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Fulbright students describe Egypt experiences

November 03, 2008

ASU has been named one of the top producers of Fulbright Awards for students in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ranking sixth among all public research institutions. Thirteen ASU graduates won grants to study in 11 countries this year, on projects ranging from studying medical practices in Malaysia to analyzing Arabic media in Egypt.

An engineering graduate student is currently examining the development of nanotechnology in Mexico, while a doctoral student in music is going to New Zealand in January to delve into the techniques of Samoan operas. 

Each award winner worked with the ASU Office of National Scholarship Advisement to develop a detailed proposal of study and apply for a specific country. According to Janet Burke, director of the office, ASU students are more successful than most at winning the grants because of strong support from faculty mentors and the university’s emphasis on global studies and foreign languages.

Ian Lee and Cara Steiner Kiggins are both studying in Egypt this year, having graduated recently in journalism and anthropology, respectively. Both are living in Cairo, but in a city of 18 million people, their paths rarely cross.

In email messages and blog comments, both describe the intense traffic in the city, as well as their fascination with Cairo’s complex history.

“There are layers and layers of history everywhere you look,” says Kiggins, “starting with Phaoronic areas with ruins 5,000 years old, Islamic and Coptic period areas built around 1,000-1,500 years ago, buildings influenced by the British and French in the early 1900s, and new areas. 

“I’m pursuing a master’s degree in migration and refugee studies at the American University in Cairo, so I’m often in an outdoor courtyard, a tree-shaded oasis, on the AUC campus in the heart of downtown Cairo. But my working conditions are very, very urban... crowded streets, vendors in every spare space, tall buildings, tons of traffic.

“I’m also teaching a refugee English course on the AUC campus, so I spend my Wednesdays in a classroom with a great group of students from Chad, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Guinea and the Central African Republic. The stories of each individual refugee, the violence and loss that they have survived, never cease to sadden me, and their resilience in the face of such adversity never ceases to inspire me.”

While at ASU, Kiggins was active in Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees, an ASU student-founded organization that evolved into a mature nonprofit. She served as director for a year following graduation.

Lee plans to analyze both Arabic and English press in Cairo, comparing coverage of major historical events over the past 10 years. First, however, he is completing an intensive Arabic program to learn the Cairene dialect, which is different from the Jordanian dialect he had learned.

He wrote about a scare he had recently when a friend, a young American journalist working in Jordan, was kidnapped in Lebanon and taken into Syria for a week, but the young man was returned without injury to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus.

Lee enjoys traveling about the city, often by cab, but he compares driving in Cairo to participating in a demolition derby.

“Every driving law is disregarded,” he says. “Cars do not stay in lanes, follow speed limits or watch for pedestrians. Probably the most dangerous action of all is driving without headlights at night. And some drivers will drive on the wrong side of the highways with their lights off just to avoid traffic congestion.

“Crossing roads here is a lot like the video game, Frogger, where you try to get the frog across the road without getting hit by a car. The tricks I’ve learned are to cross with natives who are crossing the street, look for speed bumps that slow drivers down, and run!”

Lee is eagerly following the American presidential election, and he plans to do some election night blogging at a U.S. embassy election party. His blog is at