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A START Intern’s Experience in Egypt during Protests, Demonstrations

When Abigail Carroll embarked on a self-organized trip to Cairo, Egypt several years ago, she imagined herself visiting historical sites, practicing her Arabic, and eating Egyptian cuisine with locals. What Carroll had not anticipated were violent protests and a political uprising, and a resulting career ambition: working on post-conflict issues internationally.

Carroll, a START summer intern who worked on the Consequences of Terrorism: Casualties and Response team for the Global Terrorism Database, studied Arabic and International Development at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“I chose Egypt because its primary spoken language is Arabic and I had friends there to stay with,” Carroll said.

She said that while she definitely got a chance to use her language skills, the ongoing protests limited where Carroll could roam and what she could do. Carroll and her friends had to use routes that did not take them near the protests.

“The closest of protest occurred just three kilometers from where I was staying,” Carroll said. “The unrest really limited our movement within the city. Even when the protests were broken up, everyone stayed home and off the streets.”

Most of Carroll’s friends were physically safe, but some faced a significant amount of destroyed property. The breaking news, filled with reports of burning buildings and injured Egyptians, took a toll on the morale of Carroll and her friends.

”Our daily lives were most tangibly disrupted by the hate we heard and saw being acted out around us,” Carroll said. “It was a tough experience, but we were encouraged by stories of people breaking the cycle of violence by focusing on rebuilding rather than revenge.”

Despite the demonstrations, Carroll found her language skills had improved tremendously during her trip.

“On the way to Egypt, I tried to speak Arabic with my flight attendants and fellow passengers,” Carroll said. “As soon as my new acquaintances realized that they spoke English better than I spoke Arabic, they would stop speaking Arabic and switch to English. On the flight returning to the United States, however, we spoke Arabic the entire time.”

Through her internship at START, Carroll said she has developed an awareness of terrorism trends, including an understanding for the types of terrorism-related violence that occur in various regions around the world and how terrorism can affect these areas.

“I hope my experiences abroad, coupled with my knowledge of terrorism, can serve as a strong foundation for my career path,” Carroll said. “I hope to work for an organization that supports fragile or post-conflict areas.”