Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Spring Break: Alexandria, Egypt Pt. 1

Time April 13th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Sharjah UAE, United Arab Emirates | No Comments by

*Note: written on drive from Alexandria to Cairo and edited at the hotel lobby outside Cairo same day

Finally, spring break, a much needed break from the the hustle and bustle of life at university. For spring break IFSA-Butler invited us to travel Egypt for the week. When I heard of the opportunity I was very excited. On the trip with me is Moises, another IFSA-Butler Student, Kiri, our program director, Dr. Mohamed El-Komi of the Cairo program and program directors from Alexandria and Cairo. I would like to thank IFSA-Butler for this opportunity, because I know without them this trip would not be possible. Lodging, excursions and meals have all been provided by IFSA-Butler and have been very generous!

This was my first experience with regional flights in the Middle East and I have been told they are quite the adventure, but Egypt Air wasn’t too crazy. Yes, they showed the same 1980’s movie twice and the saftey videos didn’t work, but the flight itself wasn’t bad, and they served tea through out the trip! We were met by Dr. Mohamed, Mariam and Moataz at the airport outside of Alexandria and were on our way. Our first night was to be spent at the Opera. We had to change in the bathroom of the restuarant we were at, but I think we turned out pretty good. We listened to Egyptian jazz drummer, Yehya Khalil. It was a very enjoyable and relaxing start to our break.

The next day was very busy! we started with a wonderful breakfast on the Mediterranean Sea. We then went to visit the University of Alexandria where IFSA-Butler Students would study if they chose to. We were given a tour of their facilities as well as their intensive Arabic program. Their Arabic program is much more refined and intensive as it is in Sharjah. We then walked down the street to visit the Alexandria Library. The library is gorgeous inside and out. Outside the building is covered in over 120 different languages and inside it hold a museum and the largest reading room in the world. Lunch soon followed, and with lunch came some deliciously fresh sea food. Dr. Mohamed did it again, the man knows how to order large amounts of delicious food! After lunch we took a brake that allowed me to watch the sunset from our apartment and then we went to dinner along the corniche.

Day two was also very busy! After grabbing a small breakfast from a bakery, we visited a day care that IFSA students usually volunteer at while in Alexandria. I met some great four year old children who thought I was quite the sight. being my height and not Arabic made me stand out! It was fun to play with the children some in the classroom and the playground. All of the children are working on learning Arabic and either English or French. It was very impressive to have a four year old talk to me in Arabic, French and English in the same 10 minutes. It makes me wonder once the United States makes a large push for foreign language in public schools. We went on to visit the Egyptian Museum of Alexandria that shows the blend of Roman and Greek culture with Arabic culture through out history (Don’t forget Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great!) After that we made a quick dash to the Citadel. The Citadel sits on the same land that the Lighthouse of Alexandria once was. The Lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world and was abandoned in 1323 after being greatly damaged by earthquakes. The Citadel though is a magnificent structure and provides great views of the Mediterranean.

We just took a quick stop at the City Center and had some delicious shwarma and are off to Cairo for the remainder of the trip. I can already tell this will be an exciting drive! the street is crowded, has no lane lines, and isn’t paved in many parts. Kiri and I plan to watch ‘The Mummy’ on the trip there.

This has been an eye opening trip already. It is great to see another side of the Arab World outside of Dubai. It is a part of the region that many may consider the “true” Arab world when compared to the sights of Dubai. I’m excited to see what Cairo has to offer, but not so much the traffic I have heard so much about!

I will post again after our time in Cairo, until then!


A Week in the Life of an Egyptian Study Abroad Student

Time January 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


Emily, Sarah, Matt and I have successfully completed our first week of classes!! Wa hamdu lilah! For this post I want to give you a snapshot of a day in the life of a student here (so far). Turns out it isn’t “much” different than attending class back home. :)

Our first day of classes had a comical start. We locked ourselves IN our apartment. As an extra security measure we locked the door from the inside but when we tried to unlock it, our keys wouldn’t fit in the keyhole. It wasn’t until Matt came to “save us” that we were able to get out. Our first classes start at 9 everyday but in order to get there on time we generally have to leave from our apartment at 8:15. That is one major difference from my college that is quite frustrating… I am so used to rolling out of bed thirty minutes before classes start. Another thing too, you have to look semi decent when attending classes. I try to dress as I would going out to the mall/shopping or the movies back home. Cute but it can still be comfortable. Make-up isn’t necessary, but I find I feel much better when I’m wearing it than when I’m not. From 9 until 11 we attend our first class. Yes, all classes here are 2 hours long. The majority of my teachers like taking a 10-15 minute break at the halfway point, but sometimes they don’t and we go the whole way through. You get used to it pretty quickly. What is harder to get used to is the 30 minute lunch break. That is hardly enough time to walk to a cafe, order, eat, and get back. The last couple of days we have skipped lunch and instead had quick snacks from the apartment or at Cinnebon (YUMM). After break is another two hour class and then we’re done for the day. All of my classes are going to be in the same room. The structure is set up really similar to high school which is hard to get used to after being in college for so long, but it’s coming along.

Matt and Emily enjoy a snack at the Cinnebon near our classrooms. The second floor overlooks the Mediterranean Sea   The two of us also enjoying Cinnemon rolls atop the Cinnebon near the University

The three of us enjoy a snack at the Cinnebon near our classrooms. The second floor overlooks the Mediterranean Sea right across the Corniche.

My daily diet haha A staple of my daily diet haha :)

Oh! My biggest complaint about the program thus far, all of my classes are ONLY with IFSA students. Not to say I don’t enjoy Emily, Matt and Sarah’s company, but I thought I would at least have ONE class with real Egyptian students. We haven’t gotten our language partners yet but once we do, I fear I am VERY dependent on them in meeting any Egyptian students. If he/she doesn’t want to socialize or take me to events with his/her friends, I will never meet an Egyptian my age. That makes me very nervous and disappointed. How am I supposed to conduct thesis research on the youth of the country if I never meet one? In shah Allah, everything will be fine.

In celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday we had treats and a performance by a Whirling Dervisher       Another picture of the Whirling Dervisher

In celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday we had treats and a performance by a Whirling Dervisher following classes on the 23rd.

On a brighter note, here’s a funny story from this week: One day we were blessed with an hour and a half for lunch so we decided to wander a bit and see what we could find. We ended up discovering a new restaurant that offered mozzarella sticks. I was so excited. I went up to the cashier to order a bean (fool) sandwich and some mozzarella sticks, but naturally, she had no idea what I was talking about. I used as much Arabic as I could but in the end I just agreed to the sandwiches she kept thinking I was trying to order. They weren’t. I ended up with some type of chicken with mayo and ketchup in a pita and cheese and green tomato and pickle on some sandwich bread. They were pretty terrible, but luckily, it only cost me about 60 cents so I wasn’t too heartbroken haha.

After class is another 35 minute ride back home. Tip: The cab ride is ten pounds every trip (about $1.25) so be sure to bring or get A LOT of small bills. We have struggled to find places that can make change and usually when we exchange money/ use an ATM we only get big bills. Once home we usually eat an actual lunch or grab a snack. Then we work on homework, blog, watch a movie, etc until 7 when we head to the gym downstairs for our daily fitness lessons. That is probably the best decision we have made thus far. As I have said before, it’s so expensive but it is such a stress relief and fun (and can be a hard workout)! Following our workout we enjoy dinner, either made or ordered in. One AMAZING difference between home and here.. everything and I mean EVERYTHING is delivered. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, random cafe’s, pastry shops, sandwich places, restaurants.. all offer delivery. By ordering over the phone we can avoid the traffic and the taxi fares, which is definitely something to consider when traveling anywhere. Sidenote: food here is generally very cheap compared to American standards. For example, a giant bowl of spaghetti with garlic bread cost me 25 pounds, which is about $3.60. Following dinner its more hw or a movie, then bed.

Our group at a restaurant right along the Corniche enjoying some lemon with mint

Our group at a restaurant right along the Corniche (a typical late lunch/early dinner) enjoying some lemon with mint

Our attempt at making Nutella Cake. We wanted something sweet to go along with our movie night

Our attempt at making Nutella Cake. We wanted something sweet to go along with our movie night yesterday (Jan. 24th). Just an example of some of the things we do after class.

It has been a pretty hectic week but overall I am looking forward to the rest of the semester. I worry about the Islamic Culture and History class, however. I fear that although I will learn a lot, the discussions will get very emotional. We’ve only had two classes and I’ve already had to bite my tongue on a couple of instances…we’ll see how the rest of the semester goes. But I am really excited about my Politics and Media class, which revolves entirely around the Egyptian Uprising/Revolution. And speaking of the Revolution, today marks the 2 year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. Currently we are all glued to the tv, not knowing what to expect. We heard some demonstrations earlier today but they were too far away to see. I will post later on what happens by the end of the weekend. For now, it seems peaceful, but anything can happen. I am not scared for my safety at all, we are in a very nice neighborhood and Westerners aren’t currently being targeted. It is actually very exciting to be here “in the middle of” everything. I hope all stays peaceful and a transparent, secular democracy wins the day.

I promise I will keep everyone updated on what happens! Please stay tuned for that and for pictures of the apartment!

Ma’a Salaama!



Arrival in Alexandria!!

Time January 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


What an amazing last couple of days!! First and foremost, the apartments are BEAUTIFUL!!! I will post pictures as soon as I have time to clean the place up a little (might be awhile haha). But in all seriousness, the way the living space is decorated makes me feel like an Egyptian princess. Huge china cabinets, a large dining room table with room for 8, a big screen tv, chandaliers, long victorian style curtains… it’s like living in a palace! I love it! :) The hardest thing about moving in was deciding who got which room (we each get our own bedroom). I, unfortunately guessed the wrong numbers and ended up with the smallest room but “mish mooshkilla!” The room has a beautiful wide window that overlooks the city and I get to wake up to the brilliant sunshine every morning. Plus, since I pushed the two smaller beds in the room together I now have one giant bed :)

After (and including) the initial move-in day, we were offered non-stop presentations by TAFL center teachers and University faculty as well as others. The presentations covered everything from safety and transportation in Alexandria to the ancient history of the city, to scuba diving (more on that later) and underwater archaeology. During the last few days of orientation we also had crash courses in Egyptian dialect. One class in particular was not very pretty… Essentially the teacher had us feeling like everything we had ever been taught was wrong. Emily and I were beyond frustrated.. but we survived. :)

Other than class and presentations we have survived other adventures… like our first trip to the grocery store. That was quite an experience. For any of you considering studying abroad in Egypt, I highly recommend bringing (or getting a care package) of peanut butter and bagels and granola bars. The staples we take for granted in the US are just not available here at all, or are completely different than what you would expect. Best example, the only pb available is creamy and you can literally pour it out of the jar haha. And especially for milk lovers.. be wary, the milk is verrry different. I recommend trying the chocolate milk boxes, they are delightful :) In some of our downtime we watched movies or tv (sorry no Netflix here!). Trying to interpret the Arabic movies has been so much fun and it really has provided much needed relaxation and entertainment. The last few days of orientation we also have had cooking lessons from a truly talented Egyptian chef, explored the Alexandria Museum, and played in the Mediterranean Sea. As for the museum,  it was much more put together than the one in Cairo, but it was nowhere near as big and it still struggled (very comically at times) with its Arabic. One of the more funny examples was “libs” instead of “lips”. I have officially decided that I love museums, I have a huge passion for history and to see some of those artifacts was beyond incredible. I was mesmerized the whole time the tour guide was speaking. I could have spent all day in there reading every single placard, but sadly we were off to the next thing. The next thing turned out to be a tour of the grounds of the former palace of King Farouk… absolutely breathtaking. I wish we had been able to get more pictures of the gardens and the palace but we were sidetracked by the Mediterranean Sea. Funny thing about that, we were wandering towards the beach when we realized there was a large gate blocking our entrance. Without hesitating I climbed over and continued towards the beach.. Guess I really am an Ole Miss REBEL. :)

DSCN0196  DSCN0200

All of us in front of the Alexandria Museum, grounds of Farouk’s Palace

DSCN0214  DSCN0217-002

The group at the beach and the ladies striking a pose along the shore

And then.. we had FREEDOM (for a day). It felt so great to do the things we wanted, when we wanted. We slept in, meandered to a local restaurant, perused the bookstore nextdoor, and, my favorite part, signed up for our gym classes!!! It’s pretty pricey but the classes are SOOO much fun. Yesterday we learned belly dancing and today we were doing crossfit and tomorrow is pilates. I am incredibly excited to attend classes every night and to continue making friends and to get in shape!

With freedom of course, comes responsbility, and this morning we began the real reason we are all here.. classes. With the first day successful and behind me, all of my anxieties are gone. Classes are just the four of us (thus far), the teachers have been great and the courseload is challenging but reasonable. We also have only a 4 day week every week (YES!!!) so that makes the prospect of traveling to other places and exploring that much more probable and inviting.

In short, the last days of orientation were busy but informative. Classes are great so far, more to come tomorrow and the rest of the week. My downtime consists of movies, chit chatting, and working out in the gym downstairs. And most importantly, I am so very happy, and so very excited to get the school year underway. There are so many things I look forward to!

Thanks for reading, and until next time,

Ma’a Salaama!


And the Countdown Begins… Blog Post #1

Time January 2nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by


Hello friends, family, future Butler students and everyone!

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Elise Luers and I am a Junior at the University of Mississippi. I am currently pursuing a double major in International Studies and Arabic with a minor in Naval Science. I am a second class Midshipman within the Ole Miss NROTC Rebel Battalion and I also competed for the Ole Miss Cross Country and Track & Field teams my freshman and sophomore year. I am also a proud member of the Nu Beta Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi. Although I attend school in Oxford, MS, my parents and many friends lie far northeast in Concord, NH. But enough about my background. This blog is not a resume. This blog is going to tell a story, a real story. It will discuss the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the confusing, and the exciting. This is the story of my journey. The countdown for this journey is well underway. In just under ten days I will be 5414.04 miles from home… In Cairo… Egypt.

In 9 days I head for Cairo and shortly following a ten day orientation there I travel to my final destination at the University of Alexandria where I will be studying Arabic, Egyptian dialect, Islamic Culture and History, and Politics and Media. I have filled out all the paperwork, applied for all the scholarships, requested (and received) my visa, secured my health insurance, dotted all my “i”s and crossed all of my “t”s. The time to leave is approaching at a rapid pace. So what exactly is going through my mind 9 days before I wave goodbye to everyone and everything? 9 days before I venture “alone” into the unknown? 9 days before the United States becomes a distant, unreachable, piece of land on some map?

The only close metaphor I can muster that best explains how I feel is the feeling a competitor gets before a big (HUGE) game or match. Whether that be a State Championship or Regionals, Nationals or even the Olympics. This is the big leagues. Its the months (or years) of preparation, of studying and strategizing, of practices and work outs. All the sweat, all the work… for this one moment. You don’t know what will happen. It’s the butterflies in your stomach as you lace up your cleats. It’s the rush, the tingling in your blood as the crowd roars when you step on the field. It’s the nerves and the feeling you might not be able to breathe with so many people looking, watching, scrutinizing. You worry you might choke, that you might not be good enough, that you forgot your lucky underwear. Everyone has given their opinion; your coach, your parents, your teammates. All the ideas are swimming in your head, a little fuzzy but you think you have a general grasp of it all. Then before you know it, everything goes eerily silent. The whistle moves to the refs mouth, the gun is raised, the finger approaches the buzzer… the seconds pass like hours… suspense hangs in the air… the crowd holds their breath…

Right now I am in suspense. I fear I might forget that one piece of advice. That one word in Arabic I should have memorized. I worry about all the items I have bought for my trip. Are they enough? What if I leave something behind? You can drive yourself crazy with all the “What ifs”. My bags are not packed. In my mind I am constantly editing and re-editing what is necessary. The weather in Egypt in January is nothing like what it is in May. How does one prepare for that? Beyond the material items I worry about my family and my friends. Will I change while I’m gone? What if something happens to any of them while I’m away? Or me? There is no way to prepare for that. My biggest fear is that I will get too lonely while I am in Alexandria. That I will sit on my computer and skype my family and my boyfriend everyday and won’t explore, won’t take chances on my own. That I will want to crawl in a ball and cry because it is simply all too much.

Right now, my biggest advice (and what I keep convincing myself) is to trust yourself and let go. Know and understand that you can’t control everything. You can’t pack for every scenario. You ARE marching into the unknown, but its the unknown of the big leagues. You can achieve so much. You can learn so much. You can do so many incredible things and talk to so many wonderful people. Get excited! Get pumped! Turn up the pregame music! Soon the whistle will blow and before you know it the race is over, the final buzzer sounds. I am trying to take it all in stride, to grit my teeth and accept that I will get lonely, I will miss my boyfriend, I might pack completely wrong. But I want to enjoy this moment before the storm, that half a second when anything can happen. The trip right now is anything I make it to be. I can still win the game. I can still make this journey successful, inspiring, and fun. It is indescribable when I dream of at all that it can be. I imagine all the stories I will tell, the food I will try, the friends I will make, the adventures I will go on. And so, I will ignore the butterflies, I will trust my training, grit my teeth, embrace the rush and enjoy the emotional jitters of the big moment to come. Knowing that nothing has yet played out, its still up to me how this trip unfolds. I will watch the hand move, the gun rise, the finger fall with confidence and anticipation. I will continue my countdown by putting a smile on my face and stepping to the line standing tall despite the thumping in my chest, my shaking hands and the butterflies in my stomach.. waiting for the whistle to finally blow…