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From the Archives: When study abroad programs are canceled

, and | Monday, April 20, 2020

Diane Park | The Observer

For many, college is synonymous with adventure — about one in 10 U.S. university students study abroad as undergraduates. Still, for those overseas this year, COVID-19 presented an obstacle no one could have anticipated. Spring and summer abroad programs around the world have been suspended, and the fate of our fall programs are anyone’s guess.

But this wasn’t the first time our study abroad programs have been upended by unforeseen circumstances. This week, our team researched the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the study abroad complications that followed.


ND study abroad students evacuated from Cairo to Istanbul

Feb. 1, 2011 | Observer Staff Report | Researched by Evan McKenna

Observer archives, Feb. 1, 2011

Due to ongoing political protests in Egypt, 12 Notre Dame students studying abroad at the American University in Cairo were evacuated the night of Jan. 31, 2011. The students, who arrived in Cairo on Jan. 20 and received news of the program’s cancellation Jan. 30, were relocated to Istanbul via charter flights arranged by the U.S. State Department. 

In a Jan. 30 press release, Notre Dame announced they were working with State Department officials to arrange transportation from Istanbul. The 12 students were given the option to return to their hometowns, Notre Dame’s campus or London, where they could enroll in classes through the University’s London Program for the remainder of the semester. 

Nicholas Entrikin, Notre Dame’s vice president for internationalization, commented on the efficacy of the response from all parties involved.

“It has been an incredible four-day period,” he said, thanking staff from the Office of International Studies, liaisons from the American University in Cairo and U.S. State Department officials for facilitating the students’ safe arrival in Turkey.

Cairo study abroad in fall 2011 called off following spring cancellation

March 23, 2011 | Sam Stryker | Researched by Adriana Perez

On Feb. 24, 2011, just over a month after the University suspended its fall study abroad program in Cairo, the Office of International Studies (OIS) announced its spring Cairo program would be cancelled as well. Following the announcement, the 26 affected students were invited to enroll in alternative study abroad programs.

“We want to place students [in alternative programs], if we can at all place them,” Judy Hutchinson, the assistant director of OIS, said.

The Observer reached out to some of the 26 students for comment. Sophomore Joe Massad held out on the possibility of OIS reinstating the Cairo program.

“There are no other specifically Arabic options, so I really hope the unrest settles down, though it is quite unlikely,” Massad said.

Despite the region’s civil unrest, OIS had explored other options in the Middle East.

“We have done a lot of searching for other alternatives but [America University in Cairo] … encompasses everything we value,” OIS associate director Julliet Mayinja said.

Garrett Ward, a potential Egypt applicant who settled on Athens, was pleased with Notre Dame’s response to the difficult situation. Ward said OIS was “quick to get the pool of accepted students all the info they had and keep them up to date.”

OIS was uncertain how long the abroad program in Cairo would be suspended.

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

Unfortunately, the region continued to experience unrest after fall 2011. The spring 2012 study abroad in Egypt would end up cancelled, as well.

Notre Dame student reflects on Cairo study abroad evacuation

Feb. 4, 2011 | Sarah Mervosh | Researched by Mary Steurer

History is always happening around us — a fact perhaps clearer to us now more than ever. 

In early 2011, Notre Dame students studying abroad in Egypt were forced to flee as the Arab Spring uprisings unfolded throughout the Middle East. In an Observer column, News Writer Sarah Mervosh gave a first-person account of the students’ evacuation.

“Right now, it is probably nearing lunchtime and you are reading The Observer while sipping on a coffee from Waddick’s,” Mervosh wrote.

Her day, however, had looked very different. 

“I was woken up … to learn that the U.S. State Department was evacuating me and the 11 other Notre Dame students from Egypt,” Mervosh wrote.

Observer archives, Feb. 4, 2011

Though the group left for the airport almost immediately, the 12 students wouldn’t fly out until about 10 hours later, Mervosh said. All were evacuated safe and sound, but took searing memories of the protests with them.

“What I do know is what it felt like being there,” Mervosh wrote. “What tear gas feels like. What life is like without Internet or phone access. What cars look like after they’ve been set on fire by protesters.”

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About Evan McKenna

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About Adriana Perez

Adriana is a junior from Guayaquil, Ecuador majoring in Political Science and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Sustainability. You can find her on Twitter @adrianamperezr.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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