By Ioanna Moriatis | This story appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of AUCToday.
Whether representing students of different cultural backgrounds or engaging them in international dialogue, AUC’s more than 60 student clubs and organizations reflect the University’s global character.
“Internationalization is not just about going abroad; it’s about the mindset,” asserted Mohamed El-Shalakany, mechanical engineering major and secretary-general of AUC’s Cairo International Model United Nations (CIMUN), the largest student-run activity on campus, the largest Model United Nations conference in Africa and the Middle East, and one of the largest inter-collegiate Model United Nations programs outside of North America. “Being exposed to international topics and cases, I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for CIMUN.”
Following are highlights of four active student organizations at AUC that give their members a unique multinational experience.
Cairo International Model United Nations
AUC’s 30-year-old Cairo International Model United Nations inherently promotes internationalization. It prompts students to investigate and debate global topics, both among themselves at conferences on campus and with students from around the world at the annual National Model United Nations conference in New York, where AUC’s CIMUN team received the Outstanding Delegation award — the highest at the conference — for eight consecutive years.
Pioneering Model United Nations in Egypt and the region, CIMUN has attracted students from universities across the globe. “When they come to AUC, it’s not only for the conference, but to experience Egypt in general,” said El-Shalakany.
CIMUN, El-Shalakany added, has been concentrating efforts on drawing more student participation from abroad in AUC’s CIMUN conferences and acting as a hub for global dialogue among student leaders.
Black Student Association
Enhancing campus diversity, AUC’s Black Student Association holds various cultural and intellectual events for students and conducts community outreach activities outside of New Cairo. “Our aim is to provide awareness of the type of diversity present at AUC,” said Joel Ogwang, biotechnology graduate student and president of the Black Student Association. “We use Africa as our example to showcase diversity.”
This fall, the association hosted a roundtable discussion titled “Understanding Cultural Diversity at AUC,” where graduate students discussed various topics, breaking down barriers and engaging in critical dialogue about individual perceptions of diversity at the University. “We discussed how diverse we actually are, how we do things differently, how we have distinctive greetings,” said Ogwang, who grew up in Uganda and is attending AUC under the African Graduate Fellowship. “We talked about how to bridge the disparities that might exist.”
The Black Student Association itself is home to students of different nationalities. “We have students from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Uganda, Madagascar, Gambia, Nigeria, among others,” said Ogwang. “It’s a good representation of cultures across Africa, but we invite any nationality to join as well.”
Highlighting the different cultural backgrounds that make up the association, members collaborated with the Office of International Student Life in a joint campus event, African Perspective, which invited students from different African countries to perform cultural dances in traditional attires. Members also traveled to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to familiarize Alexandria University students with AUC’s graduate studies and scholarship opportunities.
For members of AIESEC, an international student network with local chapters in different universities around the world, having a well-rounded, global experience is critical to developing leadership skills that would encourage personal and professional development. AIESEC organizes student volunteer opportunities abroad as well as professional and entrepreneurial internships overseas. “Being abroad adds a lot to your portfolio,” said Kamal Abdel Ghani, computer engineering major and president of AIESEC at AUC. “When we monitor projects, we consider them on a professional level and also think about how this will affect the individual person.”
Traveling to various countries through AIESEC-organized programs, students are able to engage in various communities, reflecting on the way they interact in different settings and developing important characteristics for professional and academic success. “When we travel, we interact with interns from a lot of cultures,” said Abdel Ghani. “Given different challenges, we develop characteristics like being solution-oriented or self-aware. We get to know more about other countries and become world citizens.”
Student Action for Refugees
Anouk Wijtsma, a master’s student in migration and refugee studies and president of Student Action for Refugees (STAR), has the opportunity to engage with Cairo’s international community outside of AUC’s campus. By offering English classes, STAR helps refugees in Cairo — who come from countries such as Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq or Somalia — gain skills to advance professionally in Egypt or resettle in other countries. “The students are really excited and willing to learn,” said Wijtsma. “Through teaching, we get a lot of input from students of various cultures with diverse ideas.”
In addition to English, STAR hopes to offer French or German next semester, acknowledging a need within the refugee community for enhanced language education. “Many refugees hope to learn French or German in preparation for resettlement in another country,” said Wijtsma, who comes from the Netherlands.
Passionate about the opportunity she was given to come to Egypt and interact with individuals from different backgrounds, Wijtsma is most enthusiastic about her experience with STAR and the impact she has been able to make on the Cairo community. Wijtsma started to build STAR’s English program last year and has now seen the program expand, with almost 400 refugee students coming to receive tutoring from AUC volunteers. “There are many things our refugee students don’t have access to, mainly education,” Wijtsma explained. “They’re very appreciative of the classes we offer and feel it’s important to have something like a diploma to show others. Education builds their self-esteem.”