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Preparing for Take Off

Guest Blogger: Ashley Luer

Whether going abroad to study, intern, or volunteer, it is always helpful to have a few goals in mind to help keep you focused during your time abroad. It also goes without saying that preparation now for what life will be like during the first days of your arrival will help curb the intensity of culture shock that may come sooner rather than later for some. To help put things in perspective, we followed Ashley Luer and her blog “Arabic in the Cornfields” as she prepared for her summer of 2012 in Egypt…

“This blog was originally designed to keep me sane as I began learning Arabic. It morphed into a blog of musings about Arabic, the Middle East, and the Islamic World, as well as book reviews about those topics. Then, the blog became a place to keep my family and friends updated on my adventures while I was living abroad…”

Cairo

Pre-Departure

Departing 5/14/2012 at 1:50 P.M.
I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to pin down some specifics: vaccinations needed, cell phone use in Egypt, and how to do laundry there, among other things.

I have found that the Wiki Travel Egypt and Cairo pages are very useful!

From them, I decided I will bring my dad’s unlocked blackberry to Egypt and buy a SIM card there to use inside of it. The SIM cards only cost about $3, and I feel like that will be the best use of my money. To make calls back home, I’ll plan on using Skype.

I also decided that I will wait and exchange money while I’m in Cairo for the best exchange rates. I’m still not sure how much to change, so I need to look closer at the estimates for food costs and transportation costs. It probably depends on how much sight-seeing I’ll be doing on weekends too. That will cost extra money. The exchange rate is approximately 1:6, so my dollar will go pretty far in Egypt.

I ended up only needing the Typhoid vaccine, thankfully. I’m in the midst of taking it orally, and I’ve felt no adverse effects. It’ll be nice not to have to worry about that while I’m there! I also got a prescription for Cipro to take as needed while I’m there. Apparently it’s extremely common to end up needing something of that strength at some point during a long stay in Egypt.

Other than that, last minute details are coming together… I have an iPod full of new music, a suitcase full of long skirts, and a mind full of anticipation.

I hope to capture my memories on film and share my insights as best I can. However, I find that usually, I do not experience the full benefit of having traveled abroad until about six months after returning home. At that point, I find myself reflecting on small details that I picked-up subconsciously; like the way that solar panels are used on German homes, the way that Swedes encourage travelers to respect nature, and the way that Israelis conserve water. Obviously, my insights are biased, because, if we’re being honest, every insight is (everyone is innately ethnocentric to some degree, but I try to have as open a mind as I possibly can). Among the things I wish to learn about in Egypt: Islamic finance, human rights, sustainable development in the desert setting, and government building. We’ll see what I pick up on. 🙂 If you’re in my classes next semester (especially Wedig’s Governance or my “Global Inequality and Social Change” class, I’m sure that I will have some comments relating to Egypt).

Anyways, enough rambling. It feels a little weird to know that I’ll be posting a link to this for everyone in my life to read. Just so you sort of know what to expect for the next six weeks, here’s what will be on this blog:

• Lots and lots of stories/pictures/videos of little kids. Specifically, the orphans that I will be teaching at Awladi. Indulge me. I love kids, and I am sure that they will teach me more about life in Egypt, and life in general than I can imagine.
• Many political commentaries. I will be in Cairo a week before the Egyptian elections, only the second presidential election with more than one candidate running in Egypt’s history, and the first Egyptian election after the Arab Spring of 2011. I am not super familiar with each candidate at the moment, but I’m sure that I will be by the end of next week. I am quickly trying to catch myself up on Egyptian politics. Why should you care? Egypt has a huge influence on the rest of the Middle East as far as culture. This election will shape Egyptian direction and policy for years and years to come. This, in turn, will impact the broader Middle East, the rest of the world, and, ultimately, you (oil prices, anyone?).
• There will be many mentions of my Illinois travel partner, Sherin. I met her in Arabic class, and she’s awesome. Besides her, there will probably be lots of other people randomly mentioned, as this is a large program, at least with lots of connections. I plan to have a link at the top of the page to a list of people’s names and who they are. I know that names are hard, especially when you look at the names Mahmoud and Muhammad and don’t see much difference.
• I will be gone until June 29th, so you basically have 7 weeks to enjoy following my adventures to and from Egypt!

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