Where did you spend last semester and with what institution?
It was a small evangelical school called Jerusalem University College (JUC) or, known in Israel as the American Institute for Holy Land Studies. It is a gradaute school and most of the students are graduate students, but the semester-abroad students (like myself) got undergrad credit. There were only about 20 of us living on-campus, which made it feel more like a giant home, and only 6 semester-abroad students. And that was the best part–I’ve never been so close with a group of people before.
The location is perfect: it’s on Mount Zion just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking the Hinnom valley (Valley of Gehenna).
What was your favorite class?
My favorite class was actually History of Ancient Israel, which sounds a lot like a class we have here! JUC is not large enough to have a personal teaching staff so they bring in professors from other universities to teach, and the professor that taught this class was a Jew (Dr. Yigal Levin) with a background in archaeology who of course was just beyond brilliant. He approached the history of Biblical Israel from a historical-archaeological perspective, and even though it was obvious he had an extremely high regard for the Bible, he was starkly blunt about the realities of the archaeological finds, many of which seemed to disprove the Biblical account. Many classes I felt overwhelmed by the weight of “evidence” which seemed to discount what I had always believed about the way the events in the Bible occurred, but I’m so thankful to have heard and wrestled with some of the weightiest, most scholarly arguments against the historicity of the Bible. It has not weakened my absolute trust in the Word of God, but rather helped me to see more of its beauty and complexity, and understand (with grace!) the spectrum of opposing positions.
What was a day in your life there like?
Since the classes were on a grad school schedule, they were longer and sometimes only met once a week, leaving us with lots of free time! I spent a lot of time writing papers, and lots of time on field studies! We spent four days in Galilee, four days in the country of Jordan, three days in the Negev (the desert) and a good bit of time everywhere in-between! We went to Jaffa and Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast, all throughout the interior of the country (in Biblical terms, the “hill country of Ephraim and Manasseh”), Jezreel, Golan, the Dead Sea, Masada, Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), Petra, and dozens of other Biblical sites.
When we were not on field studies, we spent a lot of time exploring the city of Jerusalem. One of my favorite parts of being there was running in Jerusalem—my favorite route was to Bethlehem and back. We also spent a good bit of time on campus with lots of singing (did I mention I went with Will Summay?), playing lots of ultimate Frisbee, and eating lots of hummus.
Why did you choose to go to Jerusalem?
It’s Jerusalem! I’m not sure there was ever a time I didn’t want to go to Israel, it was only a question of feasibility. When I found out all my aid transferred for the study abroad program and tuition was actually cheaper, I was finished.