By Emily Huntington and Evan Herbison
This quarter will mark the end of a year-long program which brought 10 students from Egypt to study at Whatcom. With their time here coming to an end, it would seem that the students have left a real impression on the college and the local community.
“It’s been great for our American students,” said Kelly Kester, director of international programs.
“I think it’s really opened [the Egyptian students’] eyes, too,” said Cathy Hagman, a teacher of history and world religions at Whatcom. She explained how their perception of America has changed since they first arrived.
“They thought that America was all like Las Vegas,” she said. “It’s opened up a door of communication.”
Basem Shahin, 25, came to America not knowing any English. His roommate translated for him, and he finally became fluent in about three months.
It was his first time coming to America.
Working as a lawyer in Egypt, “I didn’t have time to travel, so I couldn’t travel,” he said. He plans to come back once he becomes more familiar with products so he and his business partners can open an import/export business that will focus on the relationships between American and Arab countries.
Hagman added that she, like many others, would like to see more programs, with a similar focus on international student-to-student contact. Ahmed Afifi, one of the Egyptian students, agrees.
“It’s all about interacting with people,” said Afifi. “We made a great difference in people’s perceptions here.”
This hope will become a reality next year. With the success of this year’s program, seven more students from Egypt will be attending Whatcom for the 2010-2011 school year, as well as an additional 11 students from various other countries as part of a new international program funded by the state department.
The one regret Afifi expressed was that he couldn’t spend more time studying in America.
“One year isn’t enough,” he said, expressing his wish for more time to pursue an associate degree and more widely spread his culture.
The latter, at least, is already becoming a reality; the Egyptian students have been striving collectively to create a legacy through activities that encourage exchange of international cultures, the first of which was last month’s Islamic Film Festival.
Shahin’s fondest memory is “everything. Everything here was new,” he said. The biggest difference between Egypt and America, in his opinion, is everything online. You can buy airplane tickets and things online. “I didn’t used to do that,” he said.
They invite anyone interested in their culture, or even just in the exchange of ideas, to talk to them. With this being their last quarter here, they’re as eager as ever to share their ideas and experience American culture.
Overall, the students seem to have had positive experiences here, both on a personal level and in the context of their career paths.
“My trip has been so, so successful,” said Afifi. “I’ve learned a lot here.”
“I have a good relationship with the people – the people here encourage me so much,” Shahin said.
Since arriving last August, Shahin has been to Washington D.C., New York, and went camping in Spokane, where he said “there were a LOT of mosquitoes!” He has also been to Seattle quite a few times and made a trip down to Olympia. All of them were favorites, he said.
The Egyptian students will head back to Egypt on August 23.
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