Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holidays

This time last year, as I've made quite clear a number of times, was probably one of the hardest parts of my entire exchange (if you'd like to reminisce with me a bit, click here).
I was quite unexpectedly invited by my lovely German friend and fellow exchange student in Egypt Regina to attend a service at a French-speaking Jesuit church, secretively tucked away deep within Sidy Gaber, the neighborhood where our calligraphy teacher lived. That plus spending time with her afterwards, dancing down the streets toasting with little pastries and singing Christmas carols was absolutely amazing, bringing the holiday spirit I was so desperately missing to life in the streets of Alexandria. :)
The Christmas party that AFS organized for us the next day was fun as well, and even my host family surprised me with a little Christmas tree that they bought in secret. :) 
It was amazing and touching both how Regina and I were able to cheer each other up so easily and effectively by simply being who we were - two teenage westerners, homesick and pining for a holiday that we both so dearly love and were missing for the first time, and also how far out of their way so many Egyptians went to partake in a tradition unfamiliar to them just to make me feel better.

But overall, this time last year was undeniably one of the low points of my exchange. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and winter my favorite season, since I was a very small child, and so being away from my home and my family at Christmastime, in a country where it's not really celebrated no less, was extremely difficult. I pined for snow and all the fun things that come with it (snowball fights, skiing, skating, sledding, etc.); for freshly baked holiday cookies; for bright, colorful Christmas lights; for decorating the tree with my family and buying gifts to share with all the people I love most; for the voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, and carols in general; for watching my favorite holiday movies like Elf, Love Actually, and The Polar Express; simply for the overall spirit of the season, this magical time I've loved since childhood. And as I missed all these things, painfully aware of their irrelevance in a country who's only sizable population that would celebrate Christmas in any capacity - the Coptic community - wouldn't be celebrating for another two weeks, I battled the most intense and crippling homesickness I've ever dealt with in my entire seventeen years of being alive. 

This past month, conversely, has been absolutely incredible for me. Given that I'm naturally much more conscious now of how much I appreciate Christmas and many other typical American celebrations, I've anticipated all my favorites with a special zeal this year. I attempted to brighten up the end of finals week by bringing some gingerbread cookies to school for my friends, went all out with gift-giving and decorating, and have been blasting Christmas music from my laptop since the day after Thanksgiving, soaking up all the holiday spirit I possibly can - with great success to boot, I must say. :) 
I hosted a lovely holiday party at my house on Sunday with a group of a couple close friends, and attended another one last night hosted by good friends of my family. And today, of course, I got to see the reactions of my family to the gifts that I got them, and they got to see mine to the ones they got me. :) Not to mention, tonight my mother and I leave for a ten-day trip to Italy to visit our family there!! :D I'm super exited, as I haven't been in Italy since April 2012 and can't wait to see my family and friends there again. And additionally,
 I WILL BE MEETING UP WITH REGINA WHILE I'M THERE!! :D

But back on the topic of holidays:
Because of my experience with missing Christmas so much last year in Egypt and enjoying it so thoroughly this year, I have noticed much more clearly how important holidays are to their respective cultures. They embody and celebrate the values, ideas, heritage, and traditions most dear to a culture or society, and show what it considers most important.
Furthermore, the traditions preserved in specific celebrations are quite fascinating across the boards. For example, Christmas and many other Christian holidays have preserved many interesting pagan traditions.  
I've also become much more interested because of this in exploring the holidays of the many multitudes of cultures I'm interested in, and so have resolved to research some of them more closely - the various ways Christmas is celebrated across the world, Diwali and Holi in India, Nowruz (Persian New Year) in Persia, Santa Lucia, Midsummer festivities in Scandinavia, Kalevala Day and Vappu in Finland, Þorrablót in Iceland, Seollal (Korean New Year) and Hangeullal (Hangul alphabet day) in Korea, so on and so forth (one book that I've been wanting to have a go at for a while now is "Around the World in 500 Festivals: The World's Most Spectacular Celebrations." :3)

From personal experience, one of the best memories I remember from my exchange in Egypt was celebrating Eid el-Adha with my host family. 
And one of the things that I was most disappointed about in my experience was that I never got to celebrate Ramadan, of course a very special time with a very distinctive atmosphere celebrated across the Muslim world - I arrived in Egypt a month after it ended in 2012, and left about three days before it began in 2013. 
One thing that actually comforted me quite a bit in the midst of my bout of intense homesickness at Christmastime in Egypt last year was that I had someone who understood where I was coming from quite well - my host brother Loay had spent a summer living and working in London a few years prior, and had struggled similarly to how I was feeling last December, because he had been gone in London for the entirety of Ramadan and had experienced similar homesickness. 
Needless to say, it was just comforting and reassuring to have someone around with whom missing a favorite holiday was a shared experience, who was able to relate well to how I was feeling, make me feel less alone, and was even motivated to partake in the tradition I was missing himself, just to make me feel better, in a very touching gesture of solidarity and compassion. 

That's about all I had in mind to share.

I hope you all enjoyed/were able to tolerate my little ramble about holidays and their cultural importance. 
Happy holidays to all, and Merry Christmas in particular to all celebrating today!

OK, I've gotta go catch my flight - over the Atlantic and through the Alps, to Grandmothers' house we go! 
(^Rain check on a possible post about the trip - as I'll be seeing Regina I suppose it's at least a bit relevant to my Egyptian experience, and since I've sort of rekindled this whole blogging thing, why not keep it up? ;) )
-Nico 
Some fascinating perspective. 


                                        ^One of my favorite wintery-holiday songs ever.


^This was my very first introduction to Pentatonix - I first heard it as the    background music in an exchange student's Christmas-themed YouTube video, and promptly downloaded this amazingness to my iPod. It reminds me a lot of Christmastime in Egypt, the duality of that struggle that I felt, and the holiday spirit I was able to find.


^Always a favorite.


^Ditto for this one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

NSLI-Y semifinalist!

Hey again, everybody!

Not much new has gone down since the last time I wrote. I'm getting deeply into the holiday spirit that I missed so much at this time last year. Enjoying Christmas lights and music, and the delightfully large quantities of snow that have been falling in the last twenty-four hours here in Ann Arbor. Preparing for a trip to Italy with my mother over the holidays to visit my friends and relatives there. And not to mention, trying and failing to salvage my sanity as finals week begins to rear its ugly head once again.

But I also have been blessed with some incredible news:
I AM A NSLI-Y SEMIFINALIST!!!!!!!!!!

For those of you who may not know it, NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth) is a State Department-sponsored youth scholarship which sends high school students abroad to learn languages not commonly taught in American schools, the ones they offer being Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish.
As they put it, "The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs. NSLI-Y is part of a U.S. government initiative that prepares American citizens to be leaders in a global world."
Since my insatiable wanderlust and linguistic passions are stronger than ever, originally I was interested in pursuing an AFS summer program for this coming summer, in either Finland, as I've been fascinated by that country and its language and have wanted to travel there and learn Finnish for many years, or a Spanish speaking country (either Spain, Chile, or Paraguay). Unfortunately, it became clear fairly early on that an AFS summer program would not be a financially feasible undertaking. However, I applied to NSLI-Y in the fall for a summer program, with my top three languages choices being Turkish, Russian, and Persian (which send recipients to Turkey, Russia, and Tajikistan, respectively).

But I didn't want to mention it here until I had some idea of if I was going to go or not - and as of this past Wednesday, I do! :)
I was on my way home from school, reading a particularly beautiful passage from "Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I'm currently reading for my literature class, about a beautiful view of the sprawling English countryside seen from the peak of a hill, when my phone buzzed. I casually checked it, not at all expecting it to be anything noteworthy - a text or a Facebook notification, perhaps - and soon had to keep the scream that was waiting to burst out of me bundled up in my chest until I got home - because that buzz was the email informing me that I had been selected as a semifinalist! :D

This still does not mean that I got the scholarship or that I will get to go on one of these summer programs - I won't know that for sure until around March or April, and there's more paperwork to be filled out and an interview to be conducted between now and then.

But now I at least have a very significant hope that I will be able to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to dabble in a new foreign tongue and embark on another odyssey.
Hopefully you will see another post from me sometime in the near future, with the link to a new blog created for a NSLI-Y experience. :)

So (since I might as well practice all of my top choices), :
Güle güle!
до свидания!
!خدا حافظ
Goodbye for now, everyone. And happy holidays! :D

Hope to be back soon with good news,
Nico

PS - Here: A Close-Up Look at NSLI-Y Turkey is a link to a YouTube video about NSLI-Y in Turkey specifically. I tried to place it directly in the post, but it didn't work for some reason. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A video on yours truly

Well hey there, blogosphere.

It's been a little while since I last wrote, obviously.
Admittedly, not a great deal has changed in the meantime. Just a couple of normal months continuing my somewhat stressful and tiring, but extremely enjoyable and monumental junior year.

Today I wanted to share a little blast from the past with you.
Remember back in my March 21 post when I mentioned the fact that some AFS Egypt staff from Cairo had come to Alexandria in order to film a video about my Egyptian experience?
Well, it's finally done!!! :)

And I'm going to share it with you all.
All kidding aside about the length of time it took, I feel like it was very well put together and portrays what my experience was like quite accurately.
Watching it made me feel very happy, and in spite of whatever trouble or trials I may have had, it reminded me that I do love Egypt, that I had a very rewarding overall experience, and that I do miss many things - the part of the video where my host mother talked about our experience at home almost moved me to tears. :') I miss her a lot.

So please kick back, relax, and enjoy a little 5-minute glimpse into my year in the mother of the world. :)



PS: So there are two other things to which I'd like to give an honorable mention: Firstly, last week was International Education week, which is a week celebrating "the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide." Normally, as in many other AFS chapters, my local AFS Washtenaw chapter celebrated by sending teams of hosted AFSers and returnees to various middle and high schools in the area to give presentations on countries represented. I presented about my experience in Egypt in my hometown's Forsythe Middle School along with a team from this year's batch of hosted students: Yuta from Japan, Irma from Bosnia, Nattakan from Thailand, and Marco from Germany. It was quite enjoyable, and I also enjoyed talking about a friend of mine from the chapter, Melinda, who accompanied us to the event along with Yuta's host mother, about her experience in Egypt, as she lived there for a year with her family back in 1975. It was fascinating to get a chance to compare and contrast experiences with someone who experienced Egypt in a different time and context than I did. :)
Here's another video about IEW in general:

Also, before I go:
I recently also had the honor and the privilege to be able to attend a symposium at one of the University of Michigan museums called "Arts of the Arab World Uprisings," which my mother, who works in the UM Department of Art History, helped organize.
It was a very fascinating event, focusing mostly on how people in countries affected by the Arab Spring used art, particularly graffiti, to express themselves.
Although the symposium has ended, there is a twin exhibit in the Arab American Museum in Dearborn, Michigan which features many of the same fascinating pieces and is open until February 9, 2014.
I highly recommend it (not to mention, the Museum itself, which is a wonderfully interesting place) to anyone interested who is a manageable distance from Dearborn. :)
Here's a link for anyone wanting to take a look.

That's all from me for now, folks.
Possibly more news on more things to come in the near future, but ma' as-salama for now.
-Nico 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A year has passed

It seems impossible, and yet a year ago right now, I was on my flight to my year in the intensely vibrant, beguiling, and complicated jumble of a country that is Egypt, chatting anxiously with Carson, my fellow American AFSer in Egypt, about our hopes, dreams, fears, and excitement for our upcoming ten month odysseys.
And what a ride it was. My sojourn in Egypt challenged me immensely in ways I never imagined it could, but by going I also learned many things, saw many places, and met many people that made it more than worth my while.
It is unbelievable that it's already been a year since then. On one hand, it feels like it was such a short time ago, a goal that I was only just working towards. And on the other, I feel like I've come so far from those moments, that I've grown so much as a person and learned so much that I otherwise never would have.

Readjusting has been, thankfully, easier than I ever could have hoped for. I heard many returnee's tales of very hard reentries that made them feel like outsiders in their own homes and reverse culture shock that was harder than the original culture shock of the exchange itself. And I thankfully haven't experienced that. Other than a bit of initial shock in the first few days, at simply being back (since I hadn't really processed the fact that I was leaving until sitting down on the plane), I have done wonderfully in my reentry, if I do say so myself. It's been wonderful spending time with family and friends that I missed so much while I was away. I bask in the glory of cool(er) weather, world cuisine, abundant nature, frozen yogurt, extracurricular activities, and a generally more liberal atmosphere. I've taken the first segment of diver's ed and am well on my way to getting my license. I've registered as a volunteer with AFS USA to help out my local chapter and to give back to the organization. I started my junior year of high school two-ish weeks ago and I've been enjoying it immensely, getting involved in several clubs along the way already.
The U.SA.'s been good to me since I got back.

In spite of the fact that overall, I had a very good experience in Egypt, now that I'm back I can't help but see what was wrong with my exchange there more clearly.
I'll be perfectly honest; Egypt is not an easy country to go to on exchange, especially high school exchange. Even as far as exchange students go, I'm not kidding when I say that it is not a country for the faint of heart. Exchange is not easy from the get-go - it is nothing less than a leap of faith into the complete unknown of a new country, armed with nothing but hope, anxiousness, fear, and maybe a phrasebook for good measure. It's a complete slap to the senses, a window into another side of human consciousness.
For me, Egypt's culture and language were just so completely different from anything that I had ever seen or experienced in my life that it made it quite hard for me to adjust.
Even though I really love Egypt, and I had a good experience there, there were, like I said in one of my earlier posts before I returned, things that I didn't like that I was glad to be leaving behind (i.e. conservatism, pollution, my school, classism, corruption, the political situation and more stringent AFS rules because of it, etc). Also, the huge linguistic and cultural differences made it very hard for me to make Egyptian friends. One of my biggest grievances about my exchange is that I don't have very many close Egyptian friends. Some, yes. But unfortunately not a lot.
Not to mention, I left about two days before these new riots started.
I know it's probably not healthy to think about it in this way, but at times I can't help but entertain the question: would I have had a more successful exchange in another country?
The brutal truth is that I probably would have.
But I'm not sure that I would have it that way.
I learned so much from my experience in Egypt about myself, about the world, about Islam, and about Egypt itself, that I never would have if I had gone to a different country. I met so many amazingly kind and generous people (the cream of the crop being my lovely host family) that I never would have met otherwise. I got to go to beautiful places, like Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Ismailia (not to mention, living in Alexandria) that I never would have seen otherwise.
At the end of the day, I got so much out of my experience in Egypt that I can be happy with, and I'm grateful for that. :)
And don't get me wrong, there are things and people that I miss a lot. Most of all my host family. I worry constantly for them because of all that I hear in the news, even though they keep telling me that they're safe. I am very sad that I didn't get to celebrate Ramadan with them. And we've unfortunately not been able to communicate much lately because of busy schedules on both sides (though we'll make sure to change that).
All I can say is, I miss them like crazy, and really hope that I'll be able to see them at some point in the very near future, when and wherever it may be.

And I also hope that I'm not scaring anyone wishing to visit Egypt in the future, exchange student or not. It has its problems at this point in its history, but it's a very beautiful and amazing country, and it deserves to be seen.
In spite of whatever problems I may have had, it really is an incredible place, and I had a wonderful time there.
And I feel very sad that it's descended into political chaos since I left. I feel terrible hearing my host family and friends there talk about how upset they are at what's happened. I feel very afraid seeing atrocious video footage and pictures of the fighting. I feel very afraid when I see creepy pictures of completely empty streets that are usually filled with cars (because of the curfew that's currently being imposed).
I wish that I could help. And yet I feel completely powerless to do so.
I feel bad seeing Egypt in this much chaos. It has been powerful and great so many times in the past, not just in ancient times, but also in the 19th and 20th centuries. I know that it has the potential to flourish like it did back then.
And I hope that it can be like that again in the future.
And the truth is that, no matter what hardships I may have faced there, I had an amazing experience. I may have many other countries that I am highly interested in visiting or living in, and I will hopefully embark on adventures to these other countries. To Italy again (where I'm actually headed in December to visit my relatives). To Finland. To Spain. To Brazil. To Turkey. To the Czech Republic. To Sweden. To Denmark. To Norway. To Iceland. To Argentina. To Korea. To Chile. To Croatia. To Australia. To New Zealand. To Japan. And a whole load of other countries (I could spend hours completing this list, in case you haven't already noticed :P)
But Egypt will always have a special place in my heart.

I suppose I should end this blog now. It feels very weird to say so, and in many ways I suppose it's because these 75 posts represent my year in the mother of the world, the adventure that I looked forward to and aspired to for four years.
But I'm not afraid anymore of what I talked about in my pre-return jitters post about worrying about not having anything to aspire to anymore since this adventure is over. This adventure may be over. But I will surely go back in the future to visit my host family, and I would hope that they will come and visit me here in the States. And I hope to have other, equally amazing global and local adventures in the near future.
I have a lot of hope and anticipation for the future, and many more dreams that I will do my very best to fulfill.

And lastly, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart to you, all of my readers, for being interested in the story of my journey. When I first started this blog, I never thought it would get that much of a following. When it passed a hundred views, I was impressed. When it passed a thousand views, I was legitimately astounded. And now that it's passed 10,000 views (and counting!), I genuinely cannot express how happy and flattered I am that my story of my ten months in Alexandria has attracted so much attention.
Thank you to each and every one of you for taking an interest in this adventure that has become a part of who I am.

I suppose this will be my last post now. If at some point in the future an Egyptian friend or host family member comes to visit me here, I go back to Egypt to visit my host family, I wish to get up on a small pedestal and say my piece about the current situation in Egypt, or wish to tell you all, my readers, about any new adventures I may be having, or otherwise have anything else relevant to say, I will blog again.
But for now, this is goodbye.

Ma' alf salama everyone.
And
(Thank you.)
-Nico Borbely

Friday, August 2, 2013

An informative video

Well hello, everyone.

Sorry for my silence lately.
I will most likely write a final post soon enough.

But for now, I wanted to share a video with you all that I found about the situation in Egypt that is very informative and useful, so I figured it would be fitting to share it here on my blog.

It comes from the vlogbrothers YouTube channel.
I'd recommend taking a look at the other videos on this channel as well, as they're all informative, funny, fun to watch, and just awesome in general.

So enjoy.

I will be getting back to you all soon enough.

Ma' alsalama for now,
Nico



Monday, July 8, 2013

Here I am again

Well, as the title suggests, I have returned.
As of 4 am Cairo time on June 28, 2013, I have left Egypt.

The last two days I spent in Egypt flew by in what felt like an instant.
On June 26, I spent most of the day packing, and then went out with my friend Nehal that evening. When I returned home, I found a small gathering of my host mother's three closest friends had come over to say goodbye to me.

Then the 27th, my last full day in Egypt, was quite full of activity. I finished packing, said my final goodbyes to several friends, and then at about 7 pm, we loaded all my things into the car, and then I headed off towards the Cairo Airport with my host parents and Loay.
The car ride passed by pretty uneventfully. We talked a lot, listened to some Mohamed Mounir (one of Egypt's most popular singers), called a few people, and then arrived at the Cairo International Airport at about a quarter to midnight.
After entering the airport, we kind of just sat around, chit-chatting, walking around every now and then, got something to drink, I showed them the poster of pictures of us together that I had made as a gift, all while waiting for Carson and Annika to arrive so we could say goodbye to our families, then go through security, check in, and eventually get on the plane.
After quite a while, Carson arrived with her host family, and then informed us that, quite oddly, Annika would not be flying with us that night, but would be flying home by herself the next day - but was still on her way to the airport to say goodbye to us.
After a few minutes, true to her word, Annika joined us there, and then we said our dreaded, tearful goodbyes to our host families before going through security - I don't think I'll ever forget the image of Amal and Loay standing on the other side of the metal detector, waving at me with teary smiles.
After we went through the security, we had a few issues at the check-in due to overweight luggage, then after a brief visa scare that thankfully was cleared up quite quickly, we finally made our way to the gate (with not a lot of time to spare), but found that every one of our fellow passengers was still waiting to board anyway. Having arrived just as the boarding began, we walked down the jetway into the plane, talking animatedly all the while, and then once we were seated in our seats at the very back of the plane, we used Carson's phone to call both of our families one last time to tell them we were in the plane and to say goodbye.
After a while, the plane finally started to move, and just before it took off into the crimson Cairo sunrise, we shed a few tears together.
After the plane took off, I admit - I took out my iPod, put "Here Comes Goodbye" by Rascal Flatts on replay, and proceeded to cry extensively.
Other than that emotional meltdown, I spent the flight mostly by talking with Carson, about everything and nothing, and halfheartedly trying to get a little sleep. Eventually, we arrived at the Frankfurt Airport about an hour early.

The Frankfurt Airport was intimidatingly large, but comparatively empty since it was still pretty early in the morning, and surprisingly not so difficult to get around. Since we saw that our flight had begun boarding, we decided to make our way over to our terminal on the SkyTrain, and arrived just on time.
The flight from Frankfurt to New York City was quite long. The plane, luckily, was very sleek and modern, equipped with very large individual entertainment screens (albeit with somewhat disappointingly small movie selections), which we made use of to entertain ourselves. Plus talking again, about so many different, random things, as our thoughts flowed. And a bit of sleeping. (Or quite a bit, actually - I halfheartedly tried to watch a documentary about whales just to take advantage of the entertainment screens, fell asleep in the first fifteen minutes, and then woke up a few hours later). And just sitting around, being bored, complaining about how (although we still were not happy to have left) we wanted the plane to land so badly so that the flight could be over. xD

Finally, our prayers were answered, and we touched down in JFK. Immediately we used my cell phone to call my dad and Carson's grandmother, who were waiting to pick us up. After having a few unexpected delays getting through customs, we retrieved our luggage, then made our way out to the other side, where Carson's grandmother was waiting for her. Since my dad was still on his way, stuck in pretty awful traffic, Carson and I hugged each other goodbye and I waited about fifteen minutes before my dad arrived at the arrivals terminal, and we were reunited for the first time in ten months.
That moment was just about as surreal as anything else I'd thought was surreal those past few days, and at the same time profoundly amazing. It was absolutely wonderful to find my dad waiting for me with open arms, a broad smile, and a bag of Skittles (what can I say, the man knows me too well! xD). We instantly started talking, as though we had never been apart for all these months - I told him about the trip, we caught up, and just kind of chit chatted as we normally would until we arrived at the same place we stopped while I was just about to leave for Egypt - my grandparents' home in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
After an equally warm and hearty welcome back to the States from my grandparents, we very quickly headed out to dinner at a nearby Polish restaurant called Krakowiak - a pretty nice culinary welcome back, I must say.

The next day, the four of us went out to lunch with several of my aunts and uncles at a nearby Turkish restaurant called Sahara, which was also quite nice - lovely company, of course, and the food was also delicious - reminiscent, in many ways, of the food I had left behind in Egypt.
After that, we went back to my grandparents' house, hurriedly gathered up our things, and were very graciously driven by my Aunt Jane and Uncle Bill, who were kind enough to give us a lift, over to Newark Liberty Airport for our flight out to Detroit.
Though it definitely was a bit of a close shave, we made it on time, and caught our flight with no troubles. My dad, who got bumped up to business class, was generous enough to give me his seat there, which I very much appreciated.
Then, after a short one hour flight, and some more tears, I found myself looking out over my state, as it slowly began to unfold, and come alive from the window of the plane, as vague green hues and outlines of towns became forests, fields, and buildings. Eventually, the plane touched down, and as it gradually came to a stop, so too did my year. My year in the mother of the world.
After getting off the plane, we made our way over to the exit, and on the other side of those automatic glass doors, who did we see waiting for us but my mom and sister, holding balloons and a beautiful sign. :') A very moving and lovely way to be welcomed back, I must say.
After that, the rest of the evening passed pretty uneventfully. I gave all my family their gifts, which they thankfully liked a lot, and then we went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant, conversing endlessly all the while. It truly was amazing to be reunited with my family - in terms of my relationship to all of them, in many ways it feels like we were never apart.

After that, all the days since I've been back have been a bit of a whirlwind of activity that I myself have struggled to keep track of a bit. A few medical appointments. Many trips to the local library and to the pool. Celebrating the Fourth of July by viewing a breathtaking firework show. Having a welcome back party with the same close friends who came to my goodbye party, all those months ago. Celebrating my dad's birthday. Keeping my eyes glued to the news for updates on Egypt. Keeping in touch with my host family and friends back there. Unpacking (which is still an ongoing process xD). Seeing both a show called "One Radio Host, Two Dancers" featuring the host of This American Life, Ira Glass, and two dancers named Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, as well as a lovely art exhibition of the work of a very talented Iranian American artist named Shirin Neshat (both of which I enjoyed immensely and highly recommend). Many, many things.
In terms of reverse culture shock, I'm definitely not feeling anywhere near what I expected to. Every now and then I have thoughts regarding little cultural quirks here and there that I didn't notice so much before, or that stick out to me now after being away for so long. But no glaringly intense culture shock to speak of.
I'd describe what I've been feeling as something more akin to reverse country or reverse life shock. The first day, after I landed, was honestly so trippy. I'm sure that that was intensified quite a bit by jetlag and exhaustion, but it just felt extremely weird to be back. I felt some reverse culture shock on that day more intensely than what I just described, and so many things popped out at me that I used to not notice - the amount of green everywhere, how sleek and glossy everything seemed, people's behavior, speaking English 24/7, using dollars, those sorts of things. And after ten months of being away, and not having fully processed the fact that I was coming back here until saying goodbye to my host family/sitting down on the plane, it was just plain weird at first.
Take that, and intensify it a little, and it accurately describes how I felt after my return to Ann Arbor - it just felt so strange to see all these places that I've been going to, sights that I've been seeing, people that I've known, senses that I've been sensing, and things that I've been doing, for almost my whole life, after having been away for nearly ten months.
I've since gotten over this initial shock from the first days, but it still feels kind of odd at times.

Another thing that's been on my mind a lot lately has been the Egyptian news.
What has been going on lately has been somewhat inaccurately described by the Western media as a "coup d'etat." What really happened, in a nutshell, is that people took to the streets to protest against the new (and now ousted) president Mohammed Morsy pretty much on the day that I left. The Egyptian people were highly dissatisfied with Morsy because throughout the past year since he was elected, he did not do much of anything to improve the situation in Egypt - all he did was put members of his political party into positions of government and turn off the power periodically as a "power saving mechanism."
The people took to the streets to protest because they were fed up with all that and wanted real change to take place, for the country to be improved. The army then intervened, giving an ultimatum with a deadline of July 3 at 5 pm for the political parties to meet the demands of the people, threatening to intervene themselves if no compromises were made.
On July 3, the army announced the end of Morsy's presidency, resulting in jubilant celebration throughout Egypt.
I too am glad now that he has been ousted in a relatively peaceful manner, but I worry now for what will follow. I'm not sure what the near future holds for Egypt, but what I do know is that I hope and pray that it can be as powerful and great as it was in the past. I know that it has that potential, I see it in the goodness and determination that my host family and friends in Egypt possess. I know that it can be like that again. And I really hope that it will.

That's all for now, I think. I won't end my blog now, not just yet. Maybe partly because I just don't want to, but I feel like I can still squeeze out another post or two that will be relevant to my year there. We'll see.
For now, enjoy some pictures.
Ma alsalama for now,
Nico

With my host mom. I'm going to miss her like no other.

With Carson in our AFS Egypt tees. A very fitting garment to travel in, considering we had to wear AFS USA tees on the flight there. 

With my brother. 

Osrityyyy (my family) <3 

From left to right: Yara and Basant, Carson's host mom and sister respectively, Carson, Annika, me, my host mom, and Dina, Carson's friend.

This is Sparky. He is a stuffed wolverine (the University of Michigan (which is located in Ann Arbor)'s mascot, given to me by my friend Brent as a gift before I left. He rode out the trip back snug in the pocket of my sweater, as you see. :3

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Final days

Sorry I haven't been very diligent about updating my blog lately.
I mostly have been neglecting to update this blog because the final days are proving to be very chaotic, as I begin to pack, say goodbye to friends, buy all the last souvenirs, and just in general try to mentally prepare for my departure, which is now three days away. Very amazing, crazy, and fun. But certainly quite chaotic, and I've been left with few free moments to write a blog post about what I've been doing. So just what have I been doing? Lots of things; I'm not going to go over each and every one of them individually, but I'll make a list for you guys. I have:
  • Hung out with a number of my friends from school, and said goodbye to a few
  • Bought most of the souvenirs that I need for people back home - now I just need two more
  • Started packing, which has proven to be quite a pain in the neck - I'm not even halfway done (although granted, I've been going about it pretty leisurely, since I still have a few days left ahead of me)
  • Spent a day sitting at the sea, watching the sunset 
  • Said goodbye to my calligraphy teacher 
  • Picked up my final report card from my school, from which, much to my delight, I discovered that none of my grades were lower than an A- :D
  • Had a one-on-one final orientation yesterday with my good friend and AFS returnee/volunteer who went to my hometown, Fatma, in a cafe called Roastery, which was very fun; we got the orientation done pretty quickly and had the rest of our time there to just enjoy the good food, relax, and chit chat. Since she knows both Ann Arbor, my hometown, since she was on exchange there, and Alexandria very well, she was also able to give me some excellent insight into how to make the best of the reverse transition.
  • My friend (another AFS returnee who was in Ann Arbor) named Ahmed came to visit me from Cairo and say goodbye, and I spent the whole day before the orientation with him and my friend Adham walking along the sea and having a great time together, which was amazing. :)
  • Procrastinated on blogging.
  • Been sleeping and getting up atrociously late. 
And lots of stuff like that.
That's what my life has been like lately. 
Very fun and very full of activity, but conversely also extremely chaotic at times.

I'm not going to talk too much about how it feels to be going home so soon, because honestly, in spite of the fact that I'm going to leave in three days, and I've even begun to pack and prepare in many ways that make the fact of my impending departure tangible and undeniable, it still feels very unreal.
I simply cannot fathom that in three days, I will be leaving this country indefinitely. 

Let's hope that everything goes well and that the transition will be easier than I fear. 
Many things about leaving will not be easy, but I have hope that everything will be fine in the end. 

That's all for now, I should continue to be productive and go do something else that I need to get done! :P

I most likely will not be posting again until I have returned to the USA, because I have a number of things that I still want to do before leaving (i.e. say goodbye to a few more friends, buy the final two souvenir items which I need so I can finish that once and for all, continue packing, try to make s'mores for my host family, etc.), and I feel that these last three days are my last chance to do these things, while conversely blogging is something that I can do at any time I wish, anywhere in the world. So I will save my next post for when I will have returned to my Ann Arbor, when I will most likely have much more interesting things to share with you all. 

So, bye for now, and I'll write again soon enough.
Nico

Here are some pictures from the day I watched the sunset by the sea. 

















I feel like these pictures of the sun setting are a good metaphor - symbolizing the end of my time here.
With Ahmed and Adham 

With Ahmed 


A pretty hotel that I decided to photograph.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pre-return jitters

As of today, seeing as I'm leaving Egypt on June 28, I have seventeen days left in this country.
Seventeen.

Saying that seems incredibly and utterly unreal. I remember when I was beyond exited that I had five months to go before my departure, and now this experience that I've looked forward to for a quarter of my life is going to be over in seventeen days.

There are, admittedly, things that I will be happy to be leaving behind. The verbal battles that people of different political views have with each other. The problems happening as a result of the ongoing recovery from the effects of the revolution (i.e. inadequate garbage pickup, very wide socioeconomic gaps, the unstable politics and the people's dissatisfaction with the government, etc).  The heat. Language barriers. The population density. Some people's conservatism. And other things of this nature.
And there are many things that I've missed about home. My family. My friends. Snow. Christmas. Frozen yogurt, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, and Indian food (which are all difficult to find here), plus my mom's cooking. Feeling 100% confident in my surroundings and being able to express myself without any linguistic inhibitions whatsoever. The quality of the American educational system, as stressful as it can be at times. The wide open landscapes and abundance of green spaces, that are difficult to find in urban Egypt. The lovely lakes and forests that abound in my home state of Michigan. And other things like that.

But at the same time, there are things that I am going to miss so much about this country and will be heartbroken to be leaving behind. Alexandria itself (i.e. the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the good weather, having the Mediterranean Sea be a fifteen minute walk from my home, etc). The adaan (call to prayer). Speaking Arabic. Being in a constant state of learning and discovery, gathering knowledge about the local culture and history. The perfect balance between having a home and a family, and freedom, that I've built up in my time here. Egyptian food. All the places that I love to visit. Some of my teachers. My home. My neighborhood. My friends.
And most of all, my host family. I love my host family so much; in my time here, they have gone from being a group of complete strangers to being my second family. They treat me like a son and a brother, and after more than nine months of living in their home, I feel like one of them.
And I'm going to miss them so much.
Saying goodbye to them is going to tear me to pieces inside. There's no two ways about it.

And moreover, in spite of the fact that my departure has been on my mind a lot lately, simply put, it doesn't feel real that it's about to happen.
A few days ago, when I was Skyping with my family back in Michigan, and I saw the house, the backyard, the living room, they all looked so familiar and yet so foreign to me after over nine months of being away. And the fact that I will be in that house in almost two weeks simply feels unreal.
I liken this to how I felt in the months leading up to my departure from home when I was coming here. I thought about my departure and my upcoming exchange constantly, but, in a way, it didn't really feel real that I was leaving until maybe the last week or two, and I didn't actually get the feeling of "OH MY GOD, THIS IS REAL! I'M DOING IT!" until I said goodbye to my dad when he dropped me off at the gateway orientation back in New York City, all those months ago.
I think that this time around, it will work similarly.

A few months back, the idea of leaving this place used to utterly and completely terrify me every time I thought of it. I developed this paranoia of it that was temporarily fueled by the arrival of my return flight information back in March. Then that randomly vanished about a month or two ago. For a while I couldn't tell if it was because I had begun to lose my fear of returning to the United States, for whatever reason, or if I was just becoming numb to it in a way, not realizing that it was going to happen. And I now think that the latter is true. It simply doesn't feel real that it's happening.

One thing that I was feeling so paranoid about before was, apart from the idea of leaving this place, the process of readjusting into my life back home. Many returnees had stories to tell of reverse culture shock and feeling out of place in their own homes that worried me greatly. I wondered if I would experience similar feelings after the end of my experience.
But now, I'm simply not sure what will happen. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel after I get home. I just don't know, whether or not I will feel out of place or have reverse culture shock. I just don't know.
What I do know, is that it will certainly be a strange transition at first. There are things that it will probably take quite a while to get used to. For example, the absence of the background sounds of traffic and the adnaan will probably be very strange, and make it feel very quiet at first. Also, I'm getting the feeling that it will be very strange for me at first to be speaking English all the time. Despite the fact that I speak, write, use, and think in English a lot here, I speak Arabic most of the time, especially when I'm with my family. And I'm so used to leaving my home and using Arabic to get from place to place and buy things that the idea of communicating in English in order to do these things seems almost strange.
Simply speaking English twenty-four/seven is probably going to be very strange at first, and I can tell that there are Arabic words that I will be subconsciously wanting to say, that have no direct translation into English. This has already happened to me a lot while Skyping with family and friends back in the States.

And besides reverse culture shock and feeling out of place, another factor which fueled my paranoia of leaving, which still is a very real concern for me, is that this experience is almost over.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, I've been wanting to go on this experience for a quarter of my life. For four years, since I was twelve, this has been something to look forward to, to work towards, to be proactive for, to aspire to.
And now it's almost over. And I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with myself after it is.

Moreover, I also have to deal with the fact that, although my host family will always be my other family, and this city will always be my other home, and this country, in many ways, will always be my other country, my life here as I've known it throughout my exchange will end when I step onto that plane in the Cairo International Airport in seventeen days.
Meaning, I can always come back here and visit my family and friends, and I will, of course. But it will never be quite the same as it is now.
And I guess that that is one of the main things that worries me about my rapidly approaching departure date.

Additionally, I've undeniably changed in a number of ways since I came here. I've grown up a lot mentally and emotionally. I've become much more mature and independent. I feel much more confident in my decisions, opinions, choices, and tastes. I feel like I understand how the world works so much better, if that makes sense. I've learned an incredible amount of things about Egypt, about people, and about life in general. And I've gained so much knowledge, respect, and love for another country, Egypt, another religion, Islam, another family, another culture, and another way of life, while at the same time gaining a new love for and appreciation of my own country, faith, culture, traditions, and family.
I think back to the guy who boarded the plane back in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on September 1, 2012, and I find it astounding to think about who he's become.
And that time feels so far away, so far in the past. Even my first days in this country are very distant, almost dreamlike memories that feel like they happened eons ago. And the days leading up to my departure from home before I came here feel even longer ago, as though they happened in another life. It's so strange.
And part of me already knows that I'm going to have trouble explaining just how these kinds of changes feel to people back home.

Up until this point, whenever I've thought about things that I want to see or do, I've always thought about them at least relatively calmly, because "there's so much time left; I'll be able to do everything I want to without any trouble!"
But the truth in that statement is very quickly fading.
In fact, I'd say it's just about gone at this point.

With seventeen days left, I need to take advantage of the time I have left to the fullest. Do and see everything that I want to. And enjoy everything that I'm going to miss after I have to leave.

After seventeen days.

That's all for now. I'll leave you all with a short blurb that I found circulating in one of the AFS Facebook groups about pre-departure sentiments. Although I didn't write it, I certainly think it sums up these tremulous feelings quite well.

"A year has passed and now we stand on the brink, of returning to a world where we are surrounded by the paradox of everything and yet nothing being the same. In a couple of weeks we will reluctantly give our hugs and, fighting the tears,we will say goodbye to people who were once just names on a sheet of paper to return to people that we hugged and fought tears to say goodbye to before we ever left.We will leave our best friends to return to our best friends.

We will go back to the places we came from, and go back to the same things we did last summer and every summer before. We will come into town on that same familiar road, and even though it has been months, it will seem like only yesterday. As you walk into your old bedroom, every emotion will pass through you as you reflect on the way your life has changed and the person you have become. You suddenly realize that the things that were most important to you a year ago don't seem to matter so much anymore, and the things you hold highest now, no one at home will completely understand.

Who will you call first? What will you do your first weekend home with your friends? Where are you going to work? Who will be at the party Saturday night? What has everyone been up to in the past few months? Who from school will you keep in touch with? How long before you actually start missing people barging in without calling or knocking? Then you start to realize how much things have changed, and you realize the hardest part of being an exchange student is balancing the two completely different worlds you now live in, trying desperately to hold on to everything all the while trying to figure out what you have to leave behind.

We now know the meaning of true friendship. We know who we have kept in touch with over the past year and who we hold dearest to our hearts. We've left our worlds to deal with the real world. We've had our hearts broken, we've fallen in love, we've helped our best friends overcome eating disorders, depression, stress, and death. We've lit candles at the grotto and we've stayed up all night on the phone just to talk to a friend in need. There have been times when we've felt so helpless being hours away from home when we know our families or friends needed us the most, and there are times when we know we have made a difference.

Just weeks from now we will leave. Just weeks from now we take down our pictures, and pack up our clothes. No more going next door to do nothing for hours on end. We will leave our friends whose random e-mails and phone calls will bring us to laughter and tears this summer, and hopefully years to come. We will take our memories and dreams and put them away for now, saving them for our return to this world.

Just weeks from now we will arrive. Just weeks from now we will unpack our bags and have dinner with our families. We will drive over to our best friend's house and do nothing for hours on end. We will return to the same friends whose random emails and phone calls have brought us to laughter and tears over the year. We will unpack old dreams and memories that have been put away for the past year. In just weeks we will dig deep inside to find the strength and conviction to adjust to change and still keep each other close. And somehow, in some way, we will find our place between these two worlds.


In just weeks."


Monday, June 3, 2013

The month of May and my Egyptian birthday

*I have become a worse blogger than I had ever expected to. xD This post has been sitting around as an empty draft under the title "Shem el-Naseem vacation and updates" for nearly three weeks. My bad.*

{And NOW this has been sitting under the new title "The month of May," almost completely edited, for another week or so. Therefore I have edited the title even further. Sorry my blogging skills have officially gone south.} 

Well, since I last left off with my update about Carson and Annika's visit to Alexandria, which took place in the final two days of April, I figured that it would be appropriate to call this post "The month of May," and update you all on everything that happened in it.

The first thing worth talking about was that, for the first two weeks of this month, I was on vacation for an important holiday called Shem el-Naseem.
Some background info: The holiday's name translates to "the sniffing of the breeze," which is a holiday that dates back to Pharaonic times and is meant to be a little celebration of the beginning of spring. Its name is derived from the name of the Harvest Season in ancient Egypt - Shemu - which means a day of creation. Ancient historians wrote that the Egyptians once offered salted fish, lettuce, and onions to their deities on this day. When Egypt became Christianized during Roman rule, this holiday eventually morphed into its current date (Orthodox Easter) and form, and even after the Islamic conquest of Egypt, this holiday remained. It is celebrated as more of a national holiday, by Egyptians regardless of their religion, than as a religious one, even though Coptic Easter does fall on the same day. In modern times, it is typically celebrated by picnicking outside in parks or public gardens, eating feseekh (salted grey mullet, which I tried and admittedly did not like so much xD), lettuce, and scallions, and younger children often color and decorate eggs.
It fell on the 6th of this month, and although my host family and I didn't really do much to celebrate it other than eating some lettuce and feseekh with our lunch, I did have the opportunity to go to an Easter celebration in a Coptic church with my kind neighbor and friend Youssef, who took me to his church with two of his friends, named Abanoub and Mina, and I got to meet lots of very nice people and get a look at how Copts celebrate Easter. It was a great experience. :)
After that we ended up hanging out together for a few more hours before going home. I'm very glad that I had the chance to see and learn about all of these unique Egyptian celebrations.

Me and Youssef :) 


From left to right: Youssef, Abanoub, me. :)

The lovely chocolate egg that Youssef brought me. It was delicious. :3


The rest of the Shem el-Naseem vacation was fairly uneventful, and I went back to school on 12th.  Their scheduling of the vacation had been pretty inefficient - we essentially had two weeks of vacation right before the end of the year, and then came back with only two weeks to go - and one of them reserved exclusively for the fourth quarter exams. So we only had a week to cram in all of our lost lessons before testing, which, of course, ended up being extremely chaotic.
But, in any case, we somehow managed it, and then the following week we took our exams, and then it was over for me on May 22.
On that day, when I stepped out of the room in which I took my final exams, I was finished. Finished with school for the summer. The end of my time in Taymour English School was fairly unceremonious, and at first it didn't really feel real that I was done. But, as I've said before, although I've made some very good friends from my school that I'm very happy to have met, school has definitely not been the best part of my experience here, so in many ways I was relieved to be done. That, and the fact that my desire to study pretty much died during the Shem el-Naseem vacation, contributed to my relief. xD

In any case, I've been finished with school for ten days now, and it feels very nice to be on summer break. Although many of my friends are still not done with their exams and are not free to hang out with me, I've still been able to do some pretty great things since I finished school.

On the 24th, my host brother Loay took me to a resort on the Mediterranean coast about 20 kilometers outside of Alexandria, called Sidi Krier, with a group of his friends. First we swam in the large, connected system of swimming pools, which was refreshing. Afterwards, we headed to a nearby mall to grab a bite to eat, and then headed to a place inside Sidi Krier called Amoun Cafe, which is right beside the sea. Loay and I ended up running straight to the water's edge together. :) And oddly enough, as soon as I saw the place, I realized that I had been there before! I went there, with the same people, all the way back in September, in my first week here. So I subsequently kept flashing back to that whole evening to that night.
That was a fabulous day. :)

A few days later, my host father's brother and his family came over for a little while, and since there was a power outage at the time, I ended up chatting with them for a long time and we actually hit it off quite well. I remember thinking at the time that it was quite comical - bonding with people I had only just met, in the dim candle light of a power outage. xD

Then, on the 29th of May, to celebrate their final day of school (since all the grades bellow high school finished on that day), I went out to an open air mall within walking distance of where I live, called Green Plaza, with my Egyptian American friends from school, Youssef and Hashem. We saw Iron Man 3, ate at a Pizza Hut for dinner, and then made use of the large trampolines in a part of Green Plaza called Karamantas. It was a great day out with two great friends, in spite of the intense heat that day.

Then, June 2nd was my 17th birthday! In order to celebrate, Youssef and Hashem took me out to San Stefano, another large mall that I've mentioned before, and we kind of just walked around, talked, and had fun. And in the middle of our time there, my AFS returnee friend Adham surprised me and showed up with his brother Ahmed and a friend of his named Salah. It sounds pretty simple, but it really was a good day. :)
Although I must say that I really feel no different yet, now that I'm seventeen. I guess it just has yet to sink in? Perhaps...
In any case, I had a very simple but very fun Egyptian birthday. :)

That's all the news that there is to report at this point...I'd say that I'm doing pretty darn well in general. I have been sick on and off a bit these past few days, but hopefully that will pass. And today I guess the universe decided to make up for the scorching heat on my birthday yesterday ( the high temp was 107 Fahrenheit -.-) and offer a much more pleasant 82. :)

Sorry I've been seriously slacking lately when it comes to blogging. I will try {note the word try} to be better about it in the near future, starting with writing a couple of posts from that list of ideas I had back in March.

Thanks for reading!
-Nico




Sunday, May 12, 2013

Carson and Annika's visit to Alexandria!

So, here's my next bit of notable news: Carson and Annika came to visit Alexandria for a few days at the end of last month, right at the beginning of the two-week vacation I just got off of. :D

They arrived on April 28th, accompanied by Carson's host sister Yara and several friends of hers (Who are really quite mean. xD Just kidding....Sorta...), but I didn't meet up with them until the next day.

On the 29th, I went to school because I thought that we were going to be in school that week, but instead it turned out that my classmates had governmental Arabic exams, and that we would be leaving after two hours, so I had no reason to go until after the vacation.
So, a few hours later, we met up at the Sheraton Hotel located in front of the Montazah Palace, which I've mentioned here several times before, and then Carson, Annika, and I headed to the nearby, large mall complex of San Stefano to have some Starbucks, walk around together, talk, and just catch up.
Afterwards, we headed back to the Montazah to rejoin Yara and her friends, and go swimming on the beach located inside the Montazah complex. We split ourselves up into two groups, and each group got on a paddle boat. We headed to the opposite end of the enclosed beach located beside the Montazah, in which we swam, and then dove into the icy cold water. :D
It was a crazy, hilarious, and incredible way to end a day which had started off pretty so-so: swimming in the sea with some of my dearest friends. :)
Later that evening, we met up in a neighborhood called Mansheya to have dinner in a seafood restaurant (understandably, due to its location on the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria is famous in Egypt for its seafood), and then headed to a nearby area called Bahary for some dessert.
It was an amazing day, and I'm so glad that we were able to spend time together and do all this fun stuff. :)

The next day we weren't able to really meet up for very long, but I came to the Sidi Gaber train station to say goodbye to them, since it's within a pretty harmless walking distance of my house.

In any case, I'm really happy that we were able to meet up. :) I had loads of fun with them, and hope that we'll be able to get together again at some point in the near future.

If either of you read this, Carson or Annika, I'm missing you guys! You're both wonderful. Take care and stay awesome! :D

From the seafood restaurant in Mansheya. 


The three of us in Sidi Gaber before they left! From left to right: Carson, me, Annika.

Again. :)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My lovely trip to Cairo last month :)

Well, I'm finally getting down to posting about my trip to Cairo to visit my friend Hady at the end of April.
I will divide it up day by day to be organized as I go over all that which transpired.
Here it goes!

April 24, 2013
On April 24, I didn't go to school, and headed to the bus station in Moharram Bey along with the AFS Alexandria chapter leader, Nagwa, where we met up with two other ladies from the chapter on their way with Nagwa to an AFS training in a hotel in Cairo.
Shortly afterwards, we boarded our bus from a company called West and Middle Delta, and made decent time - having left at noon, we arrived in Cairo just after three.
Hady came to pick me up at the stop where we got off, and then took me to his {beautiful} home, which is located on a really neat little neighborhood called Manial, which is situated on an island in the middle of the Nile, where I met his mother Hoda and his two sisters Haidy and Hadeel.
Shortly thereafter, we went out to dinner with an awesome group of Hady's friends to a restaurant called Spectra in a neighborhood of Cairo called Dokki.
Two of them - a guy named Yehia, and a girl named Reem, study at the American University in Cairo. One, named Mohammed, studies at the German University in Cairo. Two of them - two girls named Liza and Hoda, will be studying in American universities starting next year, at Tufts and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, respectively. And one named Janan, who is an American student adviser at the AUC.
And it must be said that everyone present spoke beautiful English - many of them, despite the fact that they had never gone to the United States or any Anglophone country, had an incredibly sophisticated vocabulary, and a surprising knowledge of colloquial expressions. I was thoroughly impressed.
Before we went there, Hady had joked that we were going to meet Egyptians that spoke better English than him and me. I laughed at it beforehand, but meeting these guys sure set me straight! xD
In any case, it was a very fun evening out. I got to meet these incredible people, and we talked endlessly about all kinds of things imaginable. On top of everything, the food at Spectra was delicious.
I remember thinking very contentedly to myself several times that evening, "these nights are the kind of memories that I wanted to do this for." :)
So, that evening is a very cool memory for me, and a lovely start to my three days in Cairo.

April 25, 2013 
This day was a school holiday - Sinai Liberation Day, celebrating the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied Sinai Peninsula in 1982 - which meant both that I didn't have to take it off from school since there wasn't any school, and that there was considerably less traffic than usual, because lots of people left the city for day trips in the early morning.
In the morning, Hady took me to see something that I have hoped to see for many years: the Egyptian Museum.
This was truly an incredible experience for me. As I've made clear several times in the past, I have been interested in ancient Egypt for many years (which was one of the factors that resulted in my desire to come here for my exchange), so seeing this iconic museum was a little dream come true for me.
This museum has just about everything an Egyptology junkie could be happy with and more - a total of 120,000 items overall, 11 mummies on display, papyrus scrolls, jewelry, sarcophagi, hieroglyphic inscriptions, statues, amulets, entire columns and sections from temples, animal mummies, historical records, and just about anything else one could think of.
My two favorite spots that we saw were the Jewelry Room, which has some really lovely pieces of jewelry that have been recovered, and the Tutankhamon Room, which exhibits the artifacts recovered from the legendary tomb of none other than King Tut himself.
Seeing his beautiful, signature golden mask gave me goosebumps - it was so mesmerizing to look at.
I unfortunately have no pictures to show you, because it was forbidden to take pictures inside the museum. But hopefully the words I've written (and the multitudes of pictures of the Museum that you can find on Google and Wikipedia :P) will be enough to paint a picture in your heads, so to speak.
Later that night, I went out again, this time with Hady, his sisters, and a friend of theirs named Mahmoud, and we went to a cupcake bakery called Nola in a lovely, somewhat upscale neighborhood of Cairo called Maadi, for a quick, late-night dessert, which ended up being quite fun. :)

April 27, 2013
Although this was the last day of my trip, it was certainly the busiest by far.
In the morning, Hady and I went to a neighborhood of Cairo called Heliopolis, to have breakfast with Carson, my American AFSer friend from Oregon, at a Starbucks in a large Heliopolis food court called Tivoli Dome.
I'd hoped that our fellow AFSer in Egypt, Annika from Germany, would be able to come as well, but she was on vacation outside of Cairo.
In any case, Hady, Carson, and I spent some nice time together chitchatting calmly over breakfast, which was very fun and relaxed. :)
After that, we said goodbye to Carson and then went to the Old City of Cairo to visit two very fascinating places of worship: The first was the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
This synagogue is fabled to be built on the spot where the baby Moses was found.
And it was, honestly, very beautiful. It was very elegant, colorful, and in spite of its unmistakable structure, menorahs, and Hebrew inscriptions, looked as though it had a bit of Islamic influence in its design.
It also had a feeling to it as though it were sort of frozen in time - the Jewish community in Egypt, while once quite large, has dwindled to less than 200 individuals, and so the Ben Ezra Synagogue isn't really used for religious services anymore.
After that, we headed to the Hanging Church (also known as the Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church, which is a Coptic church that dates back to the 3rd Century C.E. It also has 110 icons, the oldest of which dates back to the 8th century.
It had many paintings, and the distinct Coptic art style, in my opinion, is interestingly reminiscent of the art style of the ancient Egyptians.
And, as I've mentioned before, I have a thing for Coptic churches for some reason, so I couldn't help but feel in awe a little bit.
After that, we took a quick peak in a small church nearby, and then headed back to Manial so we could meet up with my friend Ahmed Nada, who stayed in my hometown of Ann Arbor last year.
Since I've only been able to meet up with him once since I got to Egypt - and it was all the way back in November - I was delighted to have an opportunity to catch up with him. :)
We sat together in a cafe for a little while, had something to drink, and then headed back to Hady's home, because at that point I had to eat lunch, pack up, and get ready to head back to Alexandria.
After I said goodbye to Hoda, Haidy, and Hadeel, and had eaten lunch and packed up, Hady, Ahmed, and a friend of Hady's gave me a ride to the hotel where the people from the AFS Alex chapter were staying.
I very reluctantly said goodbye to my two good friends, and then headed back home to Alexandria with the other people from the chapter. We got back just after 10:00 pm.

In the following days, I suffered from some melancholy feelings reminiscent of those that I felt in the first days when we had just gotten back from our trip to Aswan and Luxor back in January. I really wanted to go back, and was sad that I had had to leave so soon since the trip had been so much fun.
But other fun things have happened lately which greatly brightened my mood (more posts about them to come).
Thanks for reading about my amazing trip!
Hope you all enjoyed.
Nico

A picture from the night we ate at Spectra:
Left row, starting from the end: Reem, Janan, Huda, Liza.
Right row, starting from the inside: Me, Mohammed, Hady, and Yehia. 

PS: I forgot to mention - today marks exactly eight months since the day that I arrived in Egypt.