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And on Sunday They Rested. NOT!!

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Lubna, the first student I met at AUC....
It's the Sunday morning rush, as Monica and I push our way off the Metro and through hollow underground tunnels packed with people on their way to work or school. Turning another corner in the underground maze, we ascend the stairs and emerge into Midan Tahrir. A bustling circle in the heart of downtown Cairo, Midan Tahrir is packed with fancy tour buses, shabby local buses, half a million taxi cabs and a million pedestrians. Caught up in the rush, we make a right down Sheik Rihan street. Instead of Cairo's typical juice shops and shawarma and falafel stands, we see Pizza Hut, McDonald's and KFC.

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Rana is an AUC grad student in Computer Science.  She helped us with all of our technical stuff when we first got here.
Passing through a set of large brass gates, we enter an odd oasis in the center of the city. Guards check everyone's backpacks, but only find textbooks, pens, pencils and mobile phones. The wall to the left is covered with flyers, mostly in English, announcing lectures, parties or vacant apartments. To the right is the entrance to a girls' locker room, and straight ahead is a volleyball court. I feel like I've traveled through space and time back to my college days, only with a twist of Egypt mixed in. Suddenly we don't stand out, and no one is staring at or calling to us. I look like just another student here at the American University in Cairo.

Of the 4,552 students at AUC, most (3,853) are Egyptians who graduated at the top of their secondary school class. Since all the teaching is done in English, students must be fluent or attend AUC's English Language Institute to prepare. But not everyone here is Egyptian. Students from over 60 countries are enrolled, including 172 Americans. Around me, most everyone is speaking English, and speaking it well! Since my Arabic is so weak, I'm excited to get to know locals who can speak my language.

Vocabulary Box

stereotype - a conception about something or someone invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group
accredited - to certify a school as meeting all official requirements of academic excellence
shawarma - a sandwich wrap filled with tangy, marinated beef and lamb
falafel - deep-fried balls of garbanzo beans stuffed into pocket bread with parsley, garlic, cumin, coriander, other spices and a tangy sauce

I sit down and introduce myself to a young woman sitting alone. Lubna, a 19-year-old comparative literature major from Cairo, is waiting for a friend before going to class. I ask her how she likes AUC. "It's a good place," she tells me in perfect English-with an American accent! "There are people here from all over the world. Even the Egyptians have different backgrounds. And everyone is really friendly." I admit that I was a bit surprised to hear an American accent coming from a Muslim Egyptian woman wearing a hijab (covering for the head). Lubna explained that her parents sent her to Cairo's international and American schools growing up because they want her to have a good, international education. Another stereotype shattered!

Sunday in Egypt is like Monday in America-it's the first day back after the weekend, which, for them, is Friday and Saturday. So Lubna rushed off with her friend to class, and Monica and I set off to explore this little oasis of American culture. I'm glad to see that the spread of American culture is not limited to McDonald's and Baywatch!
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This is the largest English Language Library in the middle east...if you can't find it on the Odyssey Website, try here!
Started in 1919 by the son of a United Presbyterian missionary to Egypt, AUC is no longer affiliated with any religion, but is still a private university. It's fully accredited through Washington, D.C., making it the largest American liberal arts university outside the United States. AUC now covers 5 blocks of downtown Cairo, divided into several different campuses, all within a few blocks of each other. Plans have been made, though, to relocate to the planned community of New Cairo, which is being built 20 miles east of the city.

It's still early by Trekker standards, so Monica and I wander into the palace for a cup of coffee. That's right, the original building at AUC is an old palace, built in the 1860s. Is your school cafeteria in a palace? You probably don't have a state-of-the-art television production lab in the basement, either, like the Kamal Center for Television Journalism. And there's a huge theater with a baby grand piano that makes Monica drool!

We sit outside in the green courtyard, watching students pass by and drinking espresso. [I can't believe that just beyond the walls lies the chaotic traffic snarl of Midan Tahrir.] There's a student wandering in circles around the lawn, talking to himself. Occasionally, he looks down at a notebook, then talks more and more. My curiosity is killing me, so, when he pauses to talk to a friend, I make my move and go talk to him.

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Students hang out with their friends in the sun on the AUC campus
Hasan turns out to be a theater major who's memorizing his lines for the upcoming production of Moliere's "The Miser." He exudes fun and friendliness, and I can tell right away that he is really popular on campus. We talk and laugh for a long time-Hasan thinks the Odyssey is pretty cool! "What are you guys doing Tuesday night?" he asks us. Hey, we're already part of the "in" crowd with this guy! Every Tuesday he helps organize "Howard's Café," where student bands play or one-act plays are performed, and coffee and tea are served in the student theater.

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A lunch break in the sun.  The banner in back is for AUC's model UN, the largest outside North America!
For Americans who want to study abroad, AUC is really a good deal- you get to live in Cairo and experience the culture, while being in an English language environment. AUC's library holds the largest collection of English language books in the Middle East, and AUC also runs a very respected press to publish books about the Arab world in English. Still, if you want to learn Arabic, AUC's Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA) program is affiliated with 21 different universities in America. Undergraduate and graduate students come here for its well known, intensive, advanced Arabic program.

We've been meeting so many friendly and interesting students, I feel like I'm back in college! I wonder…if I had known about the AUC when I was looking at colleges, would I have ended up here? AUC graduates include many diplomats, high-ranking government officials and business leaders from all over the world. Maybe, instead of being a World Trekker, I'd be a diplomat somewhere. Hmmm, maybe I'm glad I didn't know about it!

For more information, check out the American University in Cairo. Or write:

The American University in Cairo
113 Kasr El Aini Street
P.O. Box 2511, Cairo, Egypt
phone 20-2-354-2964
Fax: 20-2-355-7565

The American University in Cairo
420 Fifth Avenue, Third Floor
New York, NY 10018-2729
phone (212) 730-8800


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Jasmine - The A, B, C's of Ancient Egyptian
Kavitha - What's That Noise Coming from Inside the Crypt?
Monica - Making a Difference: The News
Team - The Write Stuff - Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

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