Revisiting the past: LC alumni plan a return trip to Iran after their influential professor’s passing

Members of the 1968 Lewis & Clark Iran study abroad trip visit a nuclear reactor in Tehran as part of their academic studies. Photo courtesy of Jane Hunter

Graduates reminisce about 1968 abroad trip and renew excitement about returning to Iran in the fall

By LESLIE MUIR///Opinions Editor

Imagine studying abroad just one more time. You would get to do it all again, visit the same faraway country with the same group of students you went with before. It may not happen next month or even next year, but one group of determined alumni are showing that there’s always a way to return, even fifty years down the road.

On March 18, a group of alumni met on the undergraduate campus to discuss their upcoming travel plans for a return trip forty years in the making. The gathering was comprised of former Lewis & Clark students who had all traveled to the country with late history professor Dr. Nas Rassekh, for their study abroad program during the ’60s and ’70s. When the trip back to Iran finally happens in Sept. of this year, it will have been after a year of planning.

“We’ve been tossing around the idea of going back for years, but when Dr. Rassekh passed away a year ago it seemed like the right time to make concrete plans,” said Leslie Silvey ’70. Silvey traveled to Iran in 1968, over a decade before the 1979 Iranian revolution that served as an outlet for the political tension brewing in the country. Students who traveled to the country on study abroad trips experienced first hand the building tensions against the Westernization of Iran and the growing support for an Islamic theocracy to take control. Many former students still remember feeling the culture shock of visiting such a politically complex location.

“It was very different from what we were used to. There was no hot water or heat where we were staying, and it felt like we couldn’t go out alone,” said Karen Busch ’70. Students who went with Dr. Rassekh had the opportunity to see what Iran was like as a citizen before the Revolution, staying in family homes, including Dr. Rassekh’s own, researching the buying culture of the bazaars, and receiving special treatment as visiting American students, such as visiting a controversial nuclear reactor site.

“I assume it will be just as thrilling to see again in the country’s current state,” said Kathleen Todd ’69. Other members of the travel group agreed, and mentioned that members of the party had already revisited Iran since leaving over 40 years ago.

This time around the group of combined study abroad classes will not be receiving exactly the same kind of travel experience as they did as college students, but that is by design.

“This time we’ve opted for a three- week trip with a tour guide,” Silvey said. The alumni are deciding together what areas of the country they would like to visit and what the itinerary will be along the way. Without Dr. Rassekh there to guide the planning, there is a sense of students heading out on their own for the first time without their lifelong mentor. The different study abroad alumni had been meeting for years under Dr. Rassekh’s suggestion, and have now chosen to continue gathering and reconnecting without his presence. Not all members of the group in attendance on March 18th are planning on traveling to Iran this all, but attended the meeting to see old friends and hear about their upcoming adventure.

Pictures sat between the visiting members, spread out in the middle of every table. People hovered over them sharing specific memories from their trips.

“I remember when we were held up at the airport for an entire day just getting over there,” Silvey recalled.

“At least some people spoke English at the airport. I haven’t practiced my Farsi since then!” Todd exclaimed.

Memories of old trips were interrupted with plans for the upcoming one, and members excitedly shared their future travel ambitions. Reliving the past was not the only thing on the group’s mind.

“We’re going to entirely new places this time around. This is a new trip, we don’t need to see the same stuff again,” Silvey explained. The alumni are looking forward to making new memories and seeing the country in a new light than they had before. The trip will be in sharp contrast to the one they had forty years earlier, due to massive political changes in the country, their own ability and the people that won’t be able to join them this time around. However, these alumni show that the study abroad goal of gaining an in-depth knowledge of a place with your classmates through experience and travel can always continue.

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