wo days after the uprising in Egypt began, Simi Valley native Geoffrey Cloepfil got on a plane in Los Angeles and took off for Cairo, where he was enrolled in a study abroad program.
"Everybody said I was crazy, but classes were presumably starting," said Cloepfil, a senior linguistics major at UC Santa Barbara. "Classes are classes. Everything was still safe at that point."
Though he had expected to begin school, the college student arrived to find himself in the middle of a revolution. Cloepfil, 22, was one of 19 University of California students in Egypt during the uprisings, experiencing firsthand the protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak stepped down Friday, more than two weeks after the uprisings began.
During his time in Cairo, Cloepfil said he was determined to see the streets. On Jan. 29, he and several of his friends from the American University in Cairo walked to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that was being broadcast on televisions around the world.
"You could still smell the tear gas in the air, tanks were everywhere," Cloepfil said. "I went to a friend's hotel room, which was 11 stories up, and just could see people as far as I could going along one of the streets."
During the uprising, Mubarak's state police disappeared from the streets, leaving Cairo unguarded. Cloepfil heard reports that looters were in the city, and while walking home he came across groups of men armed with baseball bats and planks. But they were wearing suits and did not look like looters.
Cloepfil said these residents had formed "vigilante groups to protect the streets." In Zamalek, an island district in the Nile River where UC students live, a neighborhood watch issued white armbands to locals so they could identify themselves at checkpoints run by citizens.
"On every street there was at least one checkpoint," Cloepfil said. "Honestly, it felt more secure with those people those couple nights than it did with the police."
Despite the turmoil, Cloepfil said some businesses were still open in his neighborhood, including a few restaurants and shops. There were few people in the streets, however, and the Internet and SMS messaging had been shut off by the state.
By Jan. 31, a security firm hired by the university sent vans to pick up the UC students and took them to a safe house. From there, students were evacuated on a chartered plane to Barcelona, Spain.
UC Santa Barbara Professor Juan Campo said the school has contingency plans for its students abroad, hiring firms to help coordinate student safety. Students were told to take only one suitcase as they evacuated.
"The first concern was to make sure that they were safe and secure, and that they could easily be transported from their various residences in the city of Cairo out to the airport," Campo said.
Five of the students attend UC Santa Barbara, but at this point they will not be returning to finish the year. Though their abroad programs were cut short, the university is now arranging for students to spend the rest of their semester at schools in Israel, Germany, and South Korea.
Despite the potential danger in Egypt, Cloepfil insists he did not want to evacuate the country.
"I wanted to experience it; I was there in the middle of all this. I'm not going to hide in my dorm room, and I'm really glad that I didn't."