Missouri State University
Weston Bland

Weston Bland

  • Major: Global Studies
  • Second Major: Middle Eastern Studies
  • High School: El Dorado Springs
  • Hometown: El Dorado Springs, Mo.
  • Program: International Student Exchange Programs
  • Countries: United Arab Emirates, Egypt

Student experienced Arab Spring firsthand

Weston Bland gained an unforgettable perspective by being in Egypt during a time of political upheaval.

Weston is triple majoring in Arabic, global studies and Middle Eastern studies with a minor in international relations. He has studied in several countries, including at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the American University of Cairo in Egypt. He was in Cairo during the beginnings of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Tell us about your travels.

The first time I ever went abroad was in college, to do missionary work in Kenya. Next, I spent about three weeks teaching English in Thailand. The first time I studied abroad was in Morocco. Now I have been to Spain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Did you always want to study abroad?

I actually had no interest in an international experience before college! That changed freshman year in my general education writing class. Our professor had us look at an article that focused on cross-cultural interactions and ideological conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds. I loved the research and shifted my major from marketing to global studies, specifically the Middle East.

You were in the Cairo during the Arab Spring. What was that like?

I arrived about five days before revolution broke out. On Jan. 25, protests started, and on Jan. 28 the city changed in big way. Years of grievances people had against their government spilled over. Protestors took control of the city, police left the streets and the military moved in. Hours of curfew were enforced and the atmosphere quickly became tense. During the hours outside of the curfew, people rushed out to buy things like food and phone cards.

What did you see during the protests?

Some of them had a celebratory tone, some were political and a few turned angry. Some I wouldn’t call even protests — they were more demonstrations, or rallies for political ideas or parties. It was a strangely welcoming environment; I did not feel uncomfortable. People came up to us as Americans and asked our thoughts on government, the future of their country and our political relations, just to get our perspectives.

Were you ever scared?

I was less worried when I was there than people who were watching it at home were for me. Things got chaotic a few times, but generally if we got a weird vibe we would promptly leave that area. The TV and Internet back made it looked like a city engrossed in violence, but Cairo is a massive city of 20 million people and the protests were usually concentrated to few districts or neighborhoods.

When did you leave Cairo?

I left Feb. 5, 2011. School was supposed to start at the end of January, but transit had been blocked in the city. The school had to keep pushing back the semester and we weren’t sure it would ever start, so I decided to transfer to the Emirates. I did get to go back to Cairo for a year, from June 2011 to June 2012.

What was it like seeing this moment in history?

It was definitely a great experience in a lot of ways. The realities of the Middle East differ from any negative stereotypes. There was overwhelming hospitality anywhere I traveled. People separated my political identity as an American from my identity as a human and a guest. It helped me make a critical separation between people and politics — seeing how individuals see the world, not just governments. Not everyone in any country thinks the same thing.