Universities, some college students expressing hesitation about Egypt study abroad

Laura Donovan Contributor

Egypt may be undergoing a Democratic transformation, but American university students likely won’t travel there for study until the country stabilizes, according to administrators at major American universities.

Rob Mathis, communications officer at Georgetown University, told The Daily Caller that the university is not planning any study abroad programs for Egypt for the summer or fall semesters.

“[A]t this time Georgetown is not planning any study abroad programs in Egypt for the summer or fall,” Mathis told TheDC. “Any students who were planning or hoping to study in Egypt are working with OIP (Office of International Programs) staff to find suitable alternatives that match their academic needs.”

Edward Kaufman, a senior research associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland, told TheDC that the university has yet to determine if it will go forward with the “successful” summer program, “Egypt/Israel: Intercultural Communications and Religious Conflicts in the Middle East,” which he has co-conducted for the past three years.

“For the moment we have announced a postponement of the decision until further notice, hopefully the situation will allow us to continue with our pioneering work,” Kaufman said of the program.

Tufts University sophomore Mark Rafferty has submitted an application to study abroad in Egypt for fall 2011, but said his decision whether to follow through with the program will depend on the country’s political situation.

“I was very optimistic about it until I read a few days ago that they’re postponing elections for six months,” Rafferty told Tufts Daily in a Feb. 16 article.

Tufts sophomore Caitlyn Doucette, who is currently in the process of applying to an Egypt study abroad program, told the Tufts Daily that her comfort in studying abroad would rely upon the university’s decision to continue or discontinue the Egypt program.

“I would feel comfortable if they felt comfortable still having the program,” Doucette said.

Sara E. Dumont, director of study abroad at American University in Washington, D.C., told TheDC that university students are currently expressing both concern and interest in studying in Egypt.

“Students are not expressing undue concern, although they are expressing some,” Dumont told TheDC. “Many students are expressing an increased level of interest in studying abroad in Egypt precisely because of the political changes currently happening.”

Dumont added that American University is presently at the height of their “recruiting season” for students to study abroad in the summer and fall of 2011, so it’s still a bit early to determine the student response to the Egypt situation. Dumont said the department continues to recommend Egypt as a study abroad location, but “with taking reasonable precautions.”

“Some of the organizations with which we partner and that provide other programs in Egypt that closed last month due to the unrest are still considering whether or not to re-open their programs for the summer and fall,” Dumont told TheDC. “We therefore obviously are not seeing any of our students apply for these programs as we normally would.”

American University’s main Egypt partner, the American University of Cairo, is still functioning. Dumont says her department expects Egypt’s circumstances to stabilize over the coming months, so they’re still accepting and processing applications for AUC’s summer and fall programs. Even so, the department encourages students to keep their study abroad options open.

“However, because some uncertainty remains, we are recommending that students consider a second option in another country if this coming summer and fall are the only times they are able to study abroad,” Dumont added. “[A] number of our students are choosing to apply to study abroad in other countries in the MENA [Middle East/North Africa] region first, with Egypt as a second option to consider as things develop.”

Dumont urges students to steer clear of political demonstrations and crowds when studying abroad, and that goes for any location they choose.

“As is standard best practice in study abroad (and recommended by the US Department of State, among others), we always advise students in the strongest possible terms that they should always avoid events with large crowds and/or political demonstrations when abroad, because even when such events are largely peaceful, there is always the risk that the crowd, or the police/security services, or both, could turn violent at any time,” Dumont told TheDC. “This is true in any city in any country, not just the Middle East, including the US I might add, we have plenty such examples here.”

Email Laura Donovan and follow her on Twitter