UAB Student Studies in Middle East

By on August 30, 2009

Most people would expect UAB senior Cameron White to complete a two month study abroad program in London, Paris, Florence, or some other cliché, yet brilliant European city rich in history, gift shops and tourists.  However, Cameron chose to live in the Middle East, a place filled with just as much history but not nearly as susceptible to tourists.

At UAB, Cameron is majoring in Accounting and Financing with minors in Arabic and Economics and Quantitative Methods. In Egypt, Cameron spent his time at the Arabic Language Institute in the American University in Cairo (AUC) studying Modern Standard Arabic, Egyptian Dialect, and Arabic News Media. 

“I’m a student of the Arabic language, intent on being fluent eventually, so when an opportunity presents itself to help me increase my proficiency in the language and learn more about the cultures of the Middle East, I take it. 

Although Cameron once lived in Tunisia, another Arab country, he was, admittedly, ill prepared for his experience in Egypt. “The metropolis of Cairo and its massive crowds are a far cry from the laid-back streets of Tunis.  However, I was surprised that despite being a large cosmopolitan hub, the culture of Egypt is far more conservative than that of Tunisia.” 

White stands in front of King Tut's tomb in Egypt.

White stands in front of King Tut's tomb in Egypt.

 

Many would expect nothing less than a culture shock for an American entering the Middle East. And although Cameron experienced several usual, yet unexpected, linguistic and cultural challenges, he did not consider the environment hostile- just different.  “I never felt unsafe in Egypt. There are plenty of tourist police, who are there to keep you from getting hassled by merchants. But they’re also pretty nice and give pretty good directions when you lose your way… You say ‘Good Morning,’ or Sabah al-kheir and they respond, ‘Morning of roses and may the blessings of God be upon you.’  That’s hard to beat. “

So, how did Cameron’s family react to their son spending two months in an area surrounded by political turmoil? “When I was in the planning phase of my study abroad, there was a terrorist attack in Cairo in which a bomb blast killed a tourist. They were naturally concerned that I might be going into a dangerous situation, but you try to put these things into perspective. Yes, the attack was terrible, but that’s not indicative of the entire country. I mean, when someone is murdered in California, I don’t panic and get on the next flight to Canada. So then I couldn’t write-off Egypt just because of one isolated incident… rampant violence and terrorism [is not] the status quo.”

In its entirety, White feels his studies at UAB and his experiences in Egypt have affected his life positively. Studying Arabic and experiencing the language and its culture abroad have not only opened new job opportunities for him, but have also allowed him to see parts of the world that many on the outside unnecessarily judge.  “Sure, studying in Spain, France, or Great Britain, would be nice, but there’s just something about living in the desert and being under constant ‘adventure conditions’ that appeals to me. That is to say, more risk leads to more return.”

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