A Cal Student in Cairo: Witnessing History with Justin Hinton

UC Berkeley graduate Justin Hinton, featured in UCTV Prime's "Going Places: UC Education Abroad."

In “Witnessing History: Arab Spring,” part of UCTV Prime’s new series “Going Places: UC Education Abroad,” recent UC Berkeley graduate Justin Hinton takes us back to his unforgettable study abroad experience that placed the student journalist on the ground in Cairo, Egypt just as the Arab Spring was percolating in Tahrir Square. Since his segment was recorded, Justin has completed his program as a News Associate in Fort Worth and now reports for the CBS affiliate, KFDM, in Beaumont, Texas, about 90 miles east of Houston. But in this guest blog post, he offers additional perspective on how this momentous global event changed him.

Contributed by Justin Hinton

On August 24, 2010, the Justin Charles Hinton that I once knew began a transformation, turning my once seemingly average life into a world of boundless possibilities that continue to expand day by day.

As I planned to spend the academic year in Cairo, Egypt, I never could have imagined that five months later, I would stare danger in its face as I catapulted my face, voice, and camera into one of the largest revolutions to hit the Middle East. To add to that, I never would have imagined that my decision to travel to Egypt would have led me down a slippery slope of life changes that have made me a better person.

As a student journalist, Cairo was the perfect place for me. Dipping and dodging through traffic with deafening horns as taxi drivers raced through the non-lighted streets of Cairo became part of my daily routine. The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Nile River, Aswan, and The Library of Alexandria became part of my backyard. Twenty- cent meals consisting of beans, lettuce, and fries served as my daily breakfast and dinner as I walked the dust-stricken and poverty-engrossed streets of Sayeda Zeinab, only to reach the school-sponsored buses where I would sit and count the 3,600 seconds it would take to reach my destination at the American University of Cairo.

In the classroom I learned how to operate video cameras, present the news, and incorporate all of that information into blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other multimedia platforms, something I hadn’t learned in my four years at Cal.

Outside the classroom, I learned even more. Gaining an understanding of the Islamic faith became a day-to-day experience as I sat through seminars about Islam, a religion that so many individuals in the Western world are ignorant of because of their largely inaccurate, preconceived notions about “Muslims” resulting from September 11.

But as they say, all great things must come to an end, or so I thought. On January 25, 2011 the crack of a baton and the first shot of tear gas set into motion my evacuation by the Education Abroad Program in Egypt. After leaving Cairo four months early, my advisors informed me that I could finish my program at another school. I chose Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, and the good times kept rolling, but not from the start.

When I first arrived, the high that I had from being evacuated from Egypt and launching into an entirely new culture quickly sunk to an ultimate low as I faced a culture steeped in media representations of African Americans. Life, to say the least, was hard, but after a month, I settled in and was back to my normal self. I met several Korean students. They changed my life forever.

As a journalist with friends across the globe, I know that if a story breaks in Egypt or Korea, I have people on the ground who can break it down into something that I can understand, or who can provide lodging when I travel to that country. They are friendships that are strong and I know will last a lifetime, and it all began with my study abroad experience.

Watch Justin’s episode here, and check out more amazing adventures of study abroad students from throughout UC Education Abroad Program’s (UCEAP) 50 year history! Want to know more about UCEAP? Visit their website.

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