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Answering the call to Egypt

This past March, Katy Kobzeff, who graduated from Northeastern in 2008 with an international affairs degree, set out for Egypt to complete a project she’d begun nearly two years before. Her task: to piece together a detailed network of digital images documenting the walls inside Egypt’s Tomb of Menna. The walls are described as part of one of the finest painted, nonroyal Egyptian tombs open to the public today.

They were images Kobzeff was familiar with. She had taken many of the photographs herself during a six-month internship with what is known as the Tomb of Menna Project, a USAID-funded archaeological conservation effort.

That following May, Kobzeff joined a five-week, faculty-led Dialogue of Civilizations program called “Egypt and the Global Community,” which immerses students in Egyptian culture and language. “When I arrived in Egypt, I didn’t know how to say ‘hello,’ ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’” recalls Kobzeff. “Now I can have full conversations with people in Egyptian Arabic. It’s amazing how fast you can learn the language when immersed in it.”

When the Dialogue group left in June, Kobzeff remained in Cairo until September before joining project director Dr. Melinda Hartwig and her archaeology team in Luxor, Egypt, to begin work on the Menna Project.

“I was immediately fascinated by this overlap of two fields I loved—photography and history,” she recalls. “This was where I first learned about the possibility of using ultra-violet light and strong-side lighting [a dramatic use of photography lighting that spotlights part of a scene and casts the rest into shadow] to get more information about the wall paintings, and the method that the ancient Egyptians used to apply the painting.”

When it came time for her to return to Northeastern, Kobzeff knew two things: she wanted to travel more, and she wanted to return to complete work on the Tomb of Menna Project. And she accomplished both. Less than a year after a semester-long study-abroad program in Belgium—three days a week of classes at the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe and two days a week working for the European Union—and graduation, Kobzeff had the opportunity to go back to Egypt and complete the work she’d started.

It was the Dialogue course and her other international experiences, she says, that established the international connections and self-confidence for her to make that dream a reality.

In the end, says Kobzeff, the Menna Project was a success. “We are all very proud of the results,” she says. “We are hoping that it greatly helps the archaeological documentation process there.”

Kobzeff now hopes to put her toolset of photography and technology skills, as well as her knowledge of Egyptian Arabic, to work on other similar projects. “I am looking into where else the fields of humanities, art, culture and history merge with photography, computers and technology,” she says. “There seems to be a whole group of people out there who strive to conserve and document history and culture through these non-invasive ways, while making it more easily accessible to the public. I would love to be a part of this movement and am looking into different graduate degrees in that field.”

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