Latherial Calbert had never been overseas until an exchange program through the College of Charleston landed him on another continent and a world away from home. The College’s exchange program with American University Cairo offered adventure and a chance to be immersed in a completely different culture.
Calbert is one of five CofC students who attended AUC during the spring of 2023, while two students from AUC, including Ali Yassine, joined the College’s ranks for the semester. College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu and former American University Cairo President Francis Joseph Ricciardone Jr. formalized a student exchange program between the two institutions in December of 2019 thanks to support from program benefactors and fellow Georgetown alumni Hilton and Catherine Smith, and Jonathan and Nancy Wolf.
After a delayed start due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first CofC student went to AUC in the fall of 2021. She was joined by two more students in the spring of 2022 and another two went for the fall 2022 semester. The College welcomed its first two AUC students in the spring of 2022 before hosting another student last fall.
While enjoying studying and learning with students who speak another language, Calbert, who received a scholarship to attend AUC, was surprised at how conversant AUC students are in English.
“They even know English slang and younger generation terminologies,” says Calbert, an applied mathematics and data science double major in the Honors College.
In turn, he learned some basic Egyptian Arabic so that he could get around on his own: shopping, eating out, taking a taxi and exchanging greetings. In addition to exploring downtown Cairo, including Maadi and Zamalek, he took advantage of the opportunity to go snorkeling in Hurghada, explore the fish markets in Alexandria and visit the pyramids of Giza.
But it is an intimate dinner with a few of his Egyptian friends that is among Calbert’s most enjoyable cultural experiences during his time in Cairo.
“They shared many new Arabic words with me, including some Egyptian slang,” he recalls. “They also let me try some of their food and drink during Ramadan.”
While the cultural aspects of the program were important to Calbert, what really clinched the program for him, however, was that AUC pairs its data science program with CofC’s, which means classes at AUC transfer to course equivalents at the College. Calbert’s classes at AUC also gave him new perspectives. He found the teaching styles in Egypt to be more conceptual in nature, which helped him develop greater thinking skills and capacities that led to his increased passion for data science.
For Yassine, an AUC computer science major and business administration and mathematics double minor who was among the exchange students to attend the College this spring, coming to the College was his first trip to the U.S.
Yassine hadn’t planned to leave his home country of Lebanon for university, but after winning the National Robotics Competition his senior year of high school, his team went to the World Robotic Olympiad in Hungary, and he caught the travel bug.
“Lebanon is not moving forward,” says Yassine, who received a U.S. Department of State Tomorrow’s Leadership Scholarship to attend AUC. “I realized that to give back to my country, I had to leave for my education.”
As part of his scholarship’s requirements, a semester in the U.S. is highly encouraged. After meeting some College of Charleston students spending a semester at AUC, Yassine applied to the College’s exchange program and was one of the two students accepted for the spring 2023 semester.
Yassine’s greatest discovery at CofC was that “if you ask, you can really find wonderful things.” What he found was an opportunity to collaborate with one of his computer science professors on a blockchain-related research project. The experience has transformed his career plans.
“I was planning to work for a corporation but after seeing the opportunities in research, I would like to apply to graduate school and focus on research,” he explains. “I think I can do more for the greater good as a researcher.”
For both Calbert and Yassine, the AUC-CofC exchange has certainly expanded their horizons, and they have the Smiths and Wolfs to thank for their life-changing experiences.