ST. JAMES — Matthew Kuehl isn't sure where his fascination with the Middle East and northern Africa came from.
He just knows that, for as long as he can remember, he's been drawn to the area; he even wrote reports about ancient Egypt in grade school.
“Since I was a little kid, I was always interested in that region,” he said.
His childhood fascination translated into a career, and for the past eight years, Kuehl worked for university programs in Yemen and Cairo. But recently, the ongoing unrest in Egypt led to the cancellation of his program for fall and spring semesters at America-Mideast Educational and Training Services Inc. in Cairo. (AMIDEAST is a private American nonprofit organization engaged in international education, training and development assistance work.)
After living much of his adult life in a different culture, Kuehl returned to his native St. James Aug. 31.
“It was a really hard decision,” said Kuehl, 29. “At this time in Egypt and the United States, there's a growing mistrust, growing misconceptions. And those are the things we were trying to dispel (with our programs).”
News of the cancellation of the program (Education Abroad in Egypt for U.S. students) came just days after one of AMIDEAST's interns was stabbed to death during a protest.
Andrew Pochter, who was a junior at Kenyon College in Ohio, was interning at a training center in Alexandria, Egypt, where he taught English to 7- and 8-year-olds. Pochter was an observer at a demonstration in Alexandria June 28 when he was attacked and killed. Kuehl didn't want to discuss the incident but said it took a toll on him.
As the country's turmoil continued, running the university program was no longer feasible, Kuehl said. There were curfews and restrictions on mobility, and it became difficult to monitor dozens of college-age students.