Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Whole New World

Well friends...I've been in Israel for three days now. And trust me it feels more like three weeks. So much has been packed into these first days that my head is spinning (that might have more to do with the jet lag though).

Where to begin? There are 18 students in the program from all over the US (and Canada too!). We're living in a neighborhood between Gilo and Beit Safafa, which is right outside of Jerusalem. The apartment that I'm living in is ahhh-mazing! It's a three bedroom, two bath, with a huge kitchen and living room. More than enough room for the six girls that are living here. There was a note for us from the previous semester's MESP students saying it had been dubbed "The Penthouse." So we're sticking with it.

I honestly don't really know how to summarize everything that has happened in the past three days. I've seen so many amazing sights, met incredible people, and gone through the entire spectrum of emotions. Coming into this experience I really didn't have any expectations. I was just so ready to be here and experiencing whatever I could that I didn't put much thought into how I thought things would be, just they would actually be.

Here are a couple excerpts from the journal I'll be keeping for myself while living abroad:

Thursday, 8.29 "It's so strange to think about how anxious I was only a couple nights ago. I was terrified of so many things. A certain amount of that fear was appropriate, but now that I'm here the sense of  peace I have is indescribable. There is no doubt in my mind that I'm in the right place and doing the right thing. I just pray that I will have an open heart and mind this semester. I want to embrace and learn from as much of this culture as I can."

Friday, 8.30 "During our tour of the Christian Quarter in the Old City we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I don't think I've ever even heard of it before, which is strange considering the insane amount of pilgrims that travel there each year. The fact that so many religious groups are literally cohabiting within  the building is mind-blowing. It was fascinating to see all the pilgrims who came to see where Jesus was crucified, prepared, and buried. To me it just didn't seem like the right place. It will be interesting to compare my feelings when I go to the Garden and see the tomb there."

Saturday, 8.31 "We went into Bethlehem today, which meant actually crossing into the West Bank. As with everything else on this trip I had no idea what my expectations were or how I thought I would react. Walking through the check point physically made my body ache. All the gates and walls and barbed wire and showing ID--it made me feel caged. My heart is so heavy for the people in this place. Again, I don't know what I thought I would feel but my heart just ached. It took a lot for me to hold back tears. Maybe some of that was just being over-tired, but I don't think so. It was a lot for me to take in and I'm still processing it."

The Jewish cemetery on the side of the Mount of Olives.

Pilgrims touching Golgotha.

This is what my walk to school looks like!


Graffiti on the wall.

These first three days have been amazing, but really hard at the same time. Thank you so much to everyone who has been thinking about me and praying for me in these past few days. I am so appreciative! Please don't stop now, I'm going to be relying on all of my prayer warriors like crazy this semester. Living in a different country is hard! I just want to be able to read the street signs....eventually I hope to get there. 

Sending all my love to you from across the country!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Middle East or Bust

Here I sit.

It's almost midnight and I'm not completely done packing yet.

In 7 hours I will be on the road to Chicago and then on my way to Jerusalem, Israel. I'm sure plenty of you know a little bit of the struggle I put up to make this trip happen. And if you don't...well let's just say I spent six months trying to permission to do a three month study abroad. This is where all of that hard work has landed me, still feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. I have no idea what to expect. This blog will be a place for me to keep everyone up to date on my studies and travels and any adventures I happen upon while in the Middle East for the next semester. Explaining exactly what I'll be doing is a little difficult for me because I honestly don't know for sure. The program that I am going through is called the Middle East Studies Program and is part of Best Semester. You can find plenty of information about MESP here.

As I've been preparing for this semester I've received a lot of questioning looks. So just to put everyone's minds at ease...YES I KNOW IT IS DANGEROUS THERE. I am fully aware of everything that is happening in the region and to be honest, that's why I'm so excited to go! I'm sure I'll explain more about all of that later. But for now...I should probably finish packing. Yikes!