As I stand at the top of Mount Sinai, the sun starts to creep up over the horizon below. The barren desert mountains start to take shape. I ponder my own mortality and say a little prayer. One can’t help but be blown away standing in the same spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments thousands of years ago. This was one of the incredible experiences I had on my orientation trip at the American University in Cairo.
I am currently studying in Cairo, Egypt and having a great time. An initial shock set in upon my arrival flight to al-Quahira (Cairo). Looking down from the plane as it descended for landing, I saw the pyramids of Giza with a lifeless desert on one side of them and a huge metropolis on the other. I couldn’t believe I was actually going be living in Cairo for the next five months.
Egypt and the Middle East have so many amazing sights and activities to offer. There are the ancient pharonic sites, the biblical sites, and the Sahara desert among other things. Though I will not have the time to experience all of them, one thing I have found time to do is an Egyptology field trip with the world-renowned Egyptologist Doctor Ikram.
We went to the Egyptian Museum, the step pyramid of Sakara, the bent pyramid and the red pyramid. At the bent pyramid I was actually able to go inside and see where the mummified pharaohs rested for over two thousand years. I have also been able to get my scuba diving certification while I have been here, and my first dive was in the coral reef of the Red Sea, which I have been told is second only to the great barrier reef of Australia.
Some friends and I went on vacation to Beirut, Lebanon, which is currently going through a massive rebuilding process after a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. While there I walked the green line, which separated the Muslim divisions and the Christians divisions and was the site of the most intense fighting. The bullet-ridden buildings still stand as an eerie reminder of what had taken place there no more than 20 years prior.
One of my reasons for coming here was to experience an area that I had heard so much about in the news. Some of the information I got from the American media I found to be true, and others false. For example, the danger of being in the Middle East is greatly exaggerated. Aside from Iraqi and Israeli border zones, the Middle East is quite safe. The people here are not anti-American. People here are always delighted when I tell them I am from America and often invite me to sit and have a cigarette or some tea with them.
Unfortunately, the American media is more or less right about the state of women’s rights here. Among the vast majority of the lower class, women take a subservient role to their husbands. Many of the foreign women studying abroad here have been called demeaning names on the street by Egyptian men, have been proposed to and stared at in an inappropriate manner.
Things are different at the American University in Cairo though. The Egyptians that attend school here all come from rich families and have had private schooling their whole lives, so the women dress in a western style, are very independent and the men are respectful of them.
Before I came here I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I am to be from America. In Cairo everything is dust covered, there is a lot of garbage, there are very few street lights, the sidewalks are broken and uneven. There are pretty parts of Cairo, but there is also a lot of poverty and the country itself doesn’t have nearly enough money to correct things. The disparities between the rich and the poor are very apparent and they illuminate the fact that the middle class is nearly nonexistent. The differences between Egypt and the U.S. are so great that the idea of Egypt transforming itself into something like the U.S. is unfathomable. I am beginning to see America as a superpower and as a very rich country.
Living in Egypt has taught me a lot. Every day is a challenge here. Simple things like buying a pair of pants or ordering at a restaurant can become very challenging. There is of course the language barrier, but on top of that, Egypt is a developing country and things don’t always run as smoothly as I would like.
Conquering the challenges of the country and the city has really made me grow as a person. Living in a city with 20 million people over 6,000 miles from family, friends or anything familiar took a lot of courage. Now that I have done it, I know that I have nothing to be afraid of and I feel like I can do anything.
For my study abroad experience I wanted to live in a country that is very different from the United States, and I am glad that I chose Cairo.
Though I was concerned about the extra costs of studying abroad, I can honestly say this has been the best money I have ever spent. All that I have gained from studying abroad will impact the rest of my life. I have gotten to see so many amazing things, I have learned a lot about the Middle East and I have grown a lot throughout the process. I would recommend to anyone that they do a semester abroad. I think it is essential to create a well-rounded, educated mind. Plus, it is just a lot of fun.
#1.885564:2973964787.jpg:Egypt camel.jpg:Jeremiah McMahon spent this semester studying in Cairo, Egypt, where he got to ride a camel.: