Egyptian students enjoy Saddleback (Natalie Hanks/LARIAT STAFF)
From the desert sands of Egypt to the sandy beaches of California, Ahmed Elhedeny has traveled a long way to become a Gaucho. Elhedeny and the group of 14 other Egyptian students spending the year at Saddleback are adapting to a new school, language, culture and endless questions.
“Everyone here keeps asking me about camels, but Egypt is so way different,” Elhedeny said. “Egypt is so way better than being just pyramids and sphinx for foreigners. Egypt is more civilized and so busy. Most people work 2 to 3 jobs and women are getting more rights.”
The group is a far cry from the stereotyped burkha clad camel herders of Indiana Jones movies. In fact, most of the polo – shirt – wearing, Blackberry – wielding students already have graduate degrees and are here to learn computer programming.
“I wish they had something like this back in my country,” Elhedeny said of his experience at Saddleback. “It’s smart and cheaper.” Elhedeny is already a trained veterinarian but decided to pursue computer programming for a more practical career. “There are not as many pets as here and for jobs I would have to go to urban places.” The roads in his home city of Alexandria have so much traffic that he does not even own a car because it is faster to take public transportation. “The traffic is crazy,” Elhedeny said. “If you see a crowd of people, there’s a fight.”
A true Egyptian native, Elhedeny has visited the pyramids many times, and describes them as “breathtaking.” Elhedeny also admitted that although he has never visited the actual Luxor in Egypt, ironically, he has been able to visit the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas. “It was my goal to go to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve and I did it,” Elhedeny said. “It was crazy!”
The New Year’s Eve bash however was not the glamorized, binge drinking night of regrets seen in movies like The Hangover, in part because the group does not drink. “It is against our religion to drink in public,” Elhedeny said. “I don’t need to drink, I’m honest already.” A practicing Muslim, Elhedeny believes the media is to blame for some negative stereotypes about Islam. “It is way different than what the media says,” Elhedeny said. “We are just normal people who pray 5 times a day.”
A trip to Las Vegas isn’t the only sightseeing adventure this group of students has been able to go on. Within the last semester the students have traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco and to the San Diego Zoo. The group is currently working on plans to visit San Francisco again for spring break and Elhedeny has one last goal to accomplish by visiting New York City.
Adjusting to the American lifestyle has been relatively easy for Elhedeny. “I was raised differently,” Elhedeny said. Learning English since kindergarten, he grew up listening to American music and watching American television. “I love rock like Def Leopard, Metallica and Linkin Park,” Elhedeny said. “Music is my hobby.” Some of his favorite TV shows include Scrubs, House, Friends and Joey. “Joey is dumb, that’s why I like him.”
Also a long time fan of American cinema, Elhedeny is an admitted sucker for 1990’s romantic comedies. Some of his favorite chick flicks include ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ ‘She’s All That,’ and ‘There’s Something About Mary.’ “I want to live in the 90’s all the rest of my life,” Elhedeny said. A fair critic, he is also impressed by the progress of the movie industry in his home country. “We have the biggest music and movie production in the Middle East,” Elhedeny said. “But the acting in American movies is gorgeous.”
Another aspect of American culture Elhedeny enjoys is the political system. “I love the democracy here,” Elhedeny said. “It is just words in Egypt. We have had the same President for 25 years; it’s more like a kingdom.” Elhedeny remains optimistic for the political future of his county and for the upcoming elections next year.
When Elhedeny and the group of other Egyptian students depart in June, he will leave with his Webmasters degree, knowledge of Lady Gaga, and a new appreciation for the iPod. “I love it,” Elhedeny said. “It was the first thing I bought when I got here.” The American lifestyle has proved to be a great experience and a nice change of pace for Elhedeny. “I will miss the quiet,” Elhedeny said. “We call Mission Viejo ‘the city of dead’ because it is always so quiet.”
What Elhedeny has valued most about his trip so far is getting to meet new people and truly experience American culture. “All the people I’ve met here, they’re just nice,” Elhedeny said. Despite the incorrect stereotypes and sometimes-ignorant questions, he is happy to talk to anyone bold enough to ask questions. “I feel like people here really do want to know and to learn. That is why I’m here.”
Student poses in front of pyramid (Natalie Hanks/LARIAT STAFF)