Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 12, 2016


SPHYNX THINX Professor Justin Lasser holds a January Session class before the famous Egyptian landmark. Photo by Justin Lasser.


Stratton Smith

Egypt welcomed two different Manchester University January Session classes, as a communication studies class and a religious studies class embarked on a journey through the Middle Eastern country. The Language & Thought class was led by Professor Mary Lahman, as Justin Lasser simultaneously led his Rethinking God students through Egypt this January.

“One of the things I teach is minimum expectations, maximum motivation,” Lahman said. “Throughout the trip, that philosophy played out every day.” Though religious and communication studies are looked at as two completely different fields of study, Lasser felt that they were not so different. “One of my favorite psychoanalysts says, ‘to speak is to believe in God.’ So communication and religious studies complement each other very well,” he said.

Manchester’s contingent experienced Egyptian culture beyond the typical tourist sites. “The students got to have a real look at poverty,” Lasser said. “Real, true poverty.”

And Felicia Grossman took note. “What primarily stood out to me was the poor living conditions, such as the litter we saw all over the streets and in (and around) all the bodies of water,” said this Manchester ’14 graduate, who chaperoned the trip. “It was very sad and very run down.”

Sophomore Hannah Brown, a peace studies major from Yellow Spring, Ohio, was “culturally shocked” by the new environment. “The trip definitely gave me a new understanding of how entitled we are in the States,” she said. “Egypt is a very poor country and some people had so little, yet were so grateful for what they did have.”

Lahman and Lasser planned a full schedule for their students. “We had really busy days,” Lahman said. “Sometimes we were up at 5 and not in bed until 10.”

One such day consisted of a visit to a Nubian village, an Egyptian region along the Nile, which was a highlight of the trip for both Grossman and Brown. “We rode camels in a Nubian Village where we learned how to spell our names in their language and then we went inside a Nubian home,” Grossman said. “We learned more about the Nubian culture and history.”

Brown agreed. “It was so interesting to see how a Nubian family lived,” she said. “They served us traditional Nubian snacks and drinks. We got to see and hold their pet crocodile. Some of us even got henna tattoos.”

This was Lasser’s third trip to Egypt, but he found that the culture had changed from his first two visits. “Egypt is different now that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t in charge, so it’s a bit more conservative than before,” he said. “For instance, women are (to be) more covered (in Egypt), especially in Cairo.”

Safety in the Middle East was a concern for some family members. “With everything going on right now in the United State), a lot of people were really nervous about me going to that part of the world,” Grossman said,  “but I felt safe the entire time and I’m so glad I went.”

This was another change since Lasser’s last trip. “There is a lot more security in Egypt, because they want people to feel safe,” he said. “We never had one issue with regard to safety).”

Brown has only fond memories. “Everyone was so welcoming and excited to see and meet tourists,” she said. “Many people asked to take pictures with us, and welcomed us so warmly to their country.”

Grossman reflected on how the trip gave her a new perspective on her homelife. “Traveling abroad in general always makes me realize how good we have it in the United States,” she said. Grossman had traveled previously to Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic, but never to the Middle East. “The trip definitely changed my perception of the Middle East and of Muslims in a positive way.”

Lahman’s experience was positive as well. “Egypt was a 15/10 (rating) for me,” she said. “Even though I had minimum expectations, it seriously exceeded them. Minimum expectations doesn’t mean low expectations, but it means when I arrive, I’ll take in everything that is happening. In many ways Egypt exceeded our expectations because we explored each place we visited.”

Lasser and Lahman were both all smiles when talking about the students they taught on the trip. “We had an amazing group,” Lahman said. “Even our tour guide called us ‘habibis,’ which means sweethearts.”

To commemorate their trip, Lasser and Lahman plan to co-author a paper that combines their fields, employing the aforenoted Korzybski (Lahman) as well as the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (Lasser). “It will be looking at language and its ability to create things that don’t exist, such as the essence of your soul,” Lasser said.