“How could I forgot it can be this cold in Stuttgart!”, I mentally yelled at myself as I stepped out of the Airport this year in February after coming back from my 3rd semester in Cairo, ah my warm-sunny-20-degree yesterday.
You usually do not reflect about your unusual experiences until that cold breeze slaps you in the face, but I just experienced living lengthy in two different countries of contrasting climates and culture while studying within two distinctive education systems (what is also refered to as a double degree master’s program).
Transnational learning exchange
These double degree programs seem to be a growing trend within EU universities where a student is involved in working with two universities that developed two different programs within one joint Masters. Stuttgart University has joined Ain Shams University in Egypt to offer a double degree Masters in Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design (IUSD). It is an interdisciplinary study, you can be in the same boat if you can relate your field with urban life and cities’ development.
“So, how was it?”
This article, however, is not about introducing the program in its educational sense, it is about a personal experience written by a bored current student running away from working on her thesis. “So, how was it?”, I got this question a lot after returning from Cairo. I think there is a need to address it publicly -and honestly- especially for future students who are also considering pursuing this double degree in particular. Therefore, this article’s focus is how was it to live as a foreigner -female- student in Egypt and I will end it with a summary of the tips of living there. I need to clarify first that I had the cheat code called “Arabic” which allowed me to understand better the phenomenon of life in Cairo. However, anyone can fully enjoy the experience but the language can be an advantage with daily chores.
Let me contrast it first with a brief on my first two semesters in Stuttgart, where I can safely say that they were simply “nice”. I lived in Vaihingen campus and needed to travel daily to Stadtmitte’s faculty which allowed me to get over my S-Bahn fascination fast. However, I usually shy away from parties and bars and even further in Germany as someone who did not speak German, which I guess made me miss the full fun experience. As for the life-study balance, I think the Stuttgart University was less intense from Ain Shams one in which did allow me to have a free time and even pursue studying the German language within evening courses.
Now moving away from that steady nice brief on Stuttgart life to 2797.04 km south, in the sunny warm city that can also get crazy hot – side note: don’t preach about greening the environment in Cairo, use AirCondition all the time! – fortunately, if you are a non-smoker the air is similar to smoking a pack a day –Fact-, and you can also increase the dose with tax-free cigarettes. Furthermore, if you earn in euros you can live luxuriously in Cairo where a minimal income in Stuttgart would allow to live an upper-middle class life both in rent choices, restaurants, cafes, etc.
Incredibly GREAT with some bad moments
However, I cannot say that my personal experience in Cairo was “nice”, I can safely describe it as incredibly GREAT with some bad moments. In contrast to the “steady” life in Stuttgart, the Cairo experience has both ups and downs. let me start with a dosage of ups: the program does not kid around with giving you real situations to deal with. You will enter informal settlements, survey people threaten to be evacuated at any time, and interview officials. The most amazing time was within a one-week workshop that takes place every year in various parts of Egypt. In my intake, the program took us to study the situation in a beautiful beach in South Sinai with a cosy tourist camp full of cats -cute cats- in addition to meeting and drinking traditionally made tea with the Bedouins. We also had the chance to go scuba-diving and visit a part of Sinai mountains to experience both the sea and mountain
environment – all in the name of research, baby! But jokes aside, I was surprised to learn about the realities behind urbanisation in that region in which I can also state that it was one of the most intellectually enriching experiences I ever had.
Back to living in Cairo, the city is alive day AND night to almost an annoying degree, where it can get you a harder time sleeping if you did not pay attention to the noise factor while choosing a place to stay. I also felt from living with two non-Arab flatmates that having an Arabic speaker in the house is quite essential, I usually am the one receiving the bills and translating even the “numbers”, additionally calling and dealing with the landlord, the doorman, repair guys, random guys, and sometimes delivery guys. Oh, about that, food delivery is a thing there, you can even deliver beers to your house. Another popular thing is taxi/driver’s apps which I would say they are better than calling a taxi on the street.
Coming to the juicy parts, and spitting out the answer to the first question I get as women, YES, verbal harassment is almost a trend there among men but in most cases is not harmless. That is of course if you pay attention to logical safety rules of never walking alone and being careful of entering empty streets. However, I have got to admit that I did not follow these guidelines for dummies and it was fine for most of the time. However, I did experience that kind of behavior – at daytime- on one of the university’s entrances, the closest entrance to the IUSD program studios. This kind of situations can develop to a harmless level if the streets were empty so always be alert in these places.
Stuttgart: steady train. Cairo: rollercoaster
In the end, I can describe my experience in Stuttgart as a steady train while Cairo is a rollercoaster, if you ask my honest personal opinion on whether to pursue a single degree in one of the universities or choose the full double degree one, GO FOR THE LATTER, it is definitely a worthwhile life and intellectual experience and at the same time can be much more a calmer one of you paid attention to safety issues.
I think it is useful to summarise this section in quick tips for anyone decided on getting the full double degree experience or a single one in Ain Shams University:
1. Pay attention to noise/AirCondition factor while looking for rent.
2. Find an Arabic speaker as a flatmate.
3. Use taxi and food delivery apps.
4. Do not walk alone in new/suspicious places and the closest entrance (gate 5) to the IUSD studios is one of them.
5. Live like a king in Cairo, it will not cost you much.