Students dive into the ancient world with a unique experience in Egypt

Say the word “Egypt” and you probably picture pyramids, sphinxes and pharaohs of old. Yet, how many of us know what this world looked like or the influence it still has on modern life today?

One group of students recently embarked on the adventure of a lifetime as they discovered ancient mysteries of the past. From exploring the inside of pyramids to recreating mummification rituals and constructing models of historic architecture, the Ancient Legacies tour gave both a taste of the past and a fresh perspective for the future.

Getting up close and personal with Egypt

Led by philosophy professor Robert Hahn, the Ancient Legacies study abroad expedition offers students and community members a unique opportunity to delve into the early beginnings of western history. An interdisciplinary and team-taught project, faculty from multiple universities joined the trip to offer their expertise on various topics.

For many students, the 2019 experience was a perfect way to step outside of the classroom and embrace a new way of learning.

“We got to go in the Pyramids, which was a crazy experience,” Kitt Fresa, senior in cinema and photography. “We got really up close and personal with Egypt. We immersed ourselves in the culture quite well, which really came from how we were guided.”

The team would usually wake up early in the morning and visit the sites before both the crowd and the heat hit in full force. In the afternoons, temperatures regularly climbed to 105-115 degrees. The group learned all about ancient Egyptian culture, mythology practices, Egyptian mummies, archeological discoveries and ancient technologies.

Tackling nearly all of the historic sites in the country, the students explored pyramids, ancient texts; historic villages, buried civilizations and life surround the Nile River. While fast-paced and educational, the trip left many students with a new perspective of the world.

“It’s not a vacation, it is more of an expedition,” Fresa said. “It’s work, but an overall amazing experience.”

Understanding the modern world from the ancient past

One of the highlights for the students was seeing the modern world through the lens of the past. With a dual degree in journalism and philosophy, senior Amelia Blakely found the trip particularly helpful in understanding the mysteries of the past and its impact on modern life.

“This trip does so much in providing knowledge about ancient history,” Blakely said. “Sometimes, we don’t think that forms or impacts our lives, but after going to Egypt and coming back I now see so many designs and symbols that come from those roots.”

Much of modern life stems from traditions and behaviors of the past. While students can learn about these topics from books, on-site learning offers far more to the overall learning experience, Leslie Murray, student in the philosophy Ph.D. program, explained.

“I am fascinated with the idea of myths and its contribution to the development of philosophy,” Murray said. “It was so interesting hearing from Robert Hahn and his explanations of how the ancient architecture leads to philosophy.”

Embracing new cultures

One of the main goals of the excursion was getting immersed the culture and seeing life through the eyes of other people and societies. The trip brought a new perspective to the students, allowing them to put a place and geographical region to things they learn and hear.

“The trip was really beneficial in showing how other people live in the world,” Fresa said. “I knew how we live in America is definitely a privilege, but it was really helpful seeing how other people live differently but really appreciate their own daily lives.”

From travelling on a cruise ship down the Nile River to exploring ancient monuments, the students met new people and encountered fresh ideas and customs. The experience taught many of the students to see the world from a different standpoint.

“There are so many things about a culture that you can’t understand until you have been there,” Murray said. “Being in those places gives you a whole new perspective. Personally, I wouldn’t want to walk away from my education without going somewhere and experiencing another culture and another perspective on life.”

Filming the experience

Built into an accredited philosophy class, the trip included multiple hands-on aspects for a unique learning experience. While in Egypt, the students carved limestone tablets, built pyramids from sugar cubes, erected a miniature obelisk and conducted an experiment to measure a pyramid’s shadow.  

For Fresa, the expedition also included an independent study course, which tasked him with filming the unique experience. A cinema and photography major, Fresa had his camera with him through the entire journey and learned new ways to shoot, edit and adjust while on the scene.

“Most of this trip I was filming on the fly,” Fresa said. “This taught me to film as quickly as possible, how to film well in rushed situations and what elements are necessary to bring everything together.”

Working on the project alone, the experience forced Fresa to transition his style and start thinking as an editor. The process included some trial and error, with Fresa continually making adjustments and trying new things. Overall, the experience was a great way to get hands-on learning in a real world setting, Fresa explained.

Both Fresa and Blakely worked for the Daily Egyptian, SIU’s student run newspaper, and WSIU Public Broadcasting. After graduation, Blakely plans to get her master’s degree in public affairs reporting, with hopes of future work in that field of writing.

Fresa is also following his passion, and recently moved to Nashville to continue his film work. He plans to work freelance, along with other possible industry related positions.

For more information about the Ancient Legacies tour, either to Egypt or Greece contact Robert Hahn, director of the ancient legacies program, at hahnr@siu.edu.

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