With all the political upheaval in Egypt right now, I view my eventual return with a bit of trepidation. As a teacher who lived in Cairo for two years, I consider myself a bit more informed than many, especially new hires who accepted jobs months ago and are probably viewing their own departure with anxiety. Some schools have already lost a handful of new employees, and I expect to hear more of this in the coming weeks.
Nevertheless, schools remain open. For those of us preparing to travel to tumultuous countries, to teach or otherwise, there are a few ways to assuage your uncertainties and those of your parents, extended family, and friends.
Email the director of the school overseas. S/he is most likely already there and can provide information regarding safety, both at the school and in the area where you plan to live. In my case, our director has lived in Cairo for 40 years and is extremely informed. It’s also helpful to forward the director’s emails to family members and friends to help allay their fears.
What is the school’s stance on the current situation? What kind of transportation will be provided to and from the school? Will there be a delay in the start date, and if so, for how long? How will flights be handled? Will you be reimbursed for change of flight fees? How will the school approach flat hunting, and what recommendations can they provide about settling in?
2. Know the evacuation plans.
Schools and companies should have evacuation plans when countries are experiencing instability. What will happen if the country becomes too unsafe and it’s impossible to remain there? Who will pay for the flights? How will employees get to the airport? Where will they be flown to? For how long will they remain outside the country?
My friend Betsy informed me that her school has three different evacuation plans, which is comforting to hear.
3. Get in touch with expats who have already arrived.
Sometimes, schools send out group emails encouraging teachers to get in touch over the summer. Expats who are already in the area, especially those who’ve lived there previously, can shed light on the situation. How safe is it to travel alone? Is it easy to find a cab? What resources are nearby? What is the atmosphere like during the day / at night / in public squares?
4. Speak to the locals.
If you can get in touch with returning expats, ask to be connected with locals living in the same area. Their opinions are invaluable, as they know their own country better than anyone. I’ve been in touch with my Egyptian friends frequently during the past week to get their opinions on how safe the country is and how they’re feeling about the outcome of recent events.
5. Seek out a reliable and accurate news source.
Oftentimes, the media at home can exaggerate or misconstrue events overseas. Ask around for a news source that provides the most accurate coverage. I’ve been told Al Jazeera is more informed and in tune to what’s going on in Egypt right now than the BBC, for example.
6. Subscribe to expat publications to receive weekly updates.
Ask for a list of magazines targeted toward expats. They’ll provide a wealth of information about expat living and resources in the area so you can become familiar with your new place of residence before arriving.
Many expat associations and clubs send out weekly emails. Get on a mailing list to hear the latest information about life in your community-to-be.
7. Research and follow the rules.
What sorts of safety precautions are currently in place? Don’t be foolish. If there’s a curfew, respect it. Avoid demonstrations, as they can quickly transform from peaceful protests to violent clashes. If certain travel destinations are off-limits, don’t go. Be informed.
The current curfew in Cairo means travelers arriving at the airport between 7pm and 6am might encounter roadblocks en route to their destinations. Securing a reliable driver in advance and hanging on to boarding passes / travel itineraries will help ensure a smooth and safe commute.
8. Go with your gut.
If you don’t feel comfortable traveling to the place you’re meant to work, it might be best to reconsider your options. Ask your school about their policies regarding contracts when the country is unstable. Forcing yourself to travel when you’re seriously worried about your safety is not a good idea.
Still, this should be a last resort. Speaking with knowledgeable administration at your school and people currently living there will most likely calm your nerves, but if it doesn’t, there may be options. It’s unprofessional to simply not show up; have the courtesy to explain your reservations to the head of the school in an email or on the phone instead of pulling a vanishing act.