Egypt is more than just desert and camels. It is still a third-world developing country, yet it is far more advanced than in the days of pharaohs and pyramids. There are 30-story apartment buildings, 2006 Mercedes Benzes, internet cafés and so much more. I emphasize these points because I found them surprising during my first trip. The Egyptian culture is so rich and diverse that it resembles that of the US, only nearly 6,000 miles away. I experienced these facts on a personal level and look forward to doing it again.
This was my second time studying abroad in Alexandria, Egypt. The first trip was for the month of June in 2006 it was my first experience in a culture outside of the United States. I did have experience speaking Arabic; this gave me an advantage. However, no amount of class time can prepare anyone to be immersed in a culture so different from their own. I felt intense excitement. It brings one to feel like a child, while learning the functions of speech, and the frustration of the inability to convey a message.
After the initial shock I began to find myself more engaged with the people of my city block, then the city itself, and eventually the entire span of the country. My options of transportation were not like in the US, I learned to use a cab, microbus, tram, or walk to my destination. I took five classes at two locations. One set was at the University of Alexandria, Egypt and the other was at a private institute. Each morning, I’d pass by the same people and shops on my way to class. They later became close friends. These people became a critical part in developing my language skills. Forming relationships with the locals did more to increase my language skills and cultural knowledge than any class time.
I realized early in my studies that the sooner I can laugh at myself, the sooner my ability to converse will increase. By realizing that I will make mistakes, it took away the fear of doing so. It is part of the process of refining the language. Some Egyptians laughed at me when I’d speak in Arabic. Some were shocked that I, an American, could even speak their tongue. Yet others commended me for attempting and eventually succeeding, at learning to converse with them in a 2000-year-old language. This made all my efforts worthwhile and what I used to motivate me in my studies. I spent late nights straining my eyes to finish reading the Arabic news we’d received in class, highlighting the endless words I did not know; I was determined to milk my study abroad experience for all I could. My decision was to come back home speaking Arabic - no alternatives.
Funding my study abroad program was no easy task. It took serious digging to find adequate support to make this experience realistic. Study Abroad at Western Michigan University helped me with a grant. Secondly, I receive a significant grant from the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education. These two grants were quite crucial in making it possible for me to study abroad. I know how difficult it is to fund such a life-changing experience, but with the right investigating, the outcome can be a priceless asset to anyone’s future career and personal goals. Living abroad made me realize how great life is in the United States. This is an experience I suggest every person to take.