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Pyramid Pals

Alumni from around the world gather in Egypt to celebrate their ties to NC State’s Alexander Hall.

Photographs courtesy of Hossam Helal ’18.

One of the first things that struck Hossam Helal ’18 when he arrived in Raleigh to study engineering at NC State in 2013 was how green everything was. Having grown up in Giza, Egypt — about 30 minutes from the famous pyramids — Helal was used to everything being yellow or tan.

He was also struck by American fast food, which was heavier and more greasy than the food he grew up on. Not that he was complaining, mind you. Bojangles became his favorite (“By far, 100 percent.”), and he would visit every few days to get a three-piece chicken dinner or a cajun filet sandwich.

But he also felt homesick. He was the first member of his family to come to the United States for college, and the language barrier was greater than he had expected. He knew some English, but struggled to understand jokes and various phrases.

It didn’t take long, though, for NC State to start to feel like home. Much of that was due to his time at Alexander Hall, a dorm near Talley Student Union. Alexander is home to NC State’s Global Village, a place for students interested in interacting with students from other countries and cultures.

Every time I try to explain it . . . it’s like a family. It was like one big family.

“That was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Helal says of his decision to live in Alexander Hall. “We had internationals from all over the world, and American students who knew Raleigh and North Carolina. It was an amazing experience to interact and get to know people from different cultures.”

Helal served as treasurer for the Alexander Hall Council during his freshman year, and lived in Alexander for four and a half years. “Same room, same roommate,” he says. Students who live in Alexander understand what makes it special, Helal says. “Every time I try to explain it . . . it’s like a family,” he says. “It was like one big family.”

Alexander alums enjoying the Red Sea.
Taking in the Nile on a river cruise.

So much so that by the time Helal graduated and returned to Egypt, he felt homesick for his friends at NC State. “Those were the best five years of my life,” says Helal, who now handles supply chain issues as a procurement specialist for Mondelēz International, a multinational snack food company.

Many members of Alexander’s “big family” stayed in touch after they graduated from NC State. Helal’s roommate, Derek Anderson ’18, is from New Bern, N.C., and Helal came back to North Carolina last year for Anderson’s wedding. There is an Alexander Hall alumni page on Facebook with about 1,000 members.

And so Helal, 28, decided it made sense to have a family reunion. He initially wanted to do it in 2020, but the pandemic squelched that. So they ended up doing it this year, with Helal inviting Alexander Hall alumni to join him in Egypt. He thought he might get 10 people to come, but ended up with a total of 22 (including himself) who made their way to Cairo in July. People came from the United States, Mexico, Australia, England, Finland, Spain and Austria. They spent a couple of days in Cairo, visited the pyramids, took a cruise on the Nile and visited the Red Sea. They didn’t all know each other when the week began, but they bonded over boat rides, camel rides and snorkeling in the Red Sea.

Camels take alums to the pyramids, not far from Helal’s home in Giza.

“It was amazing,” Helal says. “The best week I’ve had in a very long time. All of them loved it. They enjoyed the food, the Red Sea was amazing — people were stunned by how beautiful the water was — and the people here are so welcoming.”

It went so well, in fact, that there is already talk of another reunion, perhaps somewhere in Europe. “It was a 10 out of 10 trip,” Helal says.

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