CAIRO: After graduating high school from her hometown of Quito, Ecuador, Janan Delgado moved to Cairo to study Arabic. From her adolescence, Janan knew she was different because of her religious background.
“I started out as the only veiled girl in school to being surrounded by practicing Muslims. The first Muslim settlers in Ecuador were primarily Arabs who immigrated from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Egypt. Delgado is part of the less than one percent Sunni Muslim minority of Arabs whose settlements were concentrated in Quito.
My grandfather on my mother s side helped bring Islam to Ecuador, I belong to that family and it makes me proud. Speaking as an Ecuadorian Muslim, I can say I have a strong sense of purpose by being in Egypt. Delgado matriculated at Al-Azhar University in 2002, attended class with poor East Africans, devout Muslims of the Egyptian lower class and Europeans studying on scholarships who had an interest in Islam. Going to Al-Azhar was like no other. I didn t have much of a social life because I was very much overwhelmed with the new life I had been living – it came with a lot of baggage. She paused for a few seconds. A gust of wind blew through the campus, cooling the early summer air, infusing her disposition with a sense of reassurance as she recalled her decision to study at AUC. I don t regret starting my life in Egypt at Al-Azhar. It brought me to the American University in Cairo, she said, seated in a dimly lit corner of AUC s Greek campus. From her corner view, she observed a scene of AUC students scurrying about. Any momentary glance would catch “the wealthiest and highest achieving elements of Egyptian society, wrote Kerry McIntosh in an article for Georgetown University’s college newspaper, The Hoya. As the daughter of an upper-middle class Ecuadorian family, it took some time for Delgado to adjust to what most students would agree is the ostentatious AUC student body. Delgado flipped between Arabic and English as she reminisced on her life at Al-Azhar. Especially because my experience studying at Al-Azhar meant living in a poor suburb of Cairo with a poor family, this was nothing in comparison to AUC, where there is so much display of wealth. Most AUC students finish their school day with a family driver waiting to pick them up. Coming home also means having a warm meal prepared by housemaids. I bought milk in plastic bags, I paid 25 piasters to get to school on public transportation, and during the summertime, there was no air conditioning. I thought this was Egypt. After completing nine intermediate levels of Arabic in one year at Al-Azhar and Fajr Arabic Language Institute, Delgado and her parents thought it best to take her studies more seriously, but elsewhere. AUC provided that track for her. With her acceptance in 2003, Delgado moved to Maadi, socially transforming her life once more.
As a political science major, Delgado s college experience started with applying the knowledge she learned from her first year in Egypt. She especially enjoys the satisfaction that comes from the need to question, and seeing how one question may lead to another. With plenty of opportunity to get that kind of satisfaction at AUC, Delgado broadened her overall university experience in research work and leadership roles in participating in several Model United Nation (MUN) and Arab League (MAL) simulations.
Getting involved with MUN and MAL made me acquire valuable skills and led me to awareness of international affairs. Graduating with a 3.9 GPA, Delgado hopes for a spot in an Ivy League university. Columbia and Stanford were listed among her top choices. Now I m graduating this June and I can look forward to bigger things. I have found my niche in academia and I believe a Ph.D. would be most suitable at this point in my life.
Delgado recently published a research essay analyzing the views and perceptions elite students have on Egypt’s current political situation.
Fellow classmate of Delgado, Mahmoud Farag has always loved school and shares the same passion Delgado has for her studies, but he hit a rough patch that prolonged his college career. I scored 97 percent on my thanawiya amma [high school] exams. However, I entered AUC and wasn t so used to the American style of teaching. So my grades dropped. After a year at AUC, Farag was put on academic probation which ultimately led him to transfer to the Modern Science Academy (MSA) of Dokki, a university in Egypt with a reputation for being less rigorous than AUC. At MSA, I didn t find intellectual stimulation. It was like high school all over again, and after being exposed to a more challenging system of education, I longed to continue my studies at AUC. Farag used that motivation to spend as little time as possible at MSA. After redeeming his GPA, he was re-admitted.
Egyptian education has long been characterized by classrooms filled with neat rows of students, their attention riveted to a blackboard at which a teacher lectures without pause. Questions are discouraged, and state-formulated exams represent the only method for testing knowledge.
A 2002 report by the ruling National Democratic Party documented poor teacher qualifications, disregard for student activities, and evaluation methods which only tested students’ ability to memorize.
I didn t think I d have to depend so much on my thinking skills, high school did not prepare me for such a routine, said Farag. I much prefer the American way of teaching, I actually learn. Now 25, he is making up for lost time, taking five classes a quarter and earning a grade- point average that has drastically changed towards the good marks he s been used to scoring. Like a fish takes to water, Farag took to American style education with interest rare among his peers. Having recently published his research essay entitled “Politics of Egypt: Consolidation of Control or Political Reform, Farag wishes to continue research on political reform in Egypt. He also hopes to be a well esteemed Arab thinker who can comment professionally on matters dealing with Egyptian government and politics. Farag s willingness to dive into a controversial topic for his research project is an indication of the spirited enthusiasm he brings to university. We need to see change in Egypt, but first it s important that the Egyptian people start understanding why.
Farag s path to AUC was far from smooth, but his focus and determination kept him moving toward his goal. He has benefited from many of the resources available to students. At AUC, one of the biggest surprises Farag had was discovering the availability of faculty and staff. Based on my experience in high school, teachers don t really offer a lending hand, but at AUC, they do, said Farag. “Professors are receptive and responsive, graduate students have been generous with their time, he added. Now, both graduating seniors at AUC, Delgado and Farag represent model AUC students who know a thing or two about taking interest in their college education.