Egypt from a student’s eye: UAA student travels abroad

University of Alaska Anchorage journalism student, Linda Hardyman, is spending a year abroad in Egypt as an exchange student. Each week, the Northern Light will print her first-hand account of her experiences in the Middle East. This week Hardyman describes how she got involved in the program and prepared for her trip.

Looking out the window after nearly 10 hours of flying, I saw the edge of the continent appear in the distance. Crystal blue water and white sandy beaches filled the horizon. At first glance, it looked like many other places I have flown over. There were long winding roads, a river twisting and turning its way through green fields and clusters of houses. But it wasn”t long before I thought, ‘This looks like nothing I have ever seen before.’ The line where the irrigated land ends and the desert begins was clear. As the plane turned to approach the city I could see the Pyramids in the distance.

I”m in Egypt as a journalism student participating in a study abroad program at The American University in Cairo. There are currently more than 50 UAA students in study abroad programs around the globe and I will be using this weekly column to share my experiences.

Getting here took a lot of work, many sacrifices and a leap of faith. I started planning nearly a year in advance, but didn”t know if I had been accepted into the program until two months ago.

Without a doubt, the hardest decision was finding a new home for my dog. Maggie, a four-year-old Border collie, had been my constant companion since she was eight weeks old. Through the help of a friend, I was able to find a good home for her. On my way home the night I gave her away, I pulled over to the side of the road because I was crying too hard to see. I kept telling myself that I made a choice and this was part of the deal. I knew I couldn”t take her with me and it wouldn”t be fair to leave her with another family only to take her away after a year.

In comparison, selling my car was no problem. I”m not sure when I will be able to afford a car again but I am the proud owner of a new Canon EOS 10D digital single lens reflexive camera complete with two new lenses, several filters and an assortment of other photo accessories. I can”t imagine traveling around the world and not documenting it all with pictures.

The cost of attending AUC for a year is almost $25,000. In addition to working two jobs and applying for all of the scholarships I could find, I decided to give up my apartment and become ‘homeless’ over the summer. One week after the end of the spring semester I put my things in storage and started sleeping on the floor at my downtown office. Fortunately, there was a shower in the building as well as a coffee pot and a refrigerator. The two people I shared an office with knew I was living there and although they think I am a little crazy, they were very supportive.

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The company I worked for shares office space in a building with other businesses. Because of this, I had to be very careful not to get caught. I needed to look like I was working by the time the first tenant arrived at 5:55 a.m. on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. on the weekends. I worked for the UAA Landscaping Horticulture Department during the week and we started at 7 a.m. so the early morning hours were not a problem. But not being able to sleep in on the weekends was a drag.

After eight hours of gardening, I would hop on my bike and head downtown where I worked until 9 p.m. each night. There are some advantages to living and working in the same place. At the end of the day I would simply lock the door after the last employee left for the night and I was ‘home.’

The summer was flying by and the next thing I knew it was mid-June. I logged on to check my e-mail one day and found out that I had been awarded a Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship for $5,000, but I had no dog, no car, no home and I still didn”t know if I had been accepted into the program at AUC.

I was feeling a little stressed. With sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat, I called to check on the status of my application. When the person on the other end of the line told me my admission letter had been mailed two weeks ago, it took a few seconds for it to register. I was in! I”m glad I made the call because my original acceptance letter is still missing in action.

The following weeks were filled with shopping, packing and going away parties. One of the first things I bought was a plane ticket. In my enthusiasm, I failed to notice that I was using last year”s timetable and I was now scheduled to arrive in Cairo four days before the dorm opened. Once the panic subsided, I e-mailed the housing director and made arrangements to move in early.

Renting an apartment would be cheaper but trying to negotiate a lease in a language I don”t speak is more than I am ready for. Living in the dorm has a number of advantages. I”ll be living with several hundred people who are also in the country as students. The price of a dorm room includes 24-hour security, transportation to and from campus, sheets, towels, blankets and housekeeping services. The sheets are changed twice a week and the rooms are cleaned once a week. I haven”t met my roommate yet. Apparently, she used the correct schedule when planning her arrival.
Wow, this is going to be a busy year.

Send Linda Hardyman your questions or comments at [email protected]