Sunday, June 1, 2008

The End

This is my 50th and final blog.

On Wednesday, May 28, I walked out of my final class at AUC, my tests completed, my presentations delivered, and my papers submitted. It was a tremendous relief to have my academic obligations over for the year. My two semesters in Cairo have been a frustration and disappointment academically. My four political science classes were a disappointment across the board, and my first semester of Arabic instuction was subpar. Only my two Arabic classes during the spring term were rewarding and challenging enough to win my praise. I look forward to my return to the rigorous academic environment of Michigan.

Looking back on my year, I have difficultly summarizing my experiences. I'm often asked if studying abroad for a year was a good decision or not. I can's say either way. Perhaps one semester would have been more beneficial, but if that was the case, I would have missed out on my best Arabic classes. If I stayed at Michigan, I probably would be wishing I had gone to Cairo. There are pros and cons to any situation, and since I try to stay optimistic about everything in life, I'll focus on the benefits. Except for my accelerated Arabic and media Arabic classes this semester, my education did not happen in the classroom. This is for sure. My education was external to the university. I learned to live in Cairo, and let me tell you, this is no easy task. The traffic, overcrowdedness, noise, pollution, daily inconveniences, and constant tension are enough to drive anyone crazy. Cairo is a city of 18 million built for 10 million. It has a traffic infrastructure designed for 500,000 cars but handles two million. Nobody has change, and everyone wants it. Part of every day is spent ensuring that I have the right change for a taxi. One strategy is buying just enough food at the supermarket so that I get a handful of small bills. Better to buy 21 pounds of groceries than 20; you get 9 singles back, 9 solid gold bricks.

Learning to live in Cairo wasn't the only rewarding experience. I spent three hours a week teaching English classes to refugees from Sudan and Iraq. I built relationships with these people and enjoyed reaching out to communities that I would otherwise never be in contact with. I worked as treasurer of the organization, and I actively participated in the weekly administration meetings that organized, conducted, and finalized all aspects of the program. Student Action for Refugees, which is completely student run, reaches out to over 1000 refugees in the Cairo area. There's something to be said for that.

My travels were another educational tool that I do not take for granted. Being in Egypt, I had the opportunity to see some of the world's greatest treasures ranging from the burial mask of King Tutankhamen to the Pyramids of Giza to the temple of Abu Simbel. I journeyed to Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Port Said, the Suez Canal, Dahab, Mt. Sinai, Siwa Oasis, Baharia Oasis, and the White and Black Desert. I also spent four days exploring the historic wonders of Jordan, including the most stunning attraction I have ever seen: the ancient city of Petra. I sat in the fresh breeze of the Mediterranean, swam with rainbows of tropical fish in the Red Sea, and defied gravity in the dense salt water of the Dead Sea. I climbed ancient ruins of the Pharaohs, Nabateans, and Romans, and suddenly a whole lot of textbooks came to life.

A third lesson: learning to live in a developing country with a corrupt government. It constantly amazing me how this place operates, and it's easy to see the negative effects of a system characterized by corruption, a lack of accountability, and silent dissent. Egypt has a long way to go.

Lastly, I cannot underestimate the educational value of writing this blog. I created this project as a means of mass communication with friends and family, but I found out that writing has a powerful affect on the author. My blog was a means of reflection, and through my efforts, I was able to ascertain a lot about my own self, my own interests, and my own identity. Some of my previous blogs highlight a personal growth that would otherwise not happen, and I think I'm leaving Cairo a wiser person. I discovered that I love writing and sharing ideas, and after receiving many compliments from readers, I think it is something worth continuing.

Thank you for reading. It's been a wild ride.