One had hopes of improving her Arabic and gaining a keen understanding of the Middle East.
The other was already fluent in Spanish and wanted to try something new.
But after just more than a week in Cairo, sophomore Kelsey Jost-Creegan and junior Virginia Sparks were forced to leave because of political protests that turned Egypt — and their plans — upside down.
After only 10 days of her four-month program had passed, Jost- Creegan left Egypt, headed back home to Boston.
Her classes at American University in Cairo had not even begun.
When she returned to Boston, she and her family began to look for alternative plans. Since beginning classes at UNC was no longer an option, Jost-Creegan decided to spend the semester in Paris. She said she already works with a number of refugee aid organizations, and was planning to take French in the next year or two.
"I speak Spanish," she said. "But a lot of refugee work means French.
"Things are definitely not going according to plan, but I'm still pursuing the same academics that I was already hoping to pursue, just kind of in a different order."
Sparks came home with the help of the University's study abroad office and the State Department. An Asian studies major with a concentration in Arab cultures, she was intending to study Arabic in Cairo.
With her knowledge of the language, it was easy to add Arabic classes at UNC upon her return.
"Luckily they're actually going to let me take classes this semester to keep me from getting off track for graduation," she said. "My professors know the situation, and they've been really understanding."
As Arab cultures are her area of interest, losing the opportunity to live and learn in Cairo has been disappointing, she said.
"I'm definitely going to go back at some point in my life," she said. "I don't want to go for a summer program. If I go, I want to go for a while. I'm really hoping to go after I graduate, maybe for a year."
However, Sparks said her 11-day immersion had a bigger impact than one might expect.
"Originally my goals were to be some kind of language analyst or interpreter," she said. "After this experience I've become more interested in working for the State Department."
Both girls said they were bothered by the sensationalist media coverage of the protests and insist the protesters were peaceable. But the University is still wary of the region's stability in the near future.
Study abroad programs in the Middle East and North Africa may be suspended, said Bob Miles, the associate dean for study abroad and international exchanges.
But the students who were in Cairo when the protests began said they are thrilled with the progress.
Sparks said what began as a small protest could lead to regional and even global changes.
"I'm pretty freakin' excited," she said. "I'm so happy to see it spreading. I mean, that's how Egypt got started, by watching Tunisia. I feel like maybe this is the first step to world peace."