Upon meeting Elizabeth Barber, a senior international relations and English major, one might not guess she has seen more than the average Geneseo student.
But in truth, she has witnessed a revolution and exchanged words with Egyptian protesters. Even if you had the chance to grill Barber about her experience in Egypt, you might not realize that it is just the beginning of Barber's career in writing about the Middle East.
What most of us followed from living room couches and online news reports, Barber had the chance to experience firsthand when she embarked on what she expected to be an eight month trip to Egypt through SUNY Cortland's study abroad program last semester. Barber was just beginning her new student orientation at the American University of Cairo when things took a dramatic turn.
On Jan. 25, 2011, just three days after her arrival, the Egyptian people began protesting and called for an end to the 29-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Soon after, Internet was shut off, phone service disconnected and a curfew set for civilians from 3 p.m. – 8 a.m.
"No one really anticipated that the protests would emerge to something as significant as the Egyptian revolution," Barber said. "Protests are fairly common in Egypt."
As an aspiring foreign correspondent and experienced journalist, Barber's natural curiosity kicked in. Stranded in her dorm during curfew, she talked with her peers at AUC as well as with Egyptian protesters on the streets during a calm period before afternoon prayer.
"I think I learned more about a rapidly changing city," she said. "[The revolution] really encouraged community."
Much to her dismay, Cortland closed its study abroad program just five days before Mubarak resigned due to the unpredictability of the political upheaval in Egypt. Barber was sent back to Geneseo after only a few weeks abroad. She found returning home so early "very disorienting," and she noted feeling "odd" at her sudden campus celebrity.
"Many people knew me who I didn't know," she said.
Barber said her experience "taught [her] a lot about people" and their "good and kind nature." She was treated to a comparable "tremendous sense of community and respect" by the many friends from Geneseo who checked up on her when the turmoil erupted in Egypt, as well by the professors who opened spaces in their classes for Barber when she returned.
Barber's interest in the Middle East developed from foreign correspondents' reports from the region, and she is very passionate about learning more about the region to this day.
"Their stories introduced to me a complex, nuanced region that is yet often destructively misrepresented in the United States and to the idea that journalism is one of many ways of facilitating greater cross-cultural understanding and communication," she said.
Barber spent this past summer reporting in Cambodia and has interned at the Middle East Institute and the Albany Times Union. She said her experience in Egypt gave her the opportunity to release her writing to a larger audience and has subsequently published articles on the subject in the international relations department newsletter and the Times Union.
After graduation, Barber said she hopes to move to the Middle East. She would like to return to Egypt, but she professed, "There is nowhere that wouldn't fascinate me. There's a story in every country."