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Fulbright Scholarship in the Midst of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution

February 3, 2014

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Damanhour University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine is Egypt’s newest veterinary school, housed in a former military academy in a remote rural area. Professor Mary Christopher (in background center), a visiting Fulbright scholar, gave these third-year students a chance to practice their English and learn about veterinary practice in the United States. Their career goals include vaccine research, poultry production, and camel practice. Photo courtesy of Mary Christopher

When Professor Mary Christopher left for Egypt as a Fulbright Scholar in November 2010, she had no way of knowing she was heading into a tumultuous uprising—against poverty, rampant unemployment, government corruption and the autocratic governance of former President Hosni Mubarak—that would erupt soon after the New Year. Her work, which began in the relative calm and security of the Mubarak era, continued after the initial revolt amid an atmosphere of hope and euphoria, but also uncertainty about the future. 

Christopher documents her experiences in a photo exhibit, “A Fulbright in Egypt: Continuity amid Change,” now on display in Gladys Valley Hall at the School of Veterinary Medicine through June 2014. A public reception will be held on April 9th from 4-6:30 pm. Noha Radwan, associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature, and Sharif Aly, assistant professor of veterinary epidemiology and biostatistics, will talk from 4-5 pm about the revolution and veterinary medicine in Egypt, respectively. Christopher will be available for questions and informal discussion during the reception to follow from 5-6:30 pm.

As a veterinary pathologist and researcher at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Christopher had a long list of proposed activities during her Fulbright. But the dawn of Egypt’s revolution forced her to make adjustments—in the process, Christopher said she discovered more about her inner strength and gained a deeper appreciation and compassion for a complex culture. 

Despite a two month stay in Greece during the height of tensions, Christopher returned to Egypt to teach and interact widely with universities and ministries to support the development of diagnostic, teaching, and human resources for animal and public health; advance strategic plans in veterinary educational quality; and help enhance international competitiveness in scientific publication. 

“When traveling, you go with a plan, but it’s often just a good thought,” Christopher said. “You learn to seek other opportunities and engage with people on a variety of levels and fit the situation at the time.” 

There are 12 veterinary schools in Egypt with the universities in Cairo and Alexandria among the oldest and largest in programs and student populations. In stark contrast to these well-established universities, many of the smaller schools in rural areas struggled with providing the basics for learning. As Christopher explained at one location sand and dust filtered in through uncovered windows and doorways, electricity was intermittent, and there was no internet, no laboratory, and no animals. Additionally, Christopher found it challenging initially to lecture and interact with women students wearing the niqab or full veil as facial expressions couldn’t be read and eye contact was difficult to establish.

While the revolution interrupted several planned activities, including talks at the American Consulate, Christopher took full advantage of other opportunities like coaching journal editors on peer review and teaching graduate students how to write scientific papers—aided by her 12 years of experience as editor-in-chief of the journal Veterinary Clinical Pathology.  She also held grant writing workshops at the Binational Fulbright Commission in Cairo. 

Christopher’s 75 photos and informative captions tell a compelling story of her journey and of the continuity of life in Egypt even as this most populous of Arab nations was undergoing wrenching and often violent political and social change. Her images also focus attention on the animals of Egypt, their intimate connections with people, and the intersections of culture, politics and religion. The exhibit is arranged into sections including the 4,000-year-old Giza pyramids; the Fayoum Oasis, an historic agricultural area and nature preserve southwest of Cairo; veterinary practice and education; and the burgeoning metropolis of Cairo. 

“I was amazed at the diversity of cultures in Egypt,” Christopher said. “We tend to see other cultures and countries on one dimension from afar—I was able to see the best and worst of people in this time and to better understand that it’s a very complex place.”

Gladys Valley Hall is open M-F from 8-5; visitors are welcome to come anytime during open hours to view the exhibit. View Valley Hall on the UC Davis map here


Trina Wood, Communications Officer