Wilkes Honors College Students travel to Egypt

HC Students travel to Egypt during Spring break, 2009

W hen you think of Spring Break, the words that might come to mind are “beaches,” “Florida,” and “excitement.”  So where do college students from Florida go on Spring Break?  This year at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, nine students, along with family members, professors, and community supporters, took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Egypt.

The Honors College group visited sites such as the east bank of the Nile, including the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor; Edfu, where they visited the city’s massive temple dedicated to the god Horus; Kom-Ombo where they explored the strange dual temple of Kom-Ombo, dedicated to the gods Sobek and Haroeris; Aswan where they saw the High Dam, the Unfinished Obelisk, and the Temple of Philae; Elephantine Island, the Botanical Garden, and Agha Khan; the west bank of the Nile, including the Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir El-Bahari, and the Valley of Kings; and finally, they visited Cairo, where they experienced the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel of Saladin, the Alabaster mosque of Mohammed Ali, the three pyramids, the Great Sphinx, and the Old Bazaars of Khan El Khalili.

Several of the students who participated on this trip brought with them ample knowledge of Egyptian history and culture.  They are part of a course entitled “Honors Ancient Egypt,” which is currently being taught by Dr. Jeffrey Buller, Dean of the Wilkes Honors College.  “I love teaching the Honors Ancient Egypt course in the format we had it this semester.  We spent seven weeks surveying Egyptian history and culture from the predynastic period through the Romans.  Then, over spring break, some of the students traveled to Egypt to see in person the things we have talked about.  Finally they’re spending the last eight weeks of the course developing, writing, and revising an independent research paper about ancient Egypt.  Since this is an honors-level course, they also learn the basics of the Egyptian language and how to read hieroglyphs.  It was amazing to see students who, seven weeks earlier, might have looked at an inscription as just a series of meaningless pictures now entering a temple and making sense of the inscriptions on the wall.”

The travelers each had different reasons to go, and they each viewed the experience in varying ways. 

Allison Bailey, a third-year philosophy student, wanted to visit Egypt because of an interest sparked during her childhood.  “When I was in elementary school we did a unit on Ancient Egypt, and I have been fascinated with it ever since.  I was very excited to be able to take the Ancient Egypt course offered by Dean Buller.  I knew that the sites we were going to see would be more interesting if I understood their significance beforehand.”  On reflection of the impact of the trip on her life, Allison said, “I have been interested in learning Arabic for the past few years, but this trip made me want to even more.  Arabic is one of the languages that Americans don’t get much exposure to.  Although most of the people I met on the trip spoke English, it was still the most I have ever encountered Arabic.  I would love to learn more about Arabic and Islamic culture.”

Blaine Pflaum, a third-year student with concentrations in economics and mathematics, says that he has always been interested in archeology and ancient civilizations, and this trip was a chance for him explore to these interests.  “I thought the trip provided a good balance between information from the tour guides and just walking around enjoying the sites.”  One of the unique parts of this trip was the group composition.  There were 76 travelers in all, including Dr. Jeffrey Buller and Dr. Miguel Vázquez, Associate Professor of Foreign Languages.  Blaine thought that the mixture was a positive thing, and enjoyed being with the adults on the trip.  “Overall, it was a great group of people with interesting stories to tell.”

Alexa Billow, a second-year student interested in biological chemistry, says that she’s been “obsessed” with ancient Egyptian society since she was four years old, when her aunt gave her a book about Egypt.  “My imagination utterly failed to supply the vibrance of the people I met and saw, how in some ways their differences make them seem even more alive than the people I know already. As you sail up the Nile, rugged red cliffs rise all around you, with the narrow green river between them. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and far more dramatic than I imagined.”  Billow’s favorite part was reading the hieroglyphs on the monuments.  “They’re not pretty magical pictures; they’re words, and I can read them. Well, some of them. It’s really amazing to see the buildings and the people who built them come alive through the messages they left.” “I learned a lot,” Billow says, “and I’m still digesting it, but I’m more eager than ever to see more of the world, learn more languages, experience other cultures…Egypt is EGYPT to me, this giant pinnacle in my mind. Seeing the various historical sites was a lifelong goal fulfilled.”

Byline: Tamara Howard
March 27, 2009


Last Modified 11/8/16