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Not being in Cairo

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, January 19, 2012

One year ago today, I stepped off a plane into 70 degree weather, took a bus ride during which I was stared at by creepy men (and by no means because I was looking good after almost 18 hours of traveling) and found myself immersed in a completely foreign city.

That’s abroad for you. And that was Cairo. But that was not, ultimately, my abroad experience.

If you read my blogs on The Observer’s website last year, you know I was among the Notre Dame students evacuated from Egypt because of the Arab Spring. And you know we saw violence, felt the effects of tear gas and stood in line for about 10 hours at the airport before being evacuated.

But I’m not going to harp on that. That was January 2011 and this is January 2012. Let’s focus on the present.

When most people hear about my experience, the first question they often ask is, “How was it being in Cairo?” But after having a year to reflect, what I really wish they would ask is, “How was it not being in Cairo?”

For me, the most difficult part of the entire experience was not actually being in Cairo during the revolution. Sure, there were scary moments. But for the most part, it was exciting to be able to witness a revolution. Plus, it’s a great conversation topic during interviews.

The more difficult part was the adjustment.

I’m a planner. If you look at my assignment notebook, you’ll find every activity of my day planned out, and then neatly crossed out when it is completed. But you can’t plan for a revolution.

And so, when I was evacuated and continued my semester in London — a place where I ironically had never wanted to study abroad because I deemed it too “easy” — that was when the real challenges began.

Little things, like buying winter clothes or finding a new class schedule that would fulfill major requirements.

But also big things, like the loneliness of living over an hour from the Notre Dame flats in London, or the disappointment of seeing a dream fade away.

I wanted an abroad experience that would challenge me, and I got it — just not in the ways I expected. But for every bad day, there was a new opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten if I had stayed in Cairo. Like meeting a lot of great people in the London program, or traveling to the Auschwitz concentration camp — which certainly was life-changing.

It sounds cliché, but a year later, I still believe the Rolling Stones were right. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, you get what you need.

I just couldn’t see what I needed at the time. But I’m thankful that life or some higher power could.


Contact Sarah Mervosh at [email protected]

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.