On April 20, 2006, a group of students from DC Public Schools found themselves standing before the massive industrial printing presses of
Newspaper Company in Cairo, Egypt. The students were told that in that room, some hundreds of thousands of Arabic and English script newspapers were printed and eventually distributed to millions of readers in Egypt and the greater Middle East.
Six months prior, these students were not thinking about Arab newspapers, and they certainly weren’t entertaining the idea of spending two weeks in April traveling the cities of Cairo, Alexandria, and Luxor in Egypt. But in the Office of International Programs (OIP) within the central offices of DC Public Schools, plans were coming together, in cooperation with AMIDEAST, to run such a trip—thanks in great part to a grant from the Mosaic Foundation.
In past years, OIP, as part of its Youth Ambassadors Program, has run a number of student trips to different regions throughout the world. With the Spring 2006 Student Travel Program to Egypt, students were selected from across the city, based on academic record, community involvement, and their capacity to serve as articulate spokespersons for the school, the school system, the community, and the United States. In the end, ten sophomore and junior students were chosen, representing nine high schools from each region of DC Public Schools.
The travel program was designed with a three-fold aim: (1) to expand the students’ cultural and historic awareness of Egypt, (2) to provide students with an international experience that prepares them for global citizenship, and (3) to introduce the Arabic language.
The group met in Saturday sessions for a month preceding the trip. With guidance from trip leaders David Maron and Lynn Moore, as well as guest speakers from Georgetown and George Washington Universities and the US State Department, the students considered and discussed Egypt and the Arab world, Arabic, cross-cultural communication, and the logistical and psychological aspects of international travel. Through the seminars, these DCPS youth ambassadors gained invaluable skills and knowledge for their trip.
The group arrived in Egypt on the afternoon of April 10th. During their initial three days in Cairo, students experienced both ancient and modern Egypt—visiting the pyramids, the Islamic and Coptic sections of the city, St. Andrews refugee program, a Catholic social service center, and numerous neighborhoods. A few days later, the group traveled on a night train along the Nile River to Luxor in southern Egypt. Two full days exploring the tombs of kings and queens underground and the temples of Luxor, Memphis, and Hatshepsut aboveground had the students dazzled and sun burnt. The group headed back up north, through Cairo, and on to Alexandria, Egypt’s Mediterranean city.
Alexandria presented the students with a melding of what they had previously known to be exclusive: European and Middle Eastern cultures. The students found out, through their visits to the Alexandria Library, the Alexandria Museum, Montazah Palace, and more, that Egypt was far more complex than the uniform image that they often viewed back at home in the United States.
Returning to Cairo, the group had the opportunity to visit an all-girls public high school, modern malls playing the most contemporary Hollywood movies, the United States Embassy, and Khan al-Khalili market. Back at Al Ahram headquarters, the students, in a meeting with several Egyptian journalists and editors, commented that having experienced the country first-hand, they were now compelled to present their friends, family, and community with a more educated and nuanced view of Egypt, specifically, and the world outside the United States, broadly.
On May 30th, at the Sumner School in Washington DC, in front of their community, the students spoke eloquently about their time in Egypt, providing the audience with a glimpse of just how far these DCPS youth ambassadors had come since the start of the school year.