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Orientation

So far I’m pretty happy with what I’ve found at AUC.  The campus is brand new and is surprisingly impressive.  It has all the amenities I grew accustomed to at UVA and then some.  My favorite part of the campus so far is the outdoor Olympic sized pool that has been calling to me since I first saw it a few days ago.  Academically, I knew going in to this whole thing that no matter how good of a school AUC was, or was supposed to be, the mere fact that it was an Egyptian school would lead to a degree of disorganization that wouldn’t be on par with life at UVA, but which is simply how things are done here.  So far I haven’t been proven wrong.

One thing about the Arab world that I’ve noticed during my experiences in the Middle East is that there is both more and less bureaucracy here than back at home. In this, I’m referring specifically to Egypt at the moment.  In some cases, such as at graduate orientation, there are more papers to sign and loops to jump through than at home, yet most people simply ignore them.  In other cases, such as trying to complete my degree in 18 months rather than 2 years, there is less paperwork and fewer structured processes than we’d have at home for something similar, yet absolutely everyone follows them all to the letter.  Exceptions aren’t really considered a possibility, at least not at first.  It’s pretty entertaining to sit back and watch it all, comparing it to how things work at home.

There are some things I definitely wish we could learn from them, such as in the first distinction above that not everything has to be done a certain way just because some sort of authority told you so.  That said, the authorities which are listened to and obeyed here, such as the police (shourta), are obeyed as though the power of God himself was behind them.  That makes sense given the official State of Emergency the country has been under since Mubarak took over the Presidency after Sadat’s assassination in the early 80’s, but it gets painful following and watching others follow some of these regulations so rigidly.  I wish they could find a slightly better mix of the two.

Orientation, however, was actually a pretty good blend of the two.  The general information session was a little disorganized, with some people leaving early and others arriving late, but it got all the necessary points across.  Class registration was more of the later distinction, with all the second year students and faculty telling us what we could and couldn’t and shouldn’t and shouldn’t do.  That grew old quickly, and in the end I’ve pretty much just decided to do my own thing as I see fit.  AUC is a good school, and when it comes to studying the Middle East I don’t think there’s a better, more comprehensive place to do it in the world.  That said, everyone I’ve talked to has prepared me to realize that it’s not UVA.  There are a ton of great professors and a number of ones who aren’t so great.  Getting the most out of my time here is going to require a good bit of research and dedication to getting into and taking the right classes, with the right professors.  Luckily for me, a professor of mine at UVA who is affiliated with AUC gave me some great advice before I left, so I think I’m in a pretty good position so far.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to take Arabic at school.  Since I have to pay by the credit it would cost me almost $3000 just to take one class there.  Instead, I’m going to take it at the International Language Institute in Mohandiseen for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, at a rate of $400 a month.  That consists of about more 5 hours a week of classroom time, half the price, and what is widely acknowledged as a much better Arabic program than what I would get at AUC.  It also frees me up take another class towards my masters each semester since grad classes are in the evenings (typically 5-8 once a week) and the ILI stuff is during the day, 11:30 – 2:30.  This semester, the classes that I’m looking to take are: Politics 535, Politics of the Modern Middle East; Law 505, Islamic Law Reform; and, MEST 569, my required Middle East Studies seminar.  I’m excited about all of them and am looking forward to getting started with them on Sunday.

That’s it for my update on orientation.  Thanks for reading and look for more from me soon!

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