Desert campus, melting students

By Judith Maite Hellebronth

Instead of enjoying the fresh air and the blue sky somewhere outside on The American University in Cairo Avenue, Yasser M., a freshman from Marsa Matrouh, entrenches himself in the library.

Yasser is no bookworm. He says he goes there because it is the only place with a room temperature under 16 degrees.

Sitting by the flat screen of an Apple computer, he grouches about the heat due to the lack of air conditioning in some rooms. As one of the scholarship students from a public school, Yasser should be used to less convenient circumstances. But he is not the only one suffering from the sun. 

At a dimension of 260 acres, the new campus is undeniably huge. Compared to the old campus located at the Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, almost everyone appears to be overwhelmed by the challenge of walking around more than hundred meters a day.

For one sleepy looking girl (resting the sandy soles of her shoes on a new seat), AUC has not been able yet to provide her with a usable classroom at all. She had just finished a course in which she had to sit on some stairs in the sun. Moreover, she could not concentrate, constantly interrupted by construction noise.

Other students arrive at the campus already tired. Sara N., a student in her second semester, said the new campus is too far from home. “In the middle of the desert,” she scoffed. Depending on traffic, her total commute to school is four hours out of the day. 

Faculty members have also dealt with the same problems, long before students arrived.

One faculty member, interviewed on condition of anonymity, said she contemplated quitting. Everything is still under construction. Not even her office is available yet. “It is quite simply horrible,” she said.

Jonas H., a visitor from Germany, was very astonished at the grouchiness.

AUC students should realize how privileged they are, he said, explaining his admiration for the campus’ architecture. He wondered how anyone could feel lost on the campus, when on the other hand most were familiar with a metropolis like Cairo.

“I would give a kingdom for a place at this university!” he said.

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