CAIRO: When the protests erupted here in January, the American University in Cairo — traditionally a hub for international students looking to study in the Middle East — saw the number of international students in its spring class dwindle by 86 percent.
Among a class of approximately 250 international students, all but 35 left Cairo for the semester on security concerns. At the time, the United States Department of State recommended US citizens, who make up a large portion of AUC’s international students, avoid travel to Egypt and warned that citizens in Egypt “should consider leaving as soon as they can safely do so.”
Nearly six months since the onset of the protests, the university is still facing an international student community that is reluctant to commit to Cairo. A total of 30 international students are at AUC this summer, fewer than half the usual number of students AUC draws for its popular Arabic language classes and other summer courses.
“We are trying to encourage more students to come,” said Randa Effat, director of international advising at AUC.
The university expects about half the number of international students in the fall compared with previous years.
“Mostly I think the case is that students have already made up their positions of what they’re going to do in the fall and it’s too late to change,” Effat said. “We’re more hopeful that things will normalize in the spring.”
The State Department reduced its warning to a lesser “travel alert” in late April. But in addition to remnant unease among students and parents about traveling to the region, safety and liability concerns have left universities hesitant to fund or offer credit to students traveling to Egypt.
“Even though it’s a travel alert, a lot of universities are not comfortable sending their students yet,” Effat said.
Not all international programs in Cairo are facing the same dearth of students. The Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA), a highly competitive language program based in Cairo and Damascus, canceled courses at its campus in Damscus. But CASA is hosting 47 full-time students at its AUC-affiliated Cairo program for one year of intensive Arabic that began last month.
“For the coming 12 months, CASA is witnessing the second to the highest enrollment in its history,” Zeinab Taha, assistant professor at AUC and co-director of the CASA program, wrote in an email.
Taha, who is also the director of AUC’s Arabic Language Institute, wrote that due “to our extra care for our students who were here during the revolution,” AUC has managed to draw a substantial number of students to ALI. This summer, 67 students are studying intensive Arabic at ALI, which is considered separately from AUC’s general course offerings to international students.
For those international students who are studying at AUC this summer, their programs remain relatively unchanged, Effat said. Most AUC summer courses are attended by local and international students, so attendance numbers in classes are not drastically different.
Effat said the university is offering fewer levels in Arabic-language studies given the drop in demand, but it is also making exceptions to provide classes with as few as two students.
She said that supervisors have advised students to take added precautions and stay away from crowds.
“We advise them to be cautious,” she said. But the school has not placed restrictions on international students’ mobility. “They’re adults. They have to act responsibly,” Effat said.
“I personally encourage students to come to Cairo at this point in time because there is so much to experience and so much on the political front. It is for any student a real lifetime chance to come and experience it,” she said.
“This is the best time to come and study Egyptian politics,” said AUC summer student Ellen Duthoy, who is in Cairo this summer from the University of Virginia.
She said she has felt safe living in Zamalek and that she has also been willing to travel the city.
Even after the violent protests that erupted in Tahrir Square last month, she said she and her friends felt comfortable going to an Ahly soccer match.
“Everyone told us not to go, but we went anyway,” said Tabina Chuk, a student from the University of Arizona who is studying Arabic and economics this summer and will continue at AUC in the fall.
“It was a great game,” Duthoy added.