The Office of International Programs cancelled its fall study abroad program at the American University in Cairo in response to a State Department travel advisory issued Wednesday.
The warning advises all U.S. citizens to defer travel to Egypt until further notice and orders the departure of all non-essential U.S. government personnel from Egypt due to rising unrest after the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
In April, OIP cancelled its summer program in Alexandria, Egypt, intending to continue to offer fall study abroad options in the country. In January 2011, Georgetown students studying abroad at AUC were evacuated following protests against then-president Hosni Mubarak. Study abroad offerings resumed in summer 2011, but Derrik Sweeney (COL '13) was later arrested in November of that year for allegedly taking part in violent protests.
The seven students intending to participate in the fall program were informed of its cancellation Wednesday afternoon and will have the option to study abroad through a Council on International Educational Exchange program in Amann, Jordan or at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.
Director of Overseas Studies Craig Rinker said that he did not expect to have to cancel the fall Cairo program.
"We didn't anticipate it. That's was one of the things we were aware of — the ongoing situation in Egypt — but it was extremely fluid, and as the situation changed, we responded accordingly," Rinker said.
OIP Executive Director Katherine Bellows emphasized that OIP staff monitored the situation in Egypt throughout the week leading up to Morsi's removal.
"We didn't have enough information to determine whether Egypt was going to improve their conditions or worsen their conditions and so obviously, this past week it is pretty clear that things have worsened," Bellows said.
Though deadlines for study abroad programs in both Jordan and Morocco passed months ago, host universities in both countries are working with OIP to find space for students whose plans have been interrupted.
"We are unfortunately experienced in this from the 2011 evacuation. I don't think any of us expected to see quite the same caliber of instability that we saw then in Egypt, but now we are seeing it again," Bellows said.
Less than two months before the scheduled program departure date, most details were already set for study in Cairo.
"Basically everything was in place. My visa application is still in the mail, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out. I had bought a plane ticket, so I'm hoping Lufthansa will allow me to switch flights. I don't know if the trip insurance covers political unrest," Connor Smith (SFS '15) said. "Everything really major had been done; we were just hoping to see the political situation remain stable, and it didn't."
Despite the cancellation of the Alexandria program earlier this year, students intending to study in Egypt this fall did not expect unrest to interfere with their plans.
"I had some concerns, yes, but Alexandria seemed to be a very specific circumstance. It didn't seem to be a nationwide issue," Smith said. "At the time, Cairo seemed a little like a safer bet."
The seven students affected by the cancellation must decide which study abroad alternative, if any, to pursue by Monday. The language of instruction is Arabic in Jordan and English in Morocco, while AUC offered courses in both languages. Fewer course options will be available at both alternative locations, affecting some students' academic plans. Additionally, students will now learn to speak a different dialect of Arabic than they originally expected.
"I picked Egypt because I really did want to speak and learn the Egyptian dialect, but situations like this happen and you just have to be flexible. It doesn't hurt to know some Jordanian or Moroccan Arabic anyway," Rosemary Pritchett-Montavon (SFS '15) said.
OIP administrators have not yet decided whether to offer study abroad options in Egypt this spring but remain optimistic that students will eventually be able to return to the country.
"Our partners in Egypt I think are very eager to have Georgetown students coming back at some point in the future too, so we are going to continue to evaluate the situation on the ground and determine when that time may be," Rinker said.
Students also remain hopeful for both their study abroad plans and the Egyptian people.
"We're all disappointed the Cairo program was cancelled, but all of us on the program have obvious concern and care for the region," Pritchett-Montavon said. "Most of us are reflecting and sending positive thoughts to Egypt's transition and hoping for the best for future of the country."