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

Tick- tock…is it time yet?

Time November 30th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

The countdown has begun! In less than a month, I will be back home, home to the peach state of good ol’ Georgia. I can’t believe time has flown as fast as it has. I’m so excited to be home. The other day as I was cleaning my room, I got inspired and I started to pack. I packed all the winter clothes that I had brought to Peru (there is really no need for them now that it is spring time here). I also packed some of the souvenirs that I have bought from when I went to Iquitos and Cusco. I have yet to be close to finishing with my souvenir shopping, but for now, I’ll pack everything that isn’t breakable into my massive pink and black suitcase. I’m hoping mom will take it back home when she comes to visit me for Thanksgiving break…

In preparation to my leave, I plan to exercise as much as I can because I’m going to be eating as much Peruvian food as I can, because truthfully I will miss it. Peru has a huge variety of fruits and potatoes. My host family is not much of vegetable eaters, so getting back to the U.S. will be good for that reason. The main reason though that I want to be home is that I miss people. Peru is a very (VERY) affectionate country. You are greeted with a hug and a cheek kiss, but it doesn’t fully make me not want to be hugged and kissed by my family and friends. *cough, cough, and boyfriend.

I’m anxiously awaiting the day I go home. It’ll be a good change of things. I’ve gotten used to having my breakfast waiting for me in the mornings, and I need to do my bed more than I should. I also need to eat better. Having a sweet tooth is not good when you are staying in Peru for 6 months. There’s delicious mouthwatering sweets at every corner. Peru is too good for my own good. Haha. I just hope time flies and that final exams are not too stressful! Smooth sailing is the plan. Let’s hope it happens that way. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying Peru.


Sprang Break Pt. 2– Cairo

Time April 16th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


This was one of the happiest moments of my life! It was something that when I was younger and learning all about the history of Egypt was something I thought would only be a dream. I smiled the whole time I was on-top of my camel, Jacques, and did not want to dismount after our ride. The Pyramids are overwhelming! Reading the dimensions is one thing, but standing next to them you realize what a feat constructing these monuments was. They are huge and something that if you have ever have the opportunity to see in person you must take, you will not be disappointed. The Sphinx is really cool too, but underwhelming. I was wanting it to be the size of a pyramid, but it is tiny when compared. But, still very cool and allowed me to get a great Instagram picture!

Getting to Cairo was long and stressful and I wasn’t even driving. Driving in Egypt like I said earlier about Alexandria is a whole world away from the U.S. and the UAE.

Another great monument we were able to visit was the Cairo Citadel, view the link for more information about the Citadel. Interesting fact, they chose the location by placing meat around the city and they chose the location where the meat rotted last. This how they knew the location had a fresh breeze. The Citadel is perched high above the city of Cairo and offers an amazing cityscape. It also contains the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. I was able to use my acquired knowledge from one of my classes, Arabic Architecture and Design, to describe the beautiful Ottoman mosque that was constructed. The mosque was designed by the same designer as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the similarities are very obvious. It is a beautiful structure in honor of Muhammad Ali and is now his resting place. Muhammad Ali is considered the founder of Modern Egypt, more information about him here.

I am now back in the UAE on campus and AUS. The trip to Egypt flew by and I am sad that it is already gone. There is so much in Egypt that I missed while I was there. I would love to visit The Valley of Kings, Luxor and enjoy the Nile. With that all being said, I hope one day to return and be able to enjoy the rest of Egypt.

Thanks again to IFSA-Butler, Dr. Mohamed El-Komi, Moataz, Mariam, and Kiri for putting together this amazing trip and providing airfare, travel and food. It was an amazing experience and I am forever grateful!


Emotionally Charged

Time April 19th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


The best way to describe these last couple of weeks is “emotionally charged.” It has been a rollercoaster of feelings for all different kinds of reasons – depression, passion, wonder, frustration, euphoria, contentment, anger, shock. So much has happened since Easter that it is a mystery to me how I’ve managed to handle it all. I really owe most of it to the incredible friends I have made since being here. Without the constant mutual support between Sarah and Matt and I, these last couple of days, especially, could have easily been overwhelming. Before I begin, I do want to give the two of them a shout-out. Up until I met them at the airport, I had no idea of who I would be spending my 4 months in Egypt with. That was definitely and easily my biggest anxiety. Anything can be made better with amazing people, or vice verse-ly, a tough situation can be made miserable with the wrong type of people. I rolled the dice and thank gosh, luck was on my side. Sarah and Matt have turned out to be the most incredible people, they are passionate and caring and although we differ on many issues, I would do anything to help them. They are those kinds of people that you stay life long friends with. In fact, we’ve already started planning trips together to visit one another once we get back to the States. The people you have these experiences with really make the biggest difference… and I am so grateful and blessed to have shared it with them. They have made my time here fun and enjoyable, especially through those tough times (like when you get sick, when the showers don’t work, when you miss home, when you need a hug, or when tragedy strikes at home). So here’s to you Matt and Sarah, before this trip I worried I would lose friends, but here I am gaining two best friends. :)

I will start with the reasons behind the more exciting and happy feelings that I have had over the last two weeks.  The majority of these feelings occurred while we were enjoying some time away from Alexandria. The first getaway was the weekend following Easter. The entire group met up with Miriam (Roma) and we spent an entire day exploring Cairo together. We headed to Coptic Cairo and then made our way (slowly) across town to Khan Al Khalili. Coptic Cairo is a place that just makes you go “Wow.” Everything there dates back to 14, 15, 16, AD: the gorgeous churches, the breathtaking paintings, the relics, the stone streets, the ancient architectural designs.. some even older than that. The alleyways are narrow and filled with bright tapestries and photographs and trinkets for sale. The churches look as if they belong in Italy. The most astounding part of Cairo for me was walking into the prison cell of St. George. I’m still not sure if he is considered a Catholic Saint or not, but he sure as shootin’ should be. What an incredible story. I highly recommend taking the time to Wikipedia it. It was another heavy, spiritual moment that left me in a slight daze. Adding to the awe and wonder was the display of the torture tools used on St. George… it was unreal. Following that very moving experience we made our way to a much lighter atmosphere in Khan Al Khalili. We spent hours wandering and admiring and looking and smelling. I bought a couple of small things but my most prized find was a tiny little perfume shop that sold perfumes for 1 pound per gram. In other words, I could get a full bottle of exceptional (and rare) Egyptian made perfume for a little more than $2. I bought two bottles. haha. Now I’m going to smell like Lotus flowers and Queens of the Nile when I get back home  :)

St. George's Cathedral

Picture 1 of 26

Cairo was a great, short trip but the next adventure to Sharm Al-Shaik blew every other vacation and experience I’ve had thus far in Egypt out of the water (with the possible exception of climbing Mt. Sinai). It topped riding a camel, seeing the pyramids, the luxurious Nile cruise… it even beat a weekend at the 5 star resort in Ain Sockna. It was exhilarating and relaxing and just plain FUN. The initial intention of Sarah and I escaping Alexandria was to get some sun on the last weekend we would have together (other than the one before finals). So, where better than sunny Sharm Al-Shaik along the Red Sea? While enjoying our time at the beach, however, we were made aware of all the tourist-y activities available. It didn’t take very long to decide that we were gonna do something nuts haha, yet 170 pounds later I have never made a better decision. The three of us were first taken out into the bay on a glass bottom boat so we could see every reef and fish that passed underneath. Then Sarah and I went snorkeling with the same fish and coral. That experience reconfirmed every decision I have made to join the Navy. Despite everything… I love the water. I love the smell of the sea, the misty burn of the wind on my face. What a feeling! Being in the warm water with the perfect sun on my back and looking big eyed at the vibrant colored fish… it was a feeling of pure joy and happiness that I will never forget. I loved every minute of it. :) But, just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, it did. Less than 3 hours later I was on a boat in the middle of the bay stepping into a harness. Next minute I was up over 100 feet in the air, parasailing, soaring and floating in the breeze like a lazy butterfly. Under my feet was nothing but wave upon wave of beautiful, deep sea blue, but to my right and left was the breath-taking spectacle of the sun setting beyond distant Sinai mountains hovering ominously above palm tree covered beaches that seemed to stretch the length of the sky. Just wow. Wow. I’m not sure there’s ever been any other moment that I have felt so free. :)

Where there is happy there is sad (unfortunately) however, and these last two weeks were no different. I have suffered a couple of days of nostalgia for home. Mostly caused by frustration and anger over the small things here. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured by a pep talk from Sarah and a hot shower while blasting Toby Keith, though. It is easy to forget while reading this blog that despite all these wonderful adventures and ah-ha moments, I’m not home. I can’t do all the things I want. I can’t eat what I want. I can’t go for a run after a frustrating day of classes (more on that in a second) or grab a bowl of cereal when I’m hungry. I can’t have bacon at breakfast or wear shorts when its hot. I get charged triple anywhere I go because I’m very obviously white (taxi drivers are especially guilty of this). I haven’t heard country or pop or rock music on the radio in months, I haven’t really heard English in the media in months. I still get the woots and whistles, and approached by hopeful Egyptian men because I’m a highly sought after foreign girl. So many things that recently have clawed the way to the forefront of my mind, and consumed my sole focus for a day or two. This craving for America and for home, as well as the source of MUCH of my recent frustration, also came through recent debates/discussions within my classes. The frustration aspect mostly came from the passion to fix things here in Egypt. I feel it would be almost too easy to just run for office and kick out all the old Mubarak-age bureaucrats. I am frustrated because I wish more Egyptians would feel the same way. Where is the action to follow their words? Someone has to take that passion and get it where it can do some good. Someone needs to challenge Morsi. To put their name on a slate and state their platform. Why no one does is beyond me. Also, many of my classroom lectures in the past have discussed America and I am extremely proud of how objective I have grown, even to the point where I can quite easily see and discuss flaws made by America and the West without emotion. However, with all the other anti-Egypt emotional forces bending and threatening my objective will, I finally couldn’t take it. I more or less snapped. Nothing crazy or anything but rather than swallow the digs against America, I fought back and argued – very passionately too. My lawyer-to-be sister would have been proud. haha.

As I said, the missing home feeling was mostly manageable but what happened on April 15th and even more recently, yesterday, the 17th, shook all my resolve to the core. That was when tragedy struck home and it nearly crippled me. The events of Boston and in West, Texas have had an indescribable effect on my appreciation for America. Being here I have learned to truly appreciate everything I have (as I discussed especially regarding the freedom of religion) but in no way could I have predicted what something like that would do to me. Regarding Boston, not knowing who is responsible (yet) is the only merciful aspect of the entire situation for me. Not knowing who would murder people like that, my people is truly a blessing in disguise. This wasn’t in Baghdad, or Tel Aviv or Beirut or Cairo.. this was in the heart of America. This was in Boston. This was in a town an hour from my home. Boston is my town. When people here ask me what city I’m from in America, I say Boston. Not knowing who would dare to strike at my home has been my only source of relief. Being here and being so helpless… and not knowing the news for what feels like centuries… It was and is beyond angering. Here people went about their daily lives like nothing had changed. I wonder if they have grown so used to explosions and violence and bloodshed that they can no longer mourn the loss of life. If they have become so accustomed to it all that it hardly seems tragic anymore. I know I should pity a person who has gone through so much that would cause those (lack of) feelings but how can I when it was my home this time? Wouldn’t they feel the same if it was their neighbors covered in blood like it was mine? Not sure. But I do know that what happened in Boston on April 15th has me itching to get home and to do something. I am proud to say that I will be a part of the Navy and it will soon be my job to get the guy that did that. A part of me hopes they don’t catch him for a year or so, so I can do the job myself.

So sorry for the wordy entry… This post is very authentic and I hope it wasn’t seen as a complaining rant or a showing off tangent. I wanted to be real. I promised I would be. This is how I’ve been feeling and I wanted to share because it is part of studying abroad, just like it’s a part of life. I hope you enjoyed some of it at least.

Thank you for reading and until next time…

Ma’a Salaama!


Camels, and Pyramids, and Dervishers, Oh My!

Time January 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


Wow! The last four days have been such a whirlwind, it’s hard to know where to begin! I suppose I will take it day by day. Warning: My wifi is not cooperating today so there won’t be any pictures. I’m so sorry! Hopefully I can upload a bunch next time!

The last two days in Cairo were by far my two favorite days of my trip so far. On the 12th we explored the GIANT marketplace called Khalil Al Khalili and it was AWESOME! Picture the street scene from Aladdin and you’ve just about got it! Little shop after little shop filled with real silver, gold, jewelry, souveniers, scarves, dresses, spices, you name it! Everything was so colorful and bright, it was mesmerizing. I felt like I had been transported back in time. I loved it! While I was there I bought a couple small things, gifts for family and souveniers for myself (after a great deal of haggling). After exploring the marketplace for a couple hours we were ushered into this giant old building for a Whirling Dervishers performance. It was unreal! The performers play music and spin, but not just for a couple seconds.. they spin for half an hour or more at a time.. That would make me so dizzy! I was so impressed. The Dervishers are a Suffi group that put on shows displaying the techniques they use to communicate with God, music and dance. It’s very intriguing and fun to watch! You can Youtube it if you are interested.

The next day was the day I was looking forward to most about coming to Egypt… SEEING THE PYRAMIDS!! After our morning Arabic class we jumped into the vans and headed for Giza. It was NOT at all what I was expecting. First, everytime you see the pyramids it looks like they are off somewhere deep in the desert.. not true. They are quite literally right in the middle of Giza. The city grew around them and keeps inching closer and closer. When we were driving you didn’t see them until all of a sudden they were right in front of you. I was also kind of saddened by how (relatively to the US) little care was taken to protect the area and make it a nice tourist destination. Horse, camel and donkey poop covered the walkways. Nothing was organized. Hagglers strolled from person to person begging or selling cheap little comodities. There was also a great deal of trash everywhere. It seemed the only rule that was enforced was no climbing on the pyramids (past a certain point). But despite the sad state of its surrounding area the pyramids themselves were stunning. I wish we had had the opportunity to go inside, but I think that will be saved for next time. Oh, also the Sphinx is wayyyy smaller than I originally thought, it looks so large and majestic in the photos but not true.. its about half the height of the pyramids and no where near as long.  Nonetheless, it was still awe-inspiring to see! The camel ride was by far the best part. No safety equipment, no safety brief, no nothin’. We just climbed on and held on tight and hoped we wouldn’t fall off. Those things are HUGE. I never fully realized just how tall they are. And for those of you that are curious, evidently one of those camels is worth $2,000. And no, they didn’t try to sell their camels to buy me haha.

That would be our last night in Cairo as the next day we left very early for Alexandria. (Finally!) First impressions, the city is SOOO clean compared to Cairo and the architecture is absolutely incredible. Italian, Greek, Roman, French.. every style combined on the same building or starkly different styles right next door to one another. It’s amazing to see. The Mediterranean is also gorgeous and bright blue. I hope to go for a dip one day!

These last two days have mostly been filled with Arabic class, presentations, introductions, walking around our apartment and learning the basics about Alexandria. I am sad that we haven’t done much exploring yet but I suppose it can wait until a good three day weekend :) We also met with all of the TAFL center staff including our “babysitter”, who we like to call Mr. M. He basically accompanies us everywhere and tells us where to be when and what we can and can not do. It sounds like a lot of rules but he is really a great guy and he’s fun to be around. Also, I am grateful for him since I am so unfamiliar with everything here, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes/ can translate. The best example of this was our first trip to the grocery store yesterday. We were driven to this massive mall which contained a huge supercenter. We spent two hours shopping with Mr. M. He told us all about the good brands to get and the bad. He translated descriptions/ingredients of certain items (Sarah is allergic to tree nuts and Emily is gluten free so that became a big help very quickly). Tips for shopping here: 1. Don’t buy American brands. They are soooooo incredibly expensive. For example, a bag of cheetos was 10 US dollars. And there is almost always an Egyptian equivalent that is just as good but half the price. 2. Beware that not a lot of things you assume would be available are. For example, they have never heard of bagels or peanut butter here. They simply aren’t the staples of the area. Going along with that 3. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try something new. And lastly, 4. Trust your guide!! They have been doing this all their life and they know the prices and what is good, what’s not, etc. If you think you have different tastes, I can tell you, you probably don’t.

Sorry this is such a long post but there’s so much to tell! When I get some free time (which is few and far in-between during orientation) I will upload pictures of and write a post about our apartment … prepare to be jealous! Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have!

Ma’a Salaama!


…And the Countdown is Over!

Time January 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


I have finally made it to Cairo! Still a little jet lagged but in good spirits and just so excited to be here. The apartment here is wonderful. It is very spacious and has a ton of nice furniture and all the gizmos and gadgets required for cooking. So far I haven’t spent more than 2 minutes in there, however, as the staff here keep us well fed and our daily schedules have us constantly going out for food (don’t worry its all paid for so far!)

The giant living space of the apartment        Day 3 (15)        Day 3 (17)

The giant living space of the apartment, the beautiful kitchen, and my bedroom.

The first place we went was a floating restaurant along the Nile, what an AMAZING view and way to be introduced to Cairo. The food was incredible and everyone was so friendly. Despite how tired I was, I didn’t want to leave the table. I could have sat there and chatted all night.

This is the view from the table where we ate. The whole restaurant is indoors but giant windows along the side made the view possible.

This is the view from the table where we ate. The whole restaurant is indoors but giant windows along the side made the view possible.

My first impression of Cairo is that it is a very large version of NYC’s Chinatown combined with the poverty of Mexico, splashed in a beige color and then all converted to Islam. What I find most odd is the way people dress. No wonder there are no good pictures to google for “Egyptian dress” or “Women’s clothing in Egypt”. The whole spectrum is covered. Women walk around covered head to toe in Hijab’s, burkas, and the long black robes, only exposing their eyes, right next to women of the same age wearing tight skinny jeans, high heel wedges, cute blouses, lots of make up, and expensive (looking?) jewelry. The menswear also covers the full spectrum from robes and sandals to jeans and hoodies complete with big sunglasses. The noise here is unbelievable. The streets are always emitting honking, shouting, sirens, dogs,  or humming motorcycles. Oh and don’t get me started on the traffic! It is almost indescribable. No stop lights, no lanes, to traffic signals… no nothing. Just sticking your nose out and hoping you don’t get hit. The smell of burning plastic/rubber also hangs in the air and the smog is pretty bad. So far my body hasn’t been affected but the hazy, dark clouds are very easy to see against the bright blue sky. The weather is cool (50s) but generally sunny. No complaints so far :)

Day 3 (1) A smoggy day but still a pretty view outside of my balcony

The morning after we ate along the Nile we were greeted with a 9 am Arabic class. The combination of a very fast paced two hour class and still being very jet lagged took every ounce of energy I could muster to stay focused. But the teacher was incredible and I am already using Egyptian colloquial terms and grammar after just one class! Following class, we had two lectures. One on Egyptian life the other on the recent Revolution. The revolution lecture was fascinating. Hearing the story being told by such a passionate Egyptian gave me chills. I took very good notes and quoted the professor word for word on numerous occasions. Hopefully I already have one great resource for my thesis! Today we had more presentations. One on health in Egypt and then one on safety while abroad by Mrs. Chris. Both were very helpful and despite being a bit depressing, we did finish on a good note. Excursions! Mrs. Chris didn’t go into too much detail but we have some FUN trips planned and I am sooo excited! One includes a cruise down the Nile River… for 4 days! And of course, a trip to the Valley of the Kings/Queens. Sunday we are planning the excursion I am most excited for.. THE PYRAMIDS!! Including the ever popular camel ride. But before I get ahead of myself, I failed to mention the highlights of today.

Following Mrs. Chris’ presentation we hopped in a van and headed to the Cairo Museum. One Word: WOW. The place was huge. I could have spent days in there and still not seen everything. Unfortunately, we only had two hours. I was slightly disappointed because I am such a “history junkie” but I can’t complain because the fees were covered by IFSA and the tour guide was beyond amazing. I learned so much that it would take pages to write it all down. But in all, if you are ever in Cairo, go there. It isn’t like American museums. Things are out and very touchable. There are no ropes. Just millenia year old statues and sarcophagus’ sitting in the middle of the giant hallways. No guards are around either. It was almost unsettling just how much freedom we had to look and touch. After the wonderful trip downtown we came back to the office to watch an Egyptian band perform live Arab music. I was very impressed by their skills with the instruments but I think I’ll stick with Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts. :)

Day 3 (5)         Day 3 (8)

On left: Miriam, Matt and me in front of the entrance to the Cairo Museum and on the right: the Egyptian band plays music for us

In all, my first three days in Egypt have been very successful. Many of my stereotypes have disappeared and I am learning a great deal about what it means to be Egyptian. Hopefully this trend will continue for the next four months! Thank you 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…


Making Papyrus

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This is a video of someone making papyrus at a papyrus shop. I shot it in 3 2-minute segments because of upload constraints on the blog, and then discovered how to reduce video size. So I spliced them back together. Might be a bit choppy.

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Camel Riding

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Two videos spliced together. One is of Marissa and Lauren and I riding a camel while the bedouin tries to steal my hat. The other is of us being stupid around the camels.

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Making Carpets

Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Making Carpets by

This video is in a carpet making factory where we watch small nimble child laborers make carpets to sell to rich stupid Americans. The guy told us the children have good working conditions. They get a break every 15 minutes a day, the factory teaches them a trade and helps them pay for school, and a bunch of other positive things. In any case the video is cool.

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Our First Car Ride

Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This is our first car trip from the airport to a restaurant a few blocks from the apartments the Cairo kids stayed at. Gives a good idea of the Cairene skyline and a bit of traffic.

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Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Jon by

Here is a video of Jon singing. I’m sorry for the poor quality I had to reduce it pretty severely to successfully upload it. In any case he brought this guitar with him everywhere. It was lovely. Any place Jon was there could be live music. When he traveled to Greece with James Blond he brought his guitar and a change of clothes and nothing else.

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Getting out of Dodge

Time January 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So I’m sitting in the boys apartment in Cairo. I go home on Wednesday. I’m on the home stretch. We’re all ready to go I think. I can’t speak for the girls who are left but us boys are excited. We like to complain about Egypt and I’m very ready to leave. But its more because I’m excited to go home and see my friends and family than any kind of desire to leave Egypt. There is certainly a lot I’m going to miss and I don’t think I’ll be able to evaluate the true impact of the program until I’ve had some time to decompress.

Our last week in Alexandria was .. anticlimactic I think. Although there were some fun moments. We said goodbye to our teachers. We took our final exams and good riddance to a particularly awful professor. We had to say goodbye to some good friends and that was sad. We all had finals but I know us boys didn’t study very hard. We were just finished with school and ready to move on to the next phase. We payed for it a little too. The ameya exam was brutally hard. I walked out of there in something like shell shock. But our fusha exam was much easier and more fair than the midterm I thought. Our history and culture exams were… well. They were. They’re done now.

The train ride down last thursday was insane. Rob and I got to Sidi Gaber earlier than anyone else and we watched a man almost die on the tram. When it pulled in to the station something like 2/3 of the people there tried to pack in to this thing. They were crammed in like sardines and people were still trying to push more bodies onto the cars. I saw people hanging out of windows, holding on to doors for dear life. There were people on the rail coupling between the engine and the first car. People were actually riding with the conductor. The man who almost died was trying to get off the train. He literally fell out of the sea of people and his arm got caught on something right as the train started to move. So he was being dragged along while some people were pulling him every which way trying to get him out. I saw him dissappear off the platform but I think he made it out ok because I didn’t hear any horrible death screams and nobody called an ambulance.

It was just Kasandra, Trevor, Rob and I on the trip down. The rest were either leaving from Alexandria or catching a train on Friday. At Cairo we met up with some of the other students and went to a nice restaurant to eat. We had to say goodbye to Rob since he had an 11:00pm bus to Israel. The rest of us stayed up all night looking at pictures and sent Kasandra off to Turkey to stay with her family. Andrea left a few days later. Trevor left Monday. Jon left on Friday. The only boys left in Egypt are the 3 Jameses and Josh. Of the girls the only remaining are Lina, Ger, Corey and Simone.

But on the upside two my two best friends from home got in Tuesday afternoon. I took them wandering around Cairo and they were both really excited to go on adventures. We got a little lost, found a street market and bought some oranges. Ate shawarma.. We retreated back to the hotel and went swimming and just relaxed the rest of the night. They had been traveling for a long while because of the snow in Europe and needed a rest. Wednesday we toured the Egyptian Museum. That place is incredible. It’s the most poorly organized and chaotic museum ever. But it was still full of so many things. I went to the Met and was impressed to see a couple sarcophagi and other artifacts and in this museum that kind of stuff is stacked like cord wood. It was mind blowing. In the afternoon we met up with Lina and Ger and Jon and went to Khan to show them the souk and after that we went to City Stars. Jeff wanted to see an Egyptian grocery store and I wanted to take them from something as “oriental” as a huge street bazaar right to something so incredibly western as City Stars. It was a busy day but it was a lot of fun. Thursday we went to the Coptic museum and Al-Azhar park. The park was gorgeous and it had a great view of the citadel. We took a lot of pictures, but by this point my camera died. When I got home all the pictures I had taken to that point had been deleted. That night we sat at the bar in our hotel and had a drink and played cards

Friday was when we had all the crazy adventures though. We got up early and took the train out to Giza station. That was our first mistake – Giza station is surrounded by filth and garbage and flies and the worst stench I’ve smelled since being in Egypt. But we found this guy claiming to be a cab driver and I don’t know why I let ourselves get in this car because it was NOT a cab. He then took us in a direction I figured was away from the pyramids and we ended up in this sketchy back ally, sitting in this sketchy tour guide’s office while he sold us sketchy camel rides for way to much money. It was totally worth it though. We got to see the pyramids from some amazing angles and we took some really great photos. Our guide barely spoke English but he was really nice. We got to climb the smallest of the 3 great pyramids. We saw the sphynx and then we paid our guide and ditched him. We walked around the great pyramid, explored the burial sites of some of the queens. Jeff climbed one of the little pyramids to one of the queens and we got some pictures of him standing at the top. Then, for the sheer absurdity and awesome nerd win of it all, we found a place to sit in the shadow of the great pyramid and played a game of Magic: The Gathering. While we were there Jeff took pictures with a bunch of people. He’s 6’5, 200 pounds, blond and fair skinned. He took A LOT of pictures with women. They all thought he was gorgeous and I bet if he had asked one to marry him she would have in a heart beat.

The second half of our adventure.. we took a train out as close to the citadel as we could get. Then caught a cab. I looked for the most broken down sad little cab I could find because I wanted to show my friends how I got to school every day. That was a mistake too. I kept saying we wanted to get to the Mohammed Ali Mosque, or the White Mosque, or Mesgid, or etc. In Arabic. He has no clue what I was talking about. We finally got close and just got out and walked the rest of the way.

We got right up to the main gates of the citadel and took some goofy photos and this little Egyptian man comes by, introduces himself, tells is that the Citadel is closed on Fridays for prayer service.. but that he knows of a nearby mosque where we can get a good view anyway. He drags us all through the shady back alleys of  Old Cairo and then fleeces us out of 300 pounds. I don’t know where my head was that I let him do that to us. But we did get to climb a minaret and it was a pretty good view of Cairo. Was it worth the 50 bucks we lost..? Maybe. But it was still cool.

They left on Christmas Day. Dr Alkomi took the remaining IFSA students out to dinner to celebrate and then we just chilled out the rest of the day. I’m just spending my last few days in Egypt loafing around. I’ll probably go out a couple more times on small adventures but I’m kinda adventured out. I will miss Egypt and I really do plan to come back some day. But right now I’m looking forward to pizza with real sauce and bacon on my burgers.


Arab Music!

Time October 11th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Another video. This is of the band.

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College is the Same Everywhere

Time October 11th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

College really is the same no matter what country you’re in. I get up at 7:00am too tired because I went to bed too late the night before. I drag my half-asleep carcass to the showers and wash off and wake up. I get dressed and have breakfast of eggs, bread, and fool. You mix it all together and it makes a kind of breakfast burrito. We have hot tea and water and freshly puree’d guava juice. It has this odd texture I didn’t like at first but now I’m all for it. (Alternately I wake up at 8:00, skip the shower, barely make it to breakfast, and rush to catch a cab. it’s 50/50).

I catch a cab to class with Rob and Trevor, or sometimes Dan, maybe Conner or Dean. Lecture starts at 9. It is two hours with one ten minute break on the hour. I try not to fall asleep. The teachers aren’t boring but the room is FREEZING. They keep the thermostat at 16* celsius which is about 60* fahrenheit. Also as I said before I went to bed too late so I’m fighting fatigue. I’m done with school at 1:30. We catch battle to catch a cab home and the driver wages furious war with microbuses while old ladies play real-life Frogger. I get home and check facebook, look at funny pictures of cats and other stupid crap on the internet. I take a nap. Wake up, have dinner, and study for 3 hours or so. Play some old video game for a little bit, and then go to bed. This is more or less my day in the states. We don’t have class Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. This gives us time to travel or study or get lost in Alex.
All the IFSA kids have 2 classes together. One is taught by Aladdin Elbasset. No joke, his jame is Aladdin. Pronounced Ala-deen. That class is nuts. The first day he let us plan the syllabus, determine the % value of the final, the length of the papers, etc. We spend most of the 2 hour class just discussing topics in Islam.

The second class is more traditional. Except the Professor is more opinionated. He lectures just the same as in the US and it can be just as boring. It seems that like most Egyptians he has some questionable ideas. Dr Elbasset told us that homosexuality is looked down upon but is not forbidden and nobody is killed or persecuted because of it. This is demonstrably false. Dr Mansour thinks that Turkey’s government does not persecute non-islamic religions, and that its regime is very stable. This is also demonstrably false. He also takes some rather hard line stances on Islamic history. His agenda is apparent and unlike in the states, it is the CORRECT agenda. (it should be observed though that all professors have an agenda of some sort, some are just better at keeping it to themselves).

I have one class outside of TAFL, which I seriously suggest that everyone should do. There are some odd things – the teacher tried very hard to convince me that the class will be boring and not useful for my major at all. She seriously did not want me in her class. But the Egyptian students are nice and friendly but the same as in the US in some ways. Nobody wants to answer questions, nobody did the reading, and nobody remembers what they learned last year. Its a little odd that I’m the oldest kid in the class by a significant margin. Its also odd that even though I have no experience with linguistics in general or systems of grammar specifically I’m still more equipped to answer questions than these kids. Maybe its the language barrier. Maybe I’m just sooo much older than them and my acquired college knowledge is more useful than I thought. Maybe I just like to talk.

I did meet a lot of Egyptian kids. They’re all friendly and they all love to talk about politics, the differences between American and Egyptian cultures. Conspiracies.. Like this one for example. In the Yom Kippur war, Egypt retook the Sinai. The 6th of October is a national holiday akin to the 4th of July. Israel ended up coming back from the combined Syrian-Egyptian offensive and fought to within 60 miles of Cairo and 100 miles of Damascus. America gave Israel all kinds of planes and tanks and ordinance and other help. We may have even had black ops on the ground helping turn the tide. Egyptians are convinced that American soldiers fought on the ground in Egypt, against Egyptians, and that is the only way Israel won the war. According to one Egyptian student the IDF is so incompetent  and lazy, and the Egyptian offensive was so utterly devastating, that there is no way Egypt could have lost unless the American Army was involved directly. The reason nobody knows about it is because they wore Israeli uniforms. When I press them for sources of any kind what so ever they all tell me there are none. But they say it without blinking an eye, as if this should be obvious. I can’t find any suggestion of this on the internet anywhere, and the internet is the greatest source of lies and nonsense that mankind has ever devised. Is it true? Maybe (probably not). But Egyptians are generally convinced that this is the obvious and undeniable truth.

In any case I’ve added 10 kids to my facebook friends list and half of them must be named Muhammed.

Thats actually one of the nice things about being in Egypt. As much as I seem to complain about the bad stuff, the people here are generally very nice. All Egyptians hate the taxi drivers and in general they seem to be the worst people. But everyone else is really nice. I love the students. There are a bunch of Egyptians on my floor and they’re all pretty cool. Everyone is so eager to help me with my Arabic and I try and use it when ever possible. One funny thing that I hadn’t anticipated is learning names. Learning the names of Egyptians is like learning new vocabulary. The names are hard to pronounce and difficult to remember sometimes. But luckily most of them are derivative of Mohammed or Ahmed.

There are some cool American kids here too and I always have someone to hang out with if I get lonely.

So this video is part 1 of 2 from our taxi ride home. I just rewatched them and they’re a bit hard to follow. We’re heading back from City Stars in 2 cabs. In this video the cabs are keeping pace because one driver doesn’t know how to get to our hotel.  The next video just shows general traffic. It should be noted though that this is fairly late at night and after watching this, it’s still a light traffic night. I’ll try to take some video on the way to class when it’s bright out so you all can get a real solid idea.

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Adventures in Tourist Land

Time September 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So the last few days have been a lot of fun. We’ve been doing typical tourist stuff mostly.

We met Dr Al-Khomi’s son Sharif. Apparently he reads my blog and wanted to meet me (Shout out to Sharif!). He’s a nice kid. He offered to take us to  City Stars which is this absolutely massive mall. Rob, Trevor, Lauren and I went with Mr Memdu as chaperon/escort. The place us huge. I think around 10 stories. It has its own grocery store and multiple arcades. It was really not what I had expected of a mall in an Islamic country. There were a lot of women wearing the hijab, yes. But otherwise it was exactly like a western mall. There were a lot of the same shops and all the posters and advertisements were the same. I would have thought them to be scandalous over here! Girls in sensual poses or in revealing clothing (even by our standards in some places). There was even a “Women’s Secret” and while the mannequins and posters weren’t slutty models in tiny underoos, they were very clearly not wearing your grandmother’s underwear. Shocking.

We went bowling too and that was a ton of fun. I’m not a great bowler, but Egyptians suck. Even our chaperon Mr Memdu got in on the game a little bit. He’s a really fun guy for barely speaking any Ingelesia. (my blog is fun and educational!)

The next day was Pyramids day. That was incredible. We first went to Sakara to see the step pyramid – the oldest pyramid in Egypt and the first Egyptian pyramid (I think the temple at Uruk is the oldest one in the world. Sorry Egypt…). It was awesome. But there was trash everywhere and a lot of…. I’m not sure what to call them. This one guy came up to me dressed in phony Bedouin clothes and said “Where you from, American?! You want to take my picture?! Ride camel?!” and the whole time he was shaking my hand. These guys are all over historic sites. You take their picture, they want baksheesh which is like a few pounds tip. Or they’re hawking cheap goods. John (Gosh in Arabic.. there is no J sound) ended up buying a bunch of stuff. He bought a sun hat and it was vaguely cowboy in nature so they would yell “Hey Cowboy!” at him. They are relentless. At the White Mosque today they were pestering Simone and Corey pretty badly. The one guy kept following Simone, even after I moved between them and called her “Canada Dry.” Another guy offered Corey 200 goats. What exactly for we aren’t sure.

After that pyramid we visited a carpet weaving school. In Sakara they have a lot of these. Apparently they make the best carpets in the world. They have a lot of young kids working there. The tour guide for our group told us before we arrived (we had a guide for all of our tour of Cairo, so not the carpet guide..) that this is a good way for kids to help the family since they are very poor, they learn a trade, and it helps them pay for school if they go. The factory employed guide told us they only work 3 hours a day and they get a break every 15 minutes if they want it. It seems like a good thing. But on the other hand child labor seems a little shady. But who am I to judge? A starting salary for a police officer is about 150 pounds and I spent that much on art today. I can’t really speak out against a practice that might help feed a starving family.

The Giza pyramids were amazing, as expected. A stone block is almost as tall as I am. I got to climb it too! We were told we were allowed to climb to a specific point on the Pyramid and I didn’t see any stairs. So I just started climbing up blocks by heaving myself onto them – pretty gracefully if I do say so myself. But I got so high and a guard FREAKED OUT and started blowing on his whistle and gesturing for me to get down. I later learned there were stairs…

I rode a camel! The guide tried to take my hat. I took some video of that so I won’t talk too much about it except to say that he looked very good in my hat. The camel riding was a lot of fun. Better than horses in my opinion. Getting on and off is frightening because you sit almost completely vertical on the camel when his front legs kneel down. But the ride is much smoother, even at a gentle trot. They do smell though and I stank like camel the entire rest of the day. We visited the Sphyinx after that. It was neat but after the great pyramid.. what can compare?

Next day was much more shopping oriented. We visited the Citadel of Saladin and the White Mosque. The citadel was very disappointing. I was expecting this magnificient medieval crusader fortress and while it was neat from the outside.. inside was just stone walls. The White Mosque was much better. It reminded me a lot of pictures of Hagia Sophia or the Sulimaniye or the Blue Mosque. But a lot smaller and not as much light. After that we went to this place to “learn about ancient egyptian oils” which, is truthiness for “they’re going to give a sales pitch for perfume and aroma therapy then you will have a chance to buy some.”

It was a good pitch and I totally did. I bought one for myself and several for Amber. The proprieter told me “Hey I like this guy, he buy presents for his lady friend back home!” and a bunch of the girls thought I was being sweet and thoughtful. Trevor said “He’s just being a smart boyfriend.” They were insanely cheap and even though i spent a lot of money you would never find anything this cheap in the US. Its all organic too, and in the style that the ancient egyptians used, which means (according to the sales man and our tour guide/merchant baiter) they will last forever. As in they will never decay.

We went to the “papyrus museum” to learn about papyrus afterwards. We did learn how papyrus was made but we also got the “student discount” from the shop. I bought some stuff there too. I’m done buying souvenirs for a little while.

After that we visited the Khan al Khalil bazaar, the largest in the middle east second only to the one in Istanbul. We were told that while back in the day it had great stuff, now it’s a big tourist trap and most of it is made in China.

We head to Istanbul in a few days. Hopefully we’ll have better internet so I can upload all the video I have. I’ve taken maybe 20 minutes worth of short video clips.