Children of diplomats displaced by strife often caught between two worlds


With each regime that teeters, each uprising that forces a U.S. embassy to be evacuated, more American diplomats, aid workers and their families seek shelter at a nondescript Falls Church apartment complex with a nondescript name: Oakwood. The only hint of its connection to international affairs is the United Nations flag flying overhead.

The students left Cairo American College, the city’s preeminent international high school, in the middle of cross country season, a few months before Advanced Placement exams and days before the performance of the semester’s musical. Less than a week later, they started classes in Falls Church.

The diplomats’ children expected to stay briefly, just long enough to wait out the revolution’s fever pitch. But three weeks later, they were still biding time in a school system that feels at once foreign and familiar. Although they’re American citizens, this is the first time some have attended school in the United States.

“I’m just ready to go home,” said Phoebe Bredin, 17, meaning Cairo. “We lived through the beginning of a revolution, and now we’re here waiting in the suburbs. It’s weird.”

Bredin learned that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down during a college visit to Virginia Tech. When she jumped and squealed in the admissions office, “people looked at me like I was crazy. But this is something I really care about.”

Some of these students wear high school athletic uniforms with the word “Cairo” emblazoned on their chests. Some refuse to change their watches from Egyptian time. They get news through friends’ Facebook pages, where Egyptian classmates have posted photos from Tahrir Square and exultant messages in Arabic.

“There are a lot of rumors: We could go back next week, or next month, or it could be much longer than that,” said Arden Rose, 16. “I just wish we knew for sure.”

Falls Church isn’t the only school district that has received students fleeing unrest. Fairfax has received 28 students from diplomatic families based in Egypt, and other Virginia districts have enrolled some, prompting the Virginia Department of Education to send a statewide message to school officials about how to handle American students who have returned to the United States, sometimes without parents or housing.

The State Department uses the term “third-culture kid” to describe young people who live the Foreign Service lifestyle – often jolted between postings and hemispheres, not entirely adapting to the cultures of their home nations or adopted ones.

That description feels stale to some of Falls Church’s newest students, for whom the amalgamation of cultures at Cairo American College hardly seemed unusual. So what if cross country practice takes place in a dried-up river bed not far from the Nile? So what if they find themselves in U.S. history classes with the grandchildren of Mubarak and Anwar Sadat?

Even though most of the students have adjusted academically – many say the workload in Falls Church is more manageable than in Cairo – their frustrations are mounting.

The seniors in the group are particularly eager to return. In June, they are due to graduate in front of the Pyramids of Giza, dressed in red and white robes. They hope to get their diplomas, grab hold of the limestone – normally off limits – and climb the base of the monuments, posing for photos that might one day decorate college dorm rooms.

“It’s something we all look forward to,” said Phoebe Bredin, 17, “graduating with all of our friends, in the middle of such an amazing place. I just hope we’re back in time.”

By Kevin Staff, The Washington Post


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