Classes and clashes

American students have been evacuated from Cairo to the Hebrew University.

Cairo students  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cairo students
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Agroup of 12 American students who arrived in Egypt last fall to study Middle Eastern politics and Arabic at the American University in Cairo ended up making history and learning words like thawra and jaish (“revolution” and “army”) before being evacuated recently to the Hebrew University.
“The school made us leave,” Lauren Sloane Speakman said of her experience during the 18-day street protest that toppled the regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Students who refused to evacuate would forfeit their academic year, she explained.
Speakman, a junior year abroad student from Vanderbilt University in Nashville was flown out via Dubai. Others flew to Barcelona and even California before arriving in Jerusalem to finish their semester.
The 12 displaced students now at the Hebrew University, enrolled at American universities including UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and San Diego, Michigan State and Princeton, were joined by five other Americans who transferred last week to the safety of the University of Haifa.
Jeremy Hodge of UCSB emphasized that none of the American students was ever in any direct danger, even if they encountered the occasional whiff of tear gas. “We were perfectly safe, especially since we were in Zamalek,” he said, referring to the luxurious neighborhood on a Nile River island some five kilometers from the revolution’s ground zero at Tahrir Square. At one point, “we were barricaded in the Ramses Hotel. We couldn’t get out.”
Asked if he participated in the street protests, Hodge affirmed: “Of course. I wanted to stay [in Cairo]. With the UC system, they threatened that we wouldn’t graduate [if we didn’t evacuate].”
Notwithstanding that Hodge is again studying Arabic in Jerusalem, he had to return half of his $8,000 US State Department language scholarship when he left Cairo, he said.
Since each student was allowed to leave with only one suitcase, they left behind many of their clothes and personal effects. Sophia Tahran, also of UCSB, said she had stocked up on hundreds of dollars’ worth of foodstuffs at the beginning of the protests, and had to abandon it all. They all plan to return to Cairo during the Pessah school break to see the developments taking place and to retrieve their possessions.
Grateful to be able to stay at the Mount Scopus residences and complete their studies, the students commented on the different standard of living and culture in Jerusalem compared to Cairo. “It’s expensive here,” noted Speakman, who had arrived without a winter coat.
The students’ ordeal in Egypt did not go to waste.
“When the universities asked us to assist their students, we did not hesitate. The various courses taught by top academics of the Hebrew University will enable the students to put their personal experience in Egypt and in Israel within a broader academic framework,” said Prof. Mimi Ajzenstadt, provost of the Rothberg International School.
“When we heard what was happening in Egypt, some colleges, such as the University of California, reached out to us,” explained Yoni Kaplan, director of the Division of Undergraduate Studies at Rothberg.
Simultaneously, the Hebrew University reached out to partner schools and suggested that “if they needed assistance, we would be happy to help out.” he added.
He said that the university was providing a special orientation to help them make the transition .
“We are grateful to the staff at the Hebrew University for being so responsive to our request to enroll two Princeton students at the Hebrew University, where the students can continue to study Arabic and Middle East issues at this important time in the region,” said Nancy Kanach, director of the Office of International Programs at Princeton University.