American universities send tens of thousands of students to study abroad every year, thrusting them into one of the most exciting periods of their lives with a heavy dose of maternal advice: Mix with the locals, but be careful. Don't get in any tight spots. Avoid protests.
It's practical guidance that can be forgotten in the heady political ferment in countries like Egypt, where three American students were recently arrested near demonstrations at Tahrir Square.
The Americans made it safely home, but only after an ordeal they said lasted several days and included being struck, forced to lie for hours in the dark and threatened with guns. It's an experience schools and other students say they try very hard to avoid, balancing personal safety against the desire to engage with the culture that drew them in the first place.
Wittney Dorn, 20, from Appleton, Wis., said she traveled to Egypt because she wanted to study Arabic at the American University in Cairo. In an email Tuesday, the political science major wrote of "the beautiful change" she is seeing as her Egyptian classmates talk about voting for the first time. She said she could understand the urge to get nearer the protests.