International studies students in Alexandria during New Year’s Day attack
For most of Union County, the New Year’s Day bombing in Alexandria, Egypt, took place half a world away, but 21 Wingate University students had a more firsthand experience.
The students, along with two faculty members –Jennifer Armentrout, director of International Studies, and Dr. Dennis Harlow, assistant professor of management at the School of Business – were in Alexandria when the bombs went off.
The trip was part of Dr. Harlow’s perspective course on Egypt, entitled “From Pyramids to a Modern Nation.” During the classroom portion of the course, students learned about the politics, literature, and civilization of modern and ancient Egypt.
The travel portion of the course included a tour of Cairo and Alexandria, where the students would experience the country’s culture and history. The group had reached Alexandria when terrorists triggered a car bomb Coptic Christians left a New Year’s Mass at the Saints Church in east Alexandria.
The car bomb explosion killed 21 people and injured another 79.
The students and faculty from Wingate were about 30 minutes away from the site of the bombing. Although the group did not witness or hear the bombing, they felt the emotional impact.
“My first reaction was shock, then sadness,” junior Christin Powell said. “Thinking about how worried my parents were going to be made me think about the reactions of the victims’ families, and I felt so much sympathy for them.”
Upon learning of bombing, Armentrout immediately tried to get in touch with the Wingate staff back home. “I was constantly having conversations with our in-country staff, trying to decide whether to stay or go home,” she said.
Officials decided the group would ultimately complete their stay in Egypt. However, they modified the itinerary and stayed in the hotel for the following day to make sure there was no immediate pending danger. “We felt it was wise to lay low for a day,” Armentrout said.
The students called parents and families back home before they heard about the attack. “We asked (the students) to contact their parents and tell them they were fine,” says Armentrout. “Everybody was anxious for them to get home.”
Because of the time difference, Powell woke her parents in the early morning hours to let them know she and her classmates were safe. “They were both glad that I had called them and saved them from worrying upon hearing about the bombing when they woke up,” she said.
The next day, the group went back to Cairo, which was the original plan. For the remainder of their tour, everyone monitored the news and stayed in frequent contact with families and Wingate officials back home.
“For the rest of the trip, I was in constant communication with my family because they were all concerned,” Powell said. “We talked via Facebook, phone calls and texting, sometimes multiple times a day.”
The government also provided the group police security, which assured the students. “We all felt as safe as we could be,” Armentrout said.
After the initial shock, the students concentrated on the fun parts their trip, which included a lunch-and-dinner cruise on the Nile, visits to museums in Cairo and Alexandria, tours of Islamic mosques and Coptic churches and an excursion to Giza to see the pyramids and ride a camel.
Luckily, the students were able to finish the trip by adding to their modified itinerary the activities they weren’t able to do on the day after the bombing.
“No one can predict terrorism, not even in the U.S.,” Armentrout said. “The worst thing would be to stop trips like these. Continuing these will help us move past what happened.”
Powell’s willingness to travel internationally has remained unfazed as well. “I feel just as likely to travel abroad now as I did before the trip to Egypt,” she says.