Photo courtesy of Ian Weller
Juniors Ian Weller, Amina Kader and Ashley Crow had all prepared to spend the spring 2011 semester far away from Drake University’s campus. Their original plan was to study at Alexandria University in Egypt, but none of them are now within Egyptian borders.
After being evacuated on Jan. 31 during the beginning stages of a political upheaval that has stunned the world, the three spent several days at a hotel in Prague, Czech Republic, exploring possible next steps. Back in the U.S., members of the Drake faculty were working to determine ways they could join classes at Drake to finish out the semester, even after the deadline to drop/add classes had passed. Some of their worried parents were hoping they would simply come home as well.
But all three students opted to finish out the semester overseas in different study abroad programs.
Weller and Kader are now studying with the Study for International training in Muscat, Oman.
“I decided that I didn’t want to go back to Drake because I didn’t think I could get another opportunity to study abroad because of credit requirements,” Kader wrote in an e-mail.
“I am thankful for the support I have at Drake, but in no way was I prepared to be back there,” Weller wrote, adding that, “The blizzard hitting also reinforced our wanting to stay out here.”
Both commented upon the more conservative Omani culture, something they said will take a little getting used to.
“The dress is completely different, which means I stick out even more, along with being almost a foot taller than everyone,” Weller explained.
In Egypt, the students were planning on living in apartments, but now Kader and Weller will live with host families.
“The rules we were told to follow were pretty much the same, especially as a female,” Kader wrote. “The only thing I, or any American student, would find to be the most difficult to adjust to is that we have to ask our host parents if it’s OK for us to go out, even if it is at 3 p.m.”
As for Egypt, Weller “will miss the cheap prices, and the food, and the availability of hookah.”
“I think I’ll miss everything about Egypt,” wrote Kader. “The first morning I woke up in Cairo, I had this burst of excitement and energy, even though I had only slept for four hours. In Oman, after I woke up from the restful eight hours, I still didn’t feel that energy and excitement.”
But there are still things she mentions she’s looking forward to.
“We have several excursions that the program offers including one to Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” she explained. “I also get to join my host family to a wedding this weekend so that is something I am really excited about.”
On the other side of the African continent is Crow. She is in Fes, Morocco for orientation with the Institute for the International Education of Students, but will be taking classes in Rabat, Morocco the rest of the semester. She ended up there mostly for financial reasons. “I wanted Oman, but the cost was $19,000–about 4,000 more than I had–and so I either had the choice to go to Morocco or back home,” she said in an e-mail.
She chose Morocco, where she will be taking six credits of Modern Standard Arabic and four credits of Moroccan dialect, which is heavily influenced by French.
But there are also elements of Moroccan culture she mentioned she’ll find interesting.
“The thing I’m looking forward to in Morocco is picking up an entirely different dialect and maybe some French too,” she wrote. “Artwork in buildings is ridiculously detailed and beautiful, and there are a lot of hole-in-the-wall places to go to.”
What she’ll miss most about Egypt is “most definitely the people,” Crow said. She is even exploring the possibility of making her way back in the next year.
“Hopefully I can go next semester insha’alla (God willing) if my credits work out to graduate on time, and I can petition to take less than my last 30 credits at Drake,” she wrote.
The semester is certainly not unfolding according to plan, and a sense of disappointment at disrupted plans is evident as each student talks about what might have been.
But also expressed is an acknowledgment that they will still be experiencing something far from a typical college semester. The landscape, the culture and the people that surround them all contrast dramatically with what they would be experiencing back at Drake.
Weller recounted thinking back on Egypt his first day in Oman as the students watched Disney’s “Aladdin” and saw the magic carpet soar over the pyramids.
But he likened his new environment in Muscat to another film industry production.
“Ever see the movie ‘The Kingdom’? It’s pretty close to that.”