Jack Mountjoy ’09
Jack Mountjoy ’09, an economics and politics major and a music minor, studied at The American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Nothing beats taking interesting classes about the Middle East while actually living in the Middle East. I was able to learn a year's worth of Arabic (both Modern Standard and Egyptian Colloquial) in just a semester with great teachers and constant practice outside of the classroom. I also learned an immense amount about the notoriously complex politics, economics, and history of the region from both prominent scholars and ranting cab drivers. Every second of just being in Egypt and the Middle East afforded an amazing opportunity to learn about the region, the world, and myself.
Cairo is not the easiest place in the world to live. The constant noise, pollution, traffic, crowds, heat, and inefficiency can be overwhelming. The water can make you sick; the bureaucracy can seem insurmountable; and the salesmen can sure be incessant. But that's all part of the fun. It took me a little while to get used to these things, but I actually had a tough time saying goodbye to them at the end of the semester.
I lived in AUC's main dormitory on the island of Zamalek (in the middle of the Nile, about ten minutes from downtown Cairo). The dorm is in a relatively upscale cosmopolitan neighborhood, surrounded by embassies, restaurants, and private schools. The rooms are spacious and clean, and the dorm has a decent dining hall, a nice courtyard, and plenty of facilities.
I didn't take up a formal internship or volunteer experience - instead I devoted most of my free time to exploring Cairo and traveling all around the region. But study abroad students at AUC have all kinds of such opportunities, including teaching English to refugees and working on projects in destitute urban neighborhoods.
Whatever fears or preconceptions you might have about living and traveling in the Middle East, you'll most likely put them aside immediately if you decide to study abroad at AUC. I found the people of the region to be incredibly hospitable, warm, and just plain fun. Travelers are celebrated, and nearly everyone I met was quick to separate the American people from American foreign policies in the Middle East. My advice is to travel as much as possible (even if it's just around Cairo) and strike up a conversation with someone everywhere you go. It's quite the education.