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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Road Scholars

It all started with a free spirited, middle-aged back packer, who used to knock around Europe staying at Youth Hostels. When he was traveling in Scandinavia he was struck by how active older people were there, 60, 70 and even 80 year olds. When he got back to the U.S.he enthused about his experiences to a friend, a university administrator, and between them they came up with the idea of creating Elder Hostels, using inexpensive university student accommodation during the long summer break when they were free. They also involved faculty members to give in-depth lectures about the history and special feature of an area in the mornings and arranged for guided course-related excursions to sites of interest in the afternoons.

The program took off and within 5 years it started to expand to include year-round trips that are now offered in 150 countries. Accommodation changed to staying in good hotels but the agenda still included morning lectures, often at the University, and afternoon field trips. The name Elderhostel was no longer fitting and, though it took a while, the program is now appropriately called ‘Road Scholars’.

We have joined several Elderhostel overseas programs but the first lecture on our schedule in Egypt was particularly memorable. I cite it because although I had visited Egypt before, it gave me a new perspective on why Egyptian civilization was so different and seemed to be so unaffected by other cultures in the region. The lecturer immediately made it clear when she drew our attention to how isolated the Egyptians were in its earliest millennia. The country is surrounded on three sides by deserts, the harshest and most dangerous in the world, and their northern coast had shallow water and sandy beaches with no natural ports. The lighthouse at Alexandria, only completed in 247 BC was built to light the way for sailing ships navigating the tricky harbour there and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Because of the natural barriers that isolated them, it was virtually impossible to invade Egypt so, except for internal struggles, it had a peaceful history for the most part and, as is clear when you look at the map on the right, the fertile Nile river valley not only made it easy to unify its people but provided the water for a plentiful and stable food supply. The result was that Egyptians developed their own unique hieroglyphic script, complex religious beliefs and colossal monuments. It is a truly fascinating country to visit especially with the guidance of road scholar lecturers! Rie

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