On the night before the students returned to their homes in suburban Cairo from L.A there were tears at the final assembly held at the faculty and staff center as Workforce coordinator,Vanessa Marti was presented with a framed photograph of them all together.
On the white matte beneath the glass are warm words scrawled for their mentor of western culture and vocation. Marti retrieves the photo from atop a corner shelf against the north wall of her office and shows it proudly. She talks about how a few of her students are now her Facebook friends.
“Miss Vanessa, we miss you.”
– Mohamed Goshan
Two years later, Marti is still the program coordinator for the Egyptian Community College Initiative (ECCI). She told the Collegian that she was sad to see her 23 students leave.
Marti sits at her desk smiling brightly. The office she shares with a co-worker at the Wilshire Boulevard satellite campus is smaller than a walk-in closet.
Marti’s Blackberry is the same shade of Magenta as her batik cowl scarf. Marti speaks with a friendly voice, barely audible in the digital voice recorder laying on her desk among the piles of folders and open envelopes.
She said that the ECCI, and related outreach programs like it are designed to expose foreign community college students to American work, life and culture. The students were aged 19 to 30 and each came to Los Angeles last June for a single academic year, armed with a J-1 visa, which is issued just for cultural exchange.
“The point of the program is to show them the side of their chosen fields so they can return to Egypt and teach it to others,” Marti said. Marti alludes to the fact that these young men and women are trained in their own country as machinists, radiologists and nursing staff.
Marti said that she had to research life in Egypt and before the program she was not really exposed to their culture. She was delighted to accompany the second group of ECCI students on their journey to the U.S at the start of the academic year.
With her visit to Cairo she said that she too experienced culture shock, and the students did their best to make her comfortable while she looked at their world with virgin eyes.
“I didn’t just go there as a tourist,” Marti said, “I got to hang out with my students from last year, and it was great because we bonded, we created friendships—so they took me into their homes, it was definitely an honor, I have to say.”
By the trailing away of her voice it is clear that Marti is sad to learn that following the current academic year, the program will end. She talked about the next batch of students a little more softly, less enthusiastically.
“So, I went to greet the phase two students in June of last year, there are just 10 students, so it’s decreased,” she said. “It’s part of a grander scheme of things,” Marti said, “The United States provided an opportunity for the students to adapt to American ways, to bridge peace in the Middle East.”
Marti did not say why the program was being discontinued. When asked about the current state of emergency in Egypt and how it has affected her students, Marti said that it really did not have much effect at all, and she responds confidently that her students are not from the Suez Canal.
“ Everybody stayed in touch, and they keep in touch through text messaging and cell phones everyday–there was really only a couple hours there where it was texting only,” Marti said.
It is quite a leap to go from facilitating their day-to-day group activities for an entire academic year to scattered dialogue through email messages with a few of them on Facebook.
Gone are the lunches they ate together, the late nights swelling in conversation and laughter; hopes and future plans revealed.
Marti is left behind but not forgotten, just as the faces in a photograph on her wall.
(LACC Collegian 2011)