According to Rachel Carlson '13 and Ian McGregor '13, the Mount of Olives has the best view of Jerusalem, Abu Ali’s by the Damascus Gate serves the best hummus in the city, and snow comes only every three to five years in the high desert climate.
Rachel and Ian were two of the 47 students studying abroad this past spring, and they, along with Sam Knutson '14, chose to spend their semester at Jerusalem University College (JUC). Originally established in 1957, JUC is located on the southwest hill above Jerusalem that is currently referred to as Mount Zion. The school was created to be a place where graduate and undergraduate students can study the Bible in the context in which it was written.
When Rachel found out about the opportunity to study at JUC she applied because she wanted it to be an adventure. "I wanted to be surprised by the Lord, the people, and the city," she says. "I wanted Jerusalem to take me out of my comfort zone, and it did, without question, do all of these things."
After arriving in Jerusalem in January, the students were immediately drawn into life in the historic city. Ian explains, "The day after everyone arrived to school on Mount Zion we did a photo scavenger hunt through the Old City of Jerusalem. It was an awesome introductory experience as my new classmates and I picked our way through the tourists and shopkeepers. Our senses were flooded with action. The smell of spices, raw meat, and fish in the Muslim quarter filled our noses. The colors of hanging scarves and beads captured our eyes as we descended down Christian quarter road. Shopkeepers called out prices and invitations, and we brushed shoulders with a Spanish group chanting prayers and scripture along the Via Dolorosa. I knew from my first experience that this was a city worth exploring."
Rachel expresses similar awe of the city that they had the opportunity to call home for four months. "The complexity of the city surprised me. There are so many extremely different people all living together, walking streets with thousands of years of history and occupation, yet they all live there because the city holds central importance to three of the major religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam...This tension of opposing people surviving and thriving together was so complex and impossible to formulate or fully understand. There was never a boring day in this city."
They took courses on Biblical geography and the physical settings of the Bible, Jewish thought and practice, Islamic thought and practice, the parables of Jesus, and the cultural backgrounds of the Bible.
"I was surprised at the caliber of the professors on campus," Ian says. "Each professor I had was an expert in his or her field, and they came from all different walks of life. I had a practicing Jewish Rabbi teach my classes on Judaism, and there was a professor on campus who literally knows the Pope!"
The excursions were their favorite part, especially a long day spent hiking the 40 mile "Jesus trail." Rachel shares, "We hiked from Nazareth to Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee, and stopped along each of the towns Jesus visited during his ministry. Not only was the landscape gorgeous and unique to Israel, but it was a profound experience to literally walk the land that Jesus did. We read through the gospel of Mark as we hiked. The trip included catching a goat for a local shepherd, surviving on dried fruit, pita, and hummus, sleeping on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and hitchhiking with some local Israelis."
Overall the experience to live in Jerusalem and travel through Israel to learn "in the field" was one that neither will forget. "It is by far my favorite way to learn," says Ian. "My adventures, explorations, and lessons in Jerusalem and Israel will have a place in my thoughts and an impact on my actions for years to come."
Rachel describes her opportunity to study in Jerusalem with gratitude, "The experience restored and strengthened my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Seeing the places and people of the Bible made everything much more real and grounded, instead of stories I had learned growing up in church. Jerusalem has been a meeting place for thousands of years between people groups, but what makes it the most unique city in the world is that it is the city in which God chose to meet men and offer their salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Living in this meeting place is what made my semester in Israel incredible."