Actually, the three Messiah students studying in Egypt this semester have been moved to Turkey where they will continue their program. Tara Breitsprecher, a junior social work major, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News what it was like to live through the start of a revolution:
From the balcony of her apartment along a Cairo side street, Messiah College junior Tara Breitsprecher watched the neighborhood she was temporarily calling home transform from a teeming marketplace to a seemingly post-apocalyptic outpost.
“It looked like a ghost town,” the 20-year-old social work student said during an online chat Wednesday.
Gone were the crowds that had packed the street for the first two weeks Breitsprecher and close to 30 other college students had been in town for a study abroad program.
“It was hard to even move around,” the native of the Hartford, Conn., area said, recalling the day-to-day scene before violence and massive anti-government protests swept through downtown Cairo, across the city from where she was staying. “There were so many people outside.”
The men conversing and smoking hookahs at street-side coffee shops, the donkey-pulled carts carrying fruits and vegetables, the bustling lines at corner fast-food joints, the men, women and children shopping — all had vanished.
In their place were small groups of men, walking through the streets to be on the lookout for looters or thieves.
Breitsprecher, two other students from Messiah College in Upper Allen Twp. and their class of students from different colleges landed safely in Turkey on Tuesday after evacuating Egypt. Students studying in the country have been leaving this week after the U.S. Department of State’s recommendation against traveling to Egypt last week and its order Tuesday for all nonessential U.S. government employees to evacuate.
Two students from Dickinson College in Carlisle are back home after leaving Egypt on Monday. Four Penn State
Breitsprecher signed up for the semester abroad to get a first-hand look at Middle Eastern culture, which, she said, is often misunderstood in American media.
“I think that too often the Middle East is seen for its issues rather than its culture and history,” she said.
Officials with Messiah College’s study-abroad office said students in the program spend 11 weeks in Egypt followed by a four-week tour through Turkey and Syria. The aim is to be immersed in Middle Eastern culture, learn some Arabic and get a closer understanding of tensions in the area.
Breitsprecher described her first two weeks as “unbelievable.” The group made trips to the pyramids and saw most of Cairo by bus.
“I still don’t think the magnitude of what we saw has even hit me yet,” she said. “It was so amazing to see such a modern city built within an ancient civilization.”
Western influences and developed Cairo were set against a backdrop of the ancient buildings and pyramids.
“Cairo was like any other major city in the United States,” Breitsprecher said. “And I definitely was not expecting to find Pizza Hut and KFC mixed in with local foods and markets.”
When the protests started last week, there didn’t seem to be major concern among locals or the study-abroad program staff.
“The staff had warned us that some protests were being talked about on Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “But no one was expecting the amount of people that showed up.”
“On Tuesday people continued as usual. No one seemed to really pay much attention. I had been out in a different part of Cairo that evening with four other students and had some trouble returning home that night because, eventually, many of the major roads were closed due to the protests.”
The next day, most of the group left for a trip to southern Egypt that was returning Saturday. Breitsprecher and another student came down with a case of food poisoning and stayed in Cairo with some staff members.
Breitsprecher watched the street from her balcony. It was business as usual at first.
“You honestly would have never known that there were even protests unless you happened to be in downtown Cairo, around Tahrir Square,” she said.
But as the week continued, crowds in the streets thinned. When demonstrations reached the tipping point Friday, the streets cleared.
Breitsprecher said she was starting to get antsy. She only left the apartment three times after the demonstrations started — to get to the class building. The program staff brought most of what she needed to the apartment.
She didn’t feel threatened, she said, because there didn’t appear to be a lot of anti-American sentiment in the protests, but the scene was a bit unnerving.
“Cairo is very loud,” she said. “There are always loud noises and people screaming — in a language I did not understand — so after watching the news all day the noises began to get me worried.”
Sunday, the group decided to move on to the next leg of its trip. They bought tickets for a flight to Turkey on Tuesday afternoon but weren’t sure whether the flight would leave. They packed food and water for a multiple-day stay at the airport but the flight went surprisingly smooth.
Breitsprecher said she hopes to make a trip back, once things settle.
“I think it’s so interesting how much the history of the Middle East has shaped the region,” she said. “I would love to learn more about it.” students also left Monday.
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