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AUC Back to Campus Fall 2021

AUC was proactive in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and faculty and students share their feelings about being on campus

By Devon Murray
Photos by Ahmad El-Nemr

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, AUC has continued its active efforts and ongoing measures to uphold the health and safety of its community.  

Keeping AUC Safe 

A trendsetter, AUC pioneered the shift to online instruction in Egypt in 2020 and 2021, adopting hybrid classes as needed. The University is also the first in Egypt to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for accessing campus starting Fall 2021, facilitating registration and providing on-campus vaccinations for its  community members in collaboration with Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population. Anyone on campus is required to wear a mask indoors and outdoors while keeping a social distance, and AUC community members must conduct an online self check before coming to campus each day.

The Keep AUC Safe initiative, established by Hanan Sabea ’85, ’87, associate professor of anthropology, and Helen Rizzo, associate professor of sociology, helps keep the AUC community protected by creating a volunteer group to remind people on campus to wear their masks and adhere to safety measures. With the return to campus in Fall 2021, AUC established the Back to Campus Task Force and a subsequent Scientific Advisory Committee, made up of faculty experts and administrators and headed by Hassan Azzazy, distinguished University professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry. The committee provides scientific recommendations that inform the Back to Campus Task Force’s decisions on  coronavirus measures and guidelines.

In addition, the University offers comprehensive diagnostic and screening testing of suspected cases, and unvaccinated community members are required to undergo a weekly mandatory testing program to protect themselves and  those around them. The AUC community is now 90% vaccinated. 

Campus Sentiments 

With the start of Fall 2021, for the first time in 18 months, some semblance of our  “normal” life has been restored to AUC, as students, faculty and staff have returned to campus. Each day, the bustling New Cairo campus teems with excitement as  thousands of community members walk its grounds. But the scene is far from business as usual, as the University is enforcing strict anti-coronavirus measures, such as mask wearing, social distancing in and out of the  classroom, and mandatory vaccinations. 

“It’s exciting and stressful,” said Ahmed Ashraf, computer engineering senior. 

“Campus feels crowded, especially as we have four semesters’ worth of freshmen exploring it for the first time. But AUC is doing a good job, especially considering  the constantly changing circumstances and guidelines,” he said.  

Freshman Jomana ElDamanhoury shared  similar emotions. “It feels really weird, especially after nearly a couple of years of being partially or completely online, but I really love the environment. I love how people are so interactive and friendly. It makes coming here really special.” 

Most students are relieved to go back to face-to-face learning. Freshman Eman  Allam had to complete her senior year of high school entirely online. “It was awful,” she recalled. “But I feel safe on campus, and I am looking forward to making new friends. It feels great to be here.” 

Petroleum engineering sophomore Bassel Abdelaty, however, did not mind being online. “I was on campus during my first semester in 2019. It was good, but I got used to taking my lectures online last year —  and my commute to campus is two hours,” he said. 

Youssef Mohamed, also a petroleum engineering sophomore, is excited to be on campus for the first time.

“I’m looking forward to joining sports teams and meeting new people,” he said. “AUC has done what it can to keep us safe; the rest is on us.” 

A similar mix of relief and caution was noted among faculty members. Doris Jones, senior instructor II in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, said, “While Zoom has proven to be a resourceful alternative for classroom instruction and other purposes, I think the vast majority of the AUC community would not want to experience yet another shutdown if we do not remain vigilant about safety.” 

Jones added that beyond the day-to day in-person interactions, one thing that  she missed the most was the physical beauty of AUC’s campus, commending the University for maintaining its natural environment despite the lockdown. “From a philosophical standpoint, I personally feel the innate human need to connect with nature,” she explained. 

“The University is continuing to make its biophilia a central part of our social, intellectual and psychological human well-being on campus. We must follow the health and safety guidelines to keep the campus open so we can also enjoy its aesthetic beauty.” 

On Campus From Overseas

With travel restrictions easing but not fully lifted, the AUC  community is happily welcoming the return of international  students. And the feeling is mutual.  

“After almost two years of lockdowns and restrictions, it feels amazing to live somewhat of a normal life again,” said Ariana Bennett, a third year journalism and political science major from Northeastern University who is spending the fall semester at AUC. 

Alexander Reiffenstuel, an Islamic studies undergraduate at Freie Universität Berlin, is especially happy to be on campus, describing his experience with online learning last year as monotonous and difficult.  

“It feels incredible and invigorating to look beyond my computer screen to learn and meet students,” he said. “Language courses have regained their initial excitement, as I can improve my listening and speaking skills in Arabic more easily.”

“Online courses undermined the joy of University life and limited my personal learning experience tremendously,” he continued. “I believe  that the return to campus reduced student psychological and academic hardships, which were developed over the past year and shouldn’t be overlooked.” 

Despite the difference between Egypt and other countries in terms of vaccination rates, study-abroad students generally feel safe on campus, mostly because AUC boasts a 90% vaccination rate. “I feel safe being back on campus primarily because I have the privilege of being vaccinated and know that the majority of  students and faculty are too,” Reiffenstuel said. 

For Bennett, wearing a face mask and keeping a distance on campus aren’t a big deal. “The safety measures are definitely  easy to follow,” she said. “We’ve been wearing face masks for  almost two years now, so it’s really nothing new.” 

Both Reiffenstuel and Bennett are looking forward to their time  at AUC, noting its rich diversity in students and ideas. Since arriving in late August, Bennett has already made friends from Spain, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and other countries, all of whom have taught her something new about their cultures or lives. “I’m mainly hoping to keep learning new things,” she said. 

Reiffenstuel is excited about the social interactions.

“I’m looking forward to having dinners with other students to develop deep friendships beyond the academic semester,” he said.

“My favorite moment so far was a game of soccer with international and local students on the AUC pitch and the following dinner with a wide range of students from all over, during which we exchanged personal and cultural experiences. All of this cannot be achieved in a virtual environment.” 

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