The University of Iowa

UI Political Science Student Returns to Iowa After Study Abroad in Egypt

February 10th, 2011

From University News Services
By Lois Gray

University of Iowa political science major Dan Olinghouse was sitting in a café in Tarhir Square in downtown Cairo when the Egyptian protests erupted Jan. 25.

The 25-year-old UI junior from Ankeny was in his second semester of an independent study abroad program at the American University in Cairo when the historic revolution began sweeping the streets of Cairo.

Olinghouse said he wanted to be a part of the protests to make a difference. He watched as the first demonstrators moved into Tahrir, and he then immediately got involved in the demonstration.

“I thought it was amazing that people were doing it, because I am well aware of Egypt’s governmental ‘situation,’” he said.

He added he was tear-gassed and sprayed with a high-powered water cannon during the march.

“Then, since I was at the front lines of the protest as we started to take Tahrir, I was assaulted by the police and my camera was taken,” Olinghouse said. “ I never got the camera back, and the remainder of pictures and videos I took were from a cell phone.”

Olinghouse said he knew his parents would be worried and so he kept in contact with his family on Facebook until the Internet and phones were shut off. In addition, his UI study abroad adviser, Maria Hope, had gotten in touch with his father, per standard UI procedure, to help address concerns ranging from his safety to financial and academic issues.

Olinghouse said he decided to leave Egypt after an unusually violent string of clashes outside his apartment Feb. 1 and 3, which was located two to three blocks from Tahrir, near The Egyptian Museum.

He said he made a split-second decision, and was packed and in a cab to the airport within 25 minutes. He tried to buy a commercial flight to Paris, but the banks were down and his credit card wouldn’t work, so he was able to get on an evacuation flight to Frankfurt, where he was stranded for a day.

After a three-day odyssey, he arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport Feb. 6 and was met with joyful hugs from family and friends.

When Olinghouse first decided to study abroad, he said he had no idea that he would be part of history. Like many other UI students, he wanted to learn about a new country and culture and gain new language skills.

“I decided to study abroad because I wanted to improve my Arabic through immersion,” he said, adding that the program was his first experience abroad. “Egypt is full of history. The American University in Cairo is a highly regarded school, and the Egyptian dialect of Arabic is prominent because of Egypt’s large role in the Arab world.”

He said he took a political Islam class, International Relations of the Middle East, Egyptian Foreign Policy and Elementary Arabic 3 in the fall 2010 semester and had just returned to Egypt on Jan. 21 after coming home for the winter break.

He said he’d like to return to Egypt, but for now, he will resume classes at the UI. Olinghouse is also working on putting together a short film about the experience to help educate and inspire others.

Would he still encourage other students to study abroad?

“Yes, absolutely -– get out of the country. Only 30 percent or so of Americans even hold passports,” he said. “No matter where you go, it will be one of the most meaningful things you will ever do in your life, and it will open up things within you that you never knew you had.”

Olinghouse made deep friendships while there, and he said he will continue to watch the developments in the country with keen interest.

“I have the highest hopes for Egypt’s future, and I can only hope that my relatively little contribution to the revolution will end up being one small part of the story of the Egyptian peoples’ fight to be heard and respected by their government and international community,” he said.