The picture most Americans have of Egypt — its pharaohs, pyramids and Nile trade boats — is from history lessons that tell of the early civilization. Though much of that lies below the surface of modern Egypt, students in America would be as surprised as one Mays Business School professor was to discover that Cairo’s city culture has grown to within a few hundreds yards of the great Giza pyramids.

Finance professor and assistant department head Larry Wolken spent a month in Egypt this summer on a Fulbright Study Tour that immersed a group of Texas educators in the culture and practices of the developing Middle Eastern country. Floating in former trading boats along the Nile that are now mainly used for tourism, Wolken watched as farmers carried harvests home on water buffalo and observed the desert creeping up to the shore of the world’s longest river.

Dispelling the mystique of a foreign nation and exposing its underlying cultural, social and economic structures is key to educating the students and future business leaders of tomorrow, Wolken says. And being present to actually witness the world firsthand, he says, is far more precious a tool for this lifelong educator than reading about it in a book.

“Other than the fact that there are Arabic signs and people dressed a little different, these people are the same as Americans,” Wolken explains. “They have the same concerns about family, about their jobs. They’re just dealing with a lot of different things than us in a different land with an enthralling history.”Wolken will apply much of what he’s learned about the reality of modern Egypt to the Scholastic Assistance in Global Education (SAGE) project he directs for Mays’ Center for International Business Studies. Social studies teachers from across Texas access for course lesson plans and source materials that help them globalize their classrooms. The resources gathered at SAGE advance the quality and depth of education of Texas’ K-12 students.

Mays students also benefit from Wolken’s extensive experiences abroad in his international finance graduate and undergraduate courses. Though the courses focus on currency and exchange rates, Wolken — who has also traveled to Japan and had extensive visits to Russia and China, where he watched the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests — hopes a little reality rubs off on his students.

“Things are not as easy as they seem and you can’t just throw money at a developing country,” he says. “You need to get an understanding of the culture, economic and political system before you can suggest ways to improve and change it.”