During the summer of 2011 history major Paul White (class of 2012) participated in the Bible and Theology (BITH) Department's Wheaton in the Holy Lands summer program.
Paul was initially drawn to the trip because of his main area of historical interest, modern Middle Eastern History. He loves the topic and the area and had heard it was a great trip, so he decided to go and see for himself.
The trip covered a lot of ground. After an intensive week on campus of lectures and homework, students and BITH professors Dr. John Walton (Old Testament) and Dr. David Lauber (Theology), flew to Rome then on to Tel Aviv, Israel before driving to Jerusalem. The first week they spent touring the city, mixing free days and lecture days. The second week, the group branched out, going on day trips to areas such as Bethlehem, Jericho, and other West Bank areas. Their last week was spent on day trips to areas like the Galilee area and Nazareth. From Israel the group headed to Istanbul, up into Greece where they toured all over--seeing the Peloponnesian peninsula, Thessaloniki, Corinth and more--before returning to Rome for some much needed free time and heading home.
Paul had a hard time picking out his favorite part of the trip. In his words, “The awesome thing was any era of history you could be interested in, for the most part, was covered. We covered ancient eastern history and in western history we covered relevant points as well. We studied the rise of Middle Eastern empires, Rome, Egyptian influence in Israel, the Greece influence, and touched on aspects of western culture.” Paul, in particular, found himself in the midst of his special interest. He experienced firsthand walking to the West Bank and going through check points. While in Bethlehem Paul was able to talk with Palestinian Christians who had lived there their whole lives. He heard about their experiences and saw where it overlapped with things covered in the Modern Middle East course he had taken previously on the Wheaton campus. Paul was able to take advantage of his interest to gain a deeper understanding of the region, and he noted there were lots of opportunities on the trip for extra learning, “While you’re there your level of learning is what you want it to be. Go out into the city—get into the different parts and experience it—don’t sit around and be tired and go to bed early. It’s beautiful. Same thing goes wherever you are—go experience it.”
Highlights of Paul’s trip include visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Wheaton students on the trip were given the opportunity to go in after it closed in groups of twenty with Dr. Lauber, so there was no one there except cleaning staff and people refilling the lamps. An Armenian priest who knew someone at Wheaton allowed them in as his guests and showed them around for three hours. “When you’re there during normal hours it’s packed,” Paul said. “So being there with it pretty much being you and the priests was such an awesome experience. It was really cool!” Paul’s highlight in Turkey was a group meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch who read them the statement about humanism and trying to bring the churches together and going to an Orthodox church there. “In the Orthodox tradition they—the priests—sing the whole liturgy. The service was just beautiful. It was a beautiful church and wonderful service.” Paul’s Grecian highlight was a street day spent attending the special Olympic Games and cheering for everyone. In Rome, his highlight was taking advantage of his free time one Sunday by going to Mass at St. Peter’s before hanging out in the Basilica square for the whole day reading, writing, and journaling, resting in a magnificent place.
Paul’s advice for people interested in studying abroad is this: “The Holy Lands trip is one of the best and most influential things I’ve done at Wheaton. It was a great experience where I learned a lot, took a lot away from it spiritually, academically, and relationally. So, do it if you have the opportunity. Also, if you have work before hand—like school work—do as much as you can before you go. It’s a lot better to be done before with your essays and maps, than to be doing it on your last night in Jerusalem when everyone else is out having fun. Also, get to know the professors on the trip.” On some of his flights Paul sat next to Dr. Lauber and just talked to him about anything; personal life, academic interests, everything. He said, “It was really cool having a personal relationship with the professor.”
Written by Hannah Dayton, February 2012