American Student Awaiting Flight From Egypt

Carolyn Witte, a student at Cornell University, talks to host Robert Siegel about her effort to catch a flight to Prague, and then eventually home to the United States.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now to the airport in Alexandria. Thousands of foreigners are trying to fly out of Egypt. Today, the U.S. evacuated hundreds of Americans on charter flights. And while the scene at Cairo International Airport has been chaotic, it is much quieter in Alexandria.

Even so, that doesn't mean that Carolyn Witte will get home as quickly as she would like. She's a 20-year-old Near Eastern studies major from Cornell, and she told us that she's been at the airport since noon yesterday with no end in sight.

Ms. CAROLYN WITTE (Student, Cornell University): We are supposedly boarding a flight to Prague, but I will believe it when I see a plane.

SIEGEL: How long were you in Alexandria, Egypt, which I gather is where you were studying, and what was it like there?

Ms. WITTE: I had been there three weeks as of Saturday. So the protests started not even a month into my abroad experience. So it's definitely still experiencing that the cultural shock, processing the idea that I was going to be here for the next five months, when the protests broke out.

SIEGEL: And was it exciting, scary, both, neither? What would you say?

Ms. WITTE: I would say it was an emotional roller coaster to say the least. At the beginning, it was very exciting. No one really thought that these protests were going to be a big deal.

I live with a bunch of Egyptian girls in the dorm at Alexandria University, and none of them thought anything of the protests. They all were much more worried about their exams. Even up to Thursday and Friday, no one thought that these protests were going to be anything serious or any change was really going to come from them.

But the excitement quickly turned into, you know, a little bit of fear. You know, I spent my last night, Friday night, in the only open dorm in the entire country, and it was very frightening, with gunshots out the windows, with turning the lights off, hiding, you know, on the floor with a bunch of girls with, you know, some old men outside with sticks trying to protect us against looters.

It definitely makes the situation seem a lot more real and definitely not so romanticized as, you know, a revolution you might read about.

SIEGEL: Well, now you're at the airport. What is the scene there, and how many people are in your situation trying to get out?

Ms. WITTE: Well, currently in this airport, we are the only people in this airport. It's closed. We've been here since yesterday morning. And when we got here, there were a good number of people, mostly from Saudi Arabia, I believe, but they quickly got on a flight to Dubai.

And then we were the only ones. I guess there were a few stragglers who spent the night in the airport. Then to this, midday today, we are moved to the there's two airports in Alexandria, moved to the old airport. I'm not quite sure why but then spent the day there and then went through security and then after getting cleared through security were moved back to the new airport about 10 minutes ago and are now waiting here for our flight. And there's no one else here but us.

SIEGEL: Well, you've had quite an interesting lesson in Near Eastern studies over the past few days.

Ms. WITTE: Absolutely. And I guess the biggest thing I would like to get across is that as, you know, difficult of a situation that this has been for us here and as sad as we are to leave Egypt, you know, so early into our semester abroad, we really are very excited for the Egyptian people. And that was incredibly inspiring to see.

SIEGEL: Well, Carolyn Witte, thank you very much for talking with us, and good luck. I hope you get your flight soon.

Ms. WITTE: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: That's Carolyn Witte of Laguna Beach, California, who is a junior at Cornell and was hoping to spend the semester in Alexandria, in Egypt. She's now trying to fly home.

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