Study Abroad: Senior Theo Wilson explores Cairo, gains perspective

To see images and videos of the revolution happening in Egypt since January is sensational. To see it first-hand as an outsider, however, is much more remarkable.

Senior Theo Wilson spent this past summer studying among the Cairenes, learning their language and experiencing their history.

Wilson took classes at The International Language Institute-Cairo, studying Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (Ameya) and Modern Standard Arabic (Foss-ha) with students from countries spanning the globe.

It may have seemed like a risky move, considering the travel warning for Egypt that ended in late April, but it paid off. Wilson arrived in Egypt and saw the things that had not made the news in America. He began to gain a more complete picture of the media-dubbed "war zones" of Cairo and Alexandria.

"There was a gunman on every corner, and I mean every corner, maybe two closer to the embassies, but that was really the only visible cue that something was going on," Wilson said. "I felt just as comfortable in downtown Cairo at any time of day as I would in Manhattan or Chicago."

Even easier, Wilson said, was the reception from Egyptian civilians. Egyptian students befriended him and fellow classmates very quickly. He was even invited to share in Iftar, the fast-breaking meal that compensates a daytime abstinence from food, drink, sex and smoking, at a family's home.

Wilson said that things were calm in the city except for some fairly isolated demonstrations.

The demonstrations, Wilson said, "didn't involve everyone in the city." "[The Egyptians] were a very peaceful people," he added. "They would always ask our opinions on the Revolution. They wanted to know what we thought of what they had accomplished."

The discussions crept into his school atmosphere. "Some [professors] talked about it more than others," Wilson said. "One teacher said he believed things would be easier if [Mubarak] was just killed. Basically they were reaping the benefits of the protestors, but didn't want things to go as far as they were."

Wilson said classes were canceled on the first day of Mubarak's Cairo trial and he watched the television alongside his professors as the fourth Egyptian president was carried on a stretcher into the courtroom only a few blocks away.

"[Mubarak] was the only political leader some of them had ever known," Wilson said. "He had built up Cairo, changed the infrastructure, built the airport; he did some very good things in his time. And they were watching him lose it on national television."

Wilson noted that although he was only six miles away when the Egyptian armed forces marched into Tahrir Square on the first night of Ramadan, there was still homework and dormitory life and the novelty of international friendships.

"I came up from the subway into the square the next day and there were tanks all over the streets and armed guards everywhere," Wilson said. "But you know what? If you walked two blocks in any direction, suddenly it was as if nothing was going on. There was no military presence. No groups of protestors."

Wilson said that he is "absolutely" planning on returning to Egypt. "Next fall is the plan. A big problem is the perception that people have on the situation over there, and it's generally negative, so they use a lot of caution. Just go there and make a decision for yourself."