a class of egyptians

I’m sorry for the complete lack of posts- classes have really started up now, so I haven’t had much spare time to update. I also haven’t been sleeping too much. We’ve been traveling into Zamalek, Old Cairo, Al-Rehab, etc. for dinner nightly, and the only choices for a bus back are at 10 PM, 12 AM, or 2AM, so I usually don’t arrive back to campus until at least 11 PM. And I have 8:30 AM class. Every. Day. I don’t understand how everyone does it! There are still students socializing around campus and in the dorms until the early hours of the morning, but somehow I’m the only one who seems to be falling asleep in class. Looks like I’ll have to rediscover the power of naps.

Remember when I recapped my first week of school? Back then, I hadn’t been to my Architecture: Art or Engineering class, which was probably a good thing. I’ve had that class twice now, and it has been the root of about 90% of my frustration. Let me just put it this way: I’m the only non-Middle Eastern, non-Arabic speaking person in the class. On the one hand, I’m glad that it has this ratio just so I can see what it’s like, but I am very thankful that only one of my classes is like this.

First of all, the classes here are supposed to be in English. My architecture professor doesn’t seem to be aware of this. The other students in the class normally speak to each other in a combination of Arabic and English, and will ask questions with Arabic words substituted for the terms they don’t know in English. The professor normally responds using those same Arabic words, so I have absolutely no idea what they’re referring to. He also tends to have entire conversations with other students in the class in Arabic, and only switches over to English when he’s addressing me as well. Most of the Egyptian faculty here throw in the colloquial Egyptian words for “okay” and “good” (haloss and tamem, respectively), and you’ll hear “yaanee” (you know) multiple times in a sentence, but Architecture goes a little overboard.

It’s also the perfect example of the stereotypical Egyptian pace of life and organization, both on the part of my professor, and the students around me. Basically, nobody seems to have any idea what’s going on, ever. During my last session of this class, we sat around for about 45 minutes waiting for someone to bring the professor a remote for the projector. When it finally arrived, we looked at his lecture slides for about 5 minutes, and by then only had about 5 minutes left in class. He suddenly decided to tell us that we needed to track down a house plan and print it out. During assembly period, which is supposed to be an hour-long lunch break. Where could we find a printer? He didn’t know. What exactly are we supposed to print out? “Whatever you like. A plan. Not a blueprint.” Wait, not a blueprint? “Oh yes, blueprint is fine.” Oh, and if we could get tracing paper during the assembly period, that would be great, too. Where? In Zamalek, which is an hour away. It makes no sense!

This also didn’t help the fact that he had already changed our classroom location earlier that day, causing me to wander around the Arts building for 30 minutes before I even got to class. Luckily, I had left for class early enough to make it on time, but most of the other students sauntered in 20 or 30 minutes late. The professor also apparently has field trips planned, but we don’t have exact information as to when, where, or how we’re getting there. Oh, and the syllabus is not the final version, either. I seem to be the only one in the class who is bothered by how vague this all is, which causes me to play into the stereotype of Westerners being demanding and obsessed with time. Needless to say, I’ve quickly become “that American girl”.

After the lunch break this week, once we returned to class with our house plans, the professor had us study the “geometry” of our printouts. Basically, he kind of mentioned that we were supposed to draw random circles, squares, and triangles until we figured out what lines up with what. I actually enjoyed the exercise, once I got over the fact that he had not told us to bring rulers, compasses, pencils, or any other necessary materials to class and was still disappointed that we didn’t have them. I have a feeling I’ll be taking lots of deep breaths throughout the semester.

I now realize this post is basically just me complaining. I promise I’m still having a good time here! …Just not in architecture class. Things like this have definitely been the most frustrating part of the culture shock, so I’m still working my way through them. Other than that, things are going great. My friends and I have been becoming less reliant on Arabic speakers and the RA’s to get around, so we’re slowly exploring the area. This is not to say that we’ve been entirely successful, but it’s lead us on quite a few adventures- more stories on that to come!

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