) 730-1600

Visit the web page of the AUC International Student Services Office for more details, and see also American University in Cairo.