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Fall abroad cancelled for Cairo

Sam Stryker | Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Office of International Studies (OIS) cancelled the Cairo study abroad program for fall 2011 after the University evacuated 12 Notre Dame students from the country earlier this semester.

On Feb. 24, just a month after an uprising began in Egypt that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, current sophomores accepted to the Cairo study abroad program received an email from OIS to inform them of the office’s decision.

The status of the spring 2012 semester hosted at the American University in Cairo (AUC) remains uncertain.

Students were able to apply to other study abroad programs for fall when the department cancelled the Cairo program. OIS also offered students the chance to study at the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

OIS Assistant Director Judy Hutchinson said the department has been busy exploring options for the students accepted into the Cairo program for next year.

“We are trying desperately to find out what to do with the 26 students that we accepted to go abroad next year,” she said. “We want to place students, if we can at all place them. It is their thing to go abroad, it is very important. We’re trying to find ways if Cairo is not the place, as many students as possible can have a relevant abroad experience.”

OIS Associate Director Julliet Mayinja said while the department has explored academic options in the region, the AUC remains the most feasible option in the Middle East because of its range in studies.

“Cairo is our place,” she said. “We have done a lot of searching for other alternatives but AUC is a university that encompasses everything we value. It offers sciences, business. It offers engineering, it offers arts and letters, it offers languages.”

Hutchinson said a number of factors would decide the fate of the spring 2012 program in Cairo.

“If I were a political analyst, I could make a guess, but unfortunately I don’t know,” she said. “It is going to depend on the election that is supposedly in the fall. It is going to depend on the Middle East. We really don’t know.”

Mayinja said political unrest in Libya, Egypt’s neighbor, would also determine the future of the Cairo program.

“Libya is the next door country to the west of Egypt, and you had masses of immigrants moving and shortages in food and all that,” she said. “You want our students to be there and have a good experience and study safely.”

Concerns about student safety extend outside of Cairo, Mayinja said.

Sophomore Garrett Ward was accepted to study the fall semester at the AUC, but he switched his program to study in Athens.

“I decided I would rather take the certainty of going abroad rather than hoping that things with Egypt and the Middle East in general would clear up by the fall,” he said.

Sophomore Joe Massad was accepted to the spring Cairo program. He said while he is hopeful to study in Egypt, he is intent on exploring all available options.

“I am still considering switching programs because studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Massad said. “Unfortunately, there are no other specifically Arabic options, so I really hope the unrest settles down, though it is quite unlikely.”

Ward said OIS handled the difficult situation well, remaining informative and accommodating.

“[OIS was] quick to get the pool of accepted students all the info they had and keep them up to date on what OIS was doing and what our options were,” he said. “For me personally, they allowed me to reapply to other study abroad programs after the deadline had passed so that I would have an option besides Cairo.”

Massad said he was underwhelmed with how OIS responded to students potentially losing the experience of studying in the Middle East.

“They offered us the chance to switch programs and added an International Relations and Arabic option for London, but that misses the cultural experience of living the Arab world entirely,” he said. “When options like other Arab countries abound, I was disappointed to find out that OIS would not pursue any of these opportunities.”

Ward said OIS made the right decision in placing student safety as its highest priority in deciding the status of the program.

“As much as I would have liked to go to Cairo, OIS made the right call canceling the program,” he said. “I wish the situation were different but I do not see how the university could responsibly send students to a region with this much unrest.”