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Students evacuated from Cairo begin classes three weeks late in London and South Bend

Laura McCrystal | Thursday, February 10, 2011

One year ago, junior Chris Luboja began preparing to spend the spring 2011 semester studying abroad in Cairo.

This week, he moved into Stanford Hall, enrolled in classes on campus and met with professors and advisors to make sure he could catch up after beginning classes three weeks late.

Luboja is one of 12 Notre Dame students who were evacuated from Cairo on Jan. 31 due to ongoing protests in Egypt. The students arrived in Cairo Jan. 20, planning to spend a semester at the American University in Cairo (AUC). After their evacuation, they chose between returning to Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend and entering Notre Dame’s London Program.

“It is disappointing,” Luboja said. “Obviously you get to see a bit of history, which is really amazing, but at the same time all of us were ready to be there for four months and experience that area and travel around that region.”

As one of five students who returned to South Bend, Luboja said he based his decision on his personal comfort level.

“I had spent the last year kind of mentally preparing myself for Cairo, so I don’t think I was really in the mindset to jump on board with London,” he said.

Luboja said he was able to enroll in courses that will allow him to continue working toward his majors in finance and Arabic.

“The University pretty much left all the doors open for us,” he said. “They were really accommodating because they want to make sure we graduate on time and get the classes we need.”

Junior Alex Huth, who was in Cairo with Luboja, decided to enter Notre Dame’s London Program.

“I wanted to go to London because I had already decided I wanted to study abroad,” he said.

Mike Huth, Alex’s father, said he encouraged Alex to go to London.

“I think all of them were really unhappy with the way things turned out and really disappointed,” Mike said. “We were kind of encouraging them to go to London, … stay the course on this overseas semester.”

Alex arrived in London with six other Notre Dame students last week. He said the process of being evacuated from Egypt to Turkey, deciding whether to go to London or return to South Bend and scheduling courses for the semester was more stressful than the days he spent in Cairo without access to Internet or mobile phone connections. The University was helpful, Alex said, but the process was “a nightmare.”

While Alex has not determined whether he will continue his major in Arabic in addition to his finance major, he said Notre Dame’s London Program is working to arrange an Arabic course for the students who left Cairo.

“In my opinion, Notre Dame did a really good job being accommodating to us,” he said.

Alex said he and the six other students who were originally in Cairo live in a dormitory building in Chelsea, an area of the city that is a 45 minute walk from Notre Dame’s campus in Trafalgar Square. The other Notre Dame undergraduates studying in London live more than an hour walking distance from Chelsea.

Junior Henry Hodes also chose to go to London after leaving Cairo. Despite the disappointment of leaving Cairo, he said he is happy to still have a study abroad experience.

“I’ve not regretted it since we got here,” Hodes said. “Again, it’s not Cairo, it’s not what we originally intended,” he said. “We’re having to be a little flexible when it comes to where we’re living, for example.”

Mike Huth said while it was scary to be out of touch with his son while he was in Cairo, he was impressed by Notre Dame’s communication with parents.

“There was about a two-day period where we really didn’t have much contact at all with [Alex] and … we were glued to CNN pretty much from the time we got up from the time we went to bed,” Mike said. “[Notre Dame] did a great job of staying in touch by e-mail and the American University in Cairo also did a great job.”

Luboja said he and the other 11 students continue to follow media coverage of the events in Egypt.

“Now it’s a little personal having been there,” he said.

He also had the opportunity to meet Egyptian students and has kept in touch with them since he left Cairo.

“Every time I talk to them they say, ‘You have to come back’ because I think they kind of feel bad that they weren’t able to see everything,” Luboja said. “I definitely plan on going back once everything stabilizes.”