Four students evacuated from studies abroad

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Recent political unrest in Egypt has prompted UT officials to bring several students studying abroad there back to Austin. The evacuation process for the four UT students studying in Egypt started Jan. 25, when the University learned about the protests, said Robin Garrow, assistant vice president for public affairs. Jordan Bellquist, an Arabic language and literature senior, studied in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, with the year-long federally funded Arabic Flagship Program. She arrived in Austin on Tuesday morning, after the federal government ordered all students enrolled in the program in Egypt to return to the United States. “I was really mad when we got home,” Bellquist said. “We didn’t have a choice if we could come back or not.” Bellquist was in Egypt since June of last year and scheduled to remain there until May. When some parents heard about the protests on the news, they called the program’s coordinators and demanded they take the students out of Egypt, she said. Even her Egyptian host family kept Bellquist strictly indoors. “We saw the protestors and everyone encouraged Americans to stay out of it because [the United States] is really supportive of the ruler, [so] the situation is a danger for them as well,” Bellquist said. The Center for Arabic Study Abroad program, a national initiative housed at UT, currently sponsors 26 students in Cairo. Some are studying at the American University in Cairo on the Tahrir campus, where much of the protests have occurred, said Martha Schulte-Nafeh, the center’s director. Schulte-Nafeh said the center has not taken their students out of Cairo, but has instructed them to stay in their homes, store plenty of food and water and keep their cell phones on. Of the 26 students in Cairo, only one chose to go to a safe haven in Turkey, while the others chose to stay. Christopher Rose is an outreach director for UT’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He has led various study abroad trips with students and local public school teachers for the last 15 years. During his trips, Rose said he saw political apathy in the Egyptian people, who seemed to give up hope that the government was going to be responsive to their needs. “Domestic rebellion in the state is unprecedented for the people of Egypt,” Rose said. Rose said he never hid his American nationality during his multiple trips to Egypt. He was in Cairo during the U.S.-led 2003 bombing of Baghdad, and he felt safe, he said. “If I told them I was American, they had an opinion they wanted to share with me,” Rose said. “[But] I feel safer on the streets of Cairo than in New York. There’s petty crime [in Cairo], but violent crime is very, very rare.” Both Bellquist and Rose hope to return to Egypt in the coming weeks. Bellquist wants to finish her study abroad experience, while Rose is expected to take a group there during spring break with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Neither Flagship nor UT have come to a decision about whether travel to Egypt is an option in the immediate future. “I’m staying really positive,” Bellquist said. “We’ve all made so many good friends there and there are so many people we love. After President [Hosni] Mubarak comes out to make his speech, we’ll have a better idea.” The Egyptian president announced on state television Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in the next presidential election, which is scheduled for September.