After what was supposed to be a lesson in broadening their horizons, a group of University of Delaware students studying abroad in Egypt are just glad to be back home.
Stephanie Countess, one of those taking part in the university's study abroad program, ended up with a frightening front row seat on historic times in Egyptian history. "I can't even express how much it was unexpected," says Countess.
Countess said the only real source of information on the protests were televised news reports in Arabic. She said it made it difficult to understand where things were getting violent. "You see these terrifying images, and you really have no idea where they are, or what exactly is going on. At that point, the Internet had been shut down, mobile phones, landlines went down too," she said.
At one point, she said, demonstrators gathered in the street outside her hotel in the middle of the night. "You just hear people chanting outside, you hear screaming and banging drums, and everyone was basically collecting outside the city," she said.
Twenty-two students and two faculty members were supposed to be in the country through Thursday. University officials made the decision late last week to bring the students home early. It was far from an easy process.
Lesa Griffiths, associate provost for international programs, said the breakdown in communications in Egypt made coordinating the group's return difficult. "There was virtually no Internet connection. They said landlines worked, but we found that wasn't necessarily true," she said. "Our best mode of communication was through American cell phones, and the students were pretty good about getting text messages out."
Griffiths said the university averages about 1,200 to 1,400 study-abroad students per session. While they've had to coordinate medical evacuations for students before, she said this was the first time that political upheaval forced students from a country. "What they've said is that they were part of an amazing opportunity to witness history," she said.