Perry Taylor went to Cairo as a SUNY New Paltz exchange student to study history at the American University there.
But after barely two weeks there, he's gone from being a distant student of history to being a witness to it.
Taylor, a 22-year-old senior who grew up in Harlem, returned to SUNY New Paltz earlier this week, bringing with him more stories than he or any one else ever expected to find in the ancient city that has held the world's attention since massive, anti-government demonstrations began there in late January.
Taylor remembered that after a few days of orientation at the American University at Cairo, he and some fellow students toured a peaceful Tahrir Square on Jan 26.
But something wasn't quite right. Why had the university hired so many armed guards to accompany the students?
The next day, he noticed more disquieting events.
People at the square were quietly being herded into green, boxcar-like buildings with only a single visible window.
It made him wonder.
Then, the next day, "It all came down."
Like everyone else in the world, Taylor was unprepared for the political and social tsunami that engulfed Egypt in ensuing days.
He was struck by the speed of events: "From Thursday evening, there were maybe six or seven thousand people in the square. By Friday morning, at least 50,000."
The protesters weren't all men or all students: "There were the oldest of the old and mothers with very young kids."
Confined to the campus on the edge of the city, Taylor talked to "ordinary people" who worked there — janitors, people at the food stalls — and the mostly middle- and upper-class college students.
He found the uprising "was not a class issue. It was a society issue."
He saw the stereotypes sometimes presented to him of the Egyptian people — they were described to him as being "passive" — dissolve before his eyes.
And though he was personally distraught at the deaths that were reported, he began to see, as a historian might, that "a few lives would have to be taken for change to ever come about."
He didn't feel personally threatened until he was on a bus to the airport on Tuesday.
There were military checkpoints. He saw rooftop snipers. Chaos awaited him at the airport.
He left Egypt with a perspective he never expected to have.
"I was there. It's a part of me now."
And, he later added, "That's a good thing."