With a history that goes back 5000 years and monuments of that history all around, the experience of Egypt is an education in itself. The famous Pyramids that loom just across the Nile were already 600 years old when Abraham made his first trip to Egypt, and over 1300 years old when Moses led the people out of the land. Alexandria, a three hour’s drive north, was the episcopal see of St. Athanasius and Cyril. The first monasteries of the Christian world, like those of St. Anthony’s and St. Macarius’, lie within two hours. The medieval walls of Fustat, the capital of the Islamic period, now Old Cairo, are only a half hour’s walk west of the seminary. The cathedral of St. Mark, current seat of the 2000-year-old Coptic Church in Egypt, lies 15 minutes to the north.If there were no classes at all, the graduate student at ETSC would be enriched by the cultural heritage that lies nearby.
Egypt is new and old, fast and slow, rich and poor, modern and traditional. Glass-walled highrises share city blocks with nineteenth-century villas, 100 kph freeways cross camel paths, business people with fine suits and ties pass homeless ones who have set up their beds on the sidewalks, and shiny Mercedes make way for donkey-pulled fruit carts on the streets. These streets are safer than those of many an American city, and the evenings offer a carnival atmosphere as hundred-meter strings of colored lights direct you to new botiques and wandering cotton-candy sellers compete with mobile nut-and-seed ovens, whose wares are available for your pocket change. Egyptians seem pleased to have foreigners in their midst, and the most common expression new-comers will hear is a friendly, “Welcome to Egypt!”
Egyptian politics has been international news since the January 25, 2011, revolution. There is no more dramatic place to live than this one, where a whole nation is feeling its way towards an Egyptian brand of democracy in the midst of competing religious and political forces. Disturbances tend to be localized in Tahrir Square, the area of the presidential palace, and sometimes around court houses and police stations. Since Egyptian politics is not an area in which foreigners are expected to participate, there is no reason for international students to be in places of danger, and day-to-day life for them is quite peaceful.