By Stephanie VanderVelden
As political tension surges across Egypt, chaos is affecting groups beyond Egyptian citizens. Students from several American colleges and universities are currently studying abroad in Egypt, specifically in Cairo; the epicenter of the ordeal. The protests denouncing President Hosni Mubarak have erupted in violence, putting citizens and students at risk. Emergency evacuations have been organized to remove American students from increasingly dangerous conditions.
Students staying in dorms and with host families witnessed the violence first hand. Sounds of gun fire and protesters with weapons forced students to stay inside as the violence increased. Egyptian security teams guarded university dorms from approaching looters as students watched from inside.
When word of the violence in Cairo hit the news, American universities immediately began planning a safe evacuation for students abroad. The University of Texas, in Austin, had 57 students participating in an Arabic language program at the University of Alexandria. Wheaton College, Arizona State University, the University of Florida, and Notre Dame are all among the American institutions responsible for students in Egypt. The severity of the situation encouraged The American Councils for International Education to step in and help organize the evacuation.
Evacuation efforts were met with difficulty as all cell phone and internet service was shut down in Egypt, leaving landline phones as the only available option. With most communication tools obsolete, reaching students became complicated. Parents of American students were forced to trust in the efforts of the universities and the American Councils for International Education for the safe return of their children.
The American Councils managed to arrange emergency flights for students, forcing many to leave personal belongings behind. Students were flown to Greece, Istanbul, Switzerland, etc, before securing seats on flights back to the United States. The surplus of foreign travelers attempting to fly out of Egypt created long waits and the airport, and confusing flight connections all over Europe. While students were relieved to escape safely, many were disappointed that their programs were forced to end early.
The crisis in Egypt is a situation that many universities had not previously dealt with. Emergency student evacuation from a foreign country is an unsettling task and a learning experience for study abroad program coordinators. Fortunately, the cooperative efforts of universities and the American Councils resulted in the safe return of American college students.