New Campus Novelties

Yesterday morning while we were waiting for the shuttles to take us to class we heard firing coming from somewhere around the hotel—target practice, we assumed. On the way to the new campus, the shuttles take the Ring Road around Cairo. We pass by a sprawling necropolis (Coptic, Greek Orthodox, and Muslim, all buried in their separate sections) and a barren military base, before driving past the pre-towns of New Cairo. New Cairo is under construction, a vast site of half finished homes and office buildings and billboards promising that the Arabia Smart Building will arrive in 2009. Along the road signposts point to under-construction housing compounds with names like “Moon Valley,” “Concorde Gardens,” “Hyde Park,” and my personal favorite, “Lakeview.” I am intensely curious if the developers of Lakeview plan to create an artificial lake.

It takes, without traffic, thirty-five minutes to arrive at the New Campus, which towers above the rest of New Cairo merely because it is (almost) completely constructed. Beyond the campus lies one construction site, but behind that steel shell stretches unbroken desert and hazy sky. The only things that are close to being completed on the New Campus are the classrooms. Even then, it is more likely than not that the air-conditioning isn’t functioning, that desks are missing and that the chairs are trailing plastic wrapping. The Library is built, as is the bookstore, but only three food outlets, all vastly over-priced in comparison to what we’ve been eating on the Old Campus and around Cairo. The dorms, computer labs, sports facilities, cafeteria, food courts, science labs, everything that would make this a functioning university…they’re still under construction.

The buildings are aesthetically beautifully and practically ridiculous. We’ve had classes for exactly a week and I still get lost going from class to class, even though I had them all before. I’ve walked around in circles in the buildings, going from courtyard to courtyard trying to find a room that I’ve found before coming from a different direction. Staircases are few and far between and seemingly placed randomly, while the blinking exit signs often lead bewilderingly to blank walls and no exits.

I am somewhat more able to negotiate the labyrinth of office spaces in the Administration Building thanks to the wild goose chase I was sent on when I attempted to submit my passport to receive my student visa. I entered Egypt on a thirty day, multiple entry tourist visa, and submitted what I thought was all of the necessary paperwork during orientation. I followed the instructions I was given, and arrived exactly one week after I submitted my documentation to the Business Support Office, passport, photo, and 62.10 LE firmly in hand, after I wandered around the basement of the Administration Building for a half an hour, looking for the office. The man at the Business Support Office shuffled through his official approval documents and told me he hadn’t received mine, that I had to go the Registrar to ask them what had gone wrong. After another half an hour trying to find the Registrar, the receptionist there sent me to Student Services. The day before Tommy had tried to find Student Services, and someone told him that it wasn’t built yet. The receptionist was able to give me a general direction, so I set off, asking people who didn’t have a clue where the building was. I ended up in the theater department’s unfinished performance hall, and it was only by luck that the next door I tried belonged to the actually constructed Student Services building. After a half an hour wait, Student Services told me that they could not help me with my visa and perhaps I could try the Study Abroad Office, which she’d heard might be in the Core building. Anyone who knows me well and happens to be reading this knows that I am not an extraordinarily patient person when dealing with inefficient bureaucrats, or for that matter, inefficient fast food workers. By this time I was boiling mad. By chance on my way to the Core Building I happened to see a very precariously perched piece of posterboard announcing the location of the International Student Services Office, so I took my chances and went to see them. The ISSO turned out to be two women sitting in an empty office, and they were even less helpful than the people at Student Services, likely because I recounted my trials in a frustrated rant. I ran into other extremely frustrated Study Abroads in that office, and we essentially decided to bypass the Registrar’s main reception desk and find the office of the exact person responsible for our visas, whose name was helpfully included on our so far completely incorrect instruction sheet.

The Military and Visa services coordinator took exactly thirty seconds to tell me that my visa approval had not yet been granted because there was no proof that I had paid my tuition. Apparently, the New York Office of AUC, where all American study abroad students submit their tuition payments, had not transmitted the appropriate data needed to register study abroad students as paid in the AUC computer system. She told me to bring in copies of my tuition payment, and only then could my application be sent to the appropriate government ministry for processing, which would take another entire week. My whole ordeal (and the identical ordeal of 400 other study abroad students) could have been eliminated had they told us at orientation that we needed proof of payment, because at that point there were still printers on the Old Campus that we had access to. I had the copies of my receipts saved in my inbox. What I did not have anymore was access to a working printer, nor enough days left on my tourist visa for me to find a working printer.

Luckily, I discovered that there is a fourteen day grace period for my student visa to begin after my tourist visa expires, and when I asked my Palestinian suitemate to ask the manager of the hotel in arabic if It was possible for me to use their printer she looked at me like I was crazy and pulled an hp deskjet out of her closet.

Dealing with this university’s bureaucracy leads me to admire American University’s administration as a model of efficiency, which for anyone familiar with American University’s administration is an unbelievable statement.

The good news is that I like all of my classes, and I absolutely love two of them. My classes are confirming that it was completely the right decision to come to Cairo for school, because I would not be able to take the same type of classes in DC. I need to fulfill an Ancient or Middle Ages history requirement for my history degree, and I have already studied both Greek and Roman history and the Middle Ages, which were my only options at AU. Here at AUC my Societies and Cultures of the Ancient Near East class is a fascinating exploration of the impact of geography on the development of ancient cultures in the Middle East, as well as an in-depth overview of the vitally important but poorly understood influence of Ancient Iraqi civilization on the later Greeks and Romans. Yesterday my professor made learning about the locations of mountain ranges interesting—his fifty minute lecture felt like fifteen.

In other news: I have a ton of absolutely gorgeous pictures that I took in Alexandria…but the internet connection is still not good enough to upload any of them (Sorry, John!)

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