The study abroad program at Jerusalem University College fit very well with my personal interests; it fulfilled credits for my major and minors and the Middle East has always been intriguing to me, especially Israel. I wasn't even looking into study abroad, I actually saw the school online and got so caught up in the idea of studying there and living in Israel, that I took the information on the semester program at JUC to the Study Abroad Office at SIUE and kind of worked through the whole process backwards. I left the US on January 26, 2006 and spent the spring semester there. I arrived home on May 13th.
While at school, I stayed on campus in Jerusalem just outside the Old City walls. A typical day for me would include breakfast with the other international students followed by either classes or a walking trip into the city. The classes were all taught in English (except the Arabic and Hebrew classes). After class I would study in my room, or the library or the garden in the back courtyard. We ate most of our meals together. There were lots of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, hookah shops, clothing shops, gift shops churches and synagogues to visit around the city. We would try to shop and check out different places. Many of the things we wanted to do were within walking distance or we could take a bus or taxi. Some days we would walk to the western wall or the dome of the rock and watch people, or sit on the roof of our dorm (which we call the Tower!-a 200 year old stone building) and have a view of the whole city. The academics were intense, so there was a lot of studying and paper writing, but the topics and scenery were so fascinating it made it easier to learn.
Many of our days consisted of field studies, in which we would go out and travel all over the country of Israel and Jordan, sometimes for the day and sometimes over night or for a weekend. We would visit historical sights, battle sites, religious holy sites, archeological ruins, museums, and areas of amazing scenery. We would travel in a group and get short lectures and explanations from our professors at all the sites and then we would have time to explore.
One of my most memorable experiences was visiting a Jewish Synagogue with our Rabbi. We had a Jewish Thought class which was taught by an Israeli Rabbi. He was born and raised in the United States but made Aliyah (which means to return to the land/to ascend) in the 70's. We went to one of the Synagogues where we sat through a Hebrew Shabbat (Sabbath) service that he led; afterward we had Shabbat dinner with his family. During the dinner he went through all the Shabbat rituals and blessings with us, performing them as we went along, but also stopping to explain the reasons and where they come from in their bible. It was a very moving experience, not to mention, amazing Jewish-Middle Eastern food.
There were several challenges I faced while abroad, but I think one of my main ones was coming to the realization that I was not completely free to come and go as I pleased like I am here in Illinois. There were certain safety issues because I was a female. Being out alone in certain places was not very safe, especially at night. I had no car, and our campus is on the southern corner of the city so you have to walk down a long secluded road to get into the city. Because this road is on the outer edge and is so secluded, it is one of the more dangerous places to be alone at night; therefore there were times I felt trapped on campus unless I had someone else, namely a guy, to go with me or at least walk me to the city or to the bus station. I was not used to this and it was an issue that I fought with a lot of the time. I was able to adjust really well to being away from family and friends even though I'm very close to them. I knew it was only for a few months and that it would fly by. I was excited about being free to travel and see thing and experience Israel that I didn't worry about leaving or adjusting too much. The adjustment coming home has been much more challenging for me than leaving was. My experience in Israel is permanent and a new part of who I am now, a part that many people here that love me and that I love just don't understand.
My advice to anyone with even a hint of adventure, interest or history in another culture or country, desire to travel or study abroad at all should definitely look into it. My experience traveling has been the best and most life changing thing I've ever done. I met so many people, made new friends, I'm learning a new language, my ideas of culture, history, the United States, family, politics, and learning and pretty much every other aspect of life have grown and changed so much in a very short amount of time. It is worth whatever work and/or sacrifices a person puts into the process to go.
For more information on Jerusalem University College see http://www.juc.edu