“Discovering the World of the Bible”: Experiential Learning in the Holy Land
To learn more about the costs, dates, credits, and details of the program, visit the BYU Jerusalem Center website.
“Here in Jerusalem, everything is an object lesson,” says Isaac Richards, a Winter 2020 study abroad student. “Reading the scriptures is so much more inspiring when you can look up from your New Testament and see the landscape, the clouds, the olive trees, the weather, in the exact places where all of those sacred events occurred. It is a type of learning that you can't gain simply from maps and books.”
The study abroad program at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies “offers an experiential learning environment that is as intellectually enlarging as it is spiritually strengthening,” according to Richards. Residing in an iconic limestone building overlooking the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem Center students live, study, and worship within walking distance of the Old City walls for three and a half life-changing months.
Krista Shimizu, a student in Fall 2019, says, “The people, places, and events in the scriptures became real and tangible for me. That increased my knowledge of the scriptures and its history, but the greatest part was that my personal relationship with Jesus Christ deepened. I learned to love as He loves and serve as He serves.”
BYU professors guide students through Old Testament sites like Jericho and Hezekiah’s Tunnel as well as New Testament sites like Bethlehem and Capernaum. “The scriptural stories take on a more accurate, more powerful, and more memorable character,” says Richards, “because they are supplemented by visual, climatological, sensory, and geographical dimensions. You see pictures of Israelite temples on a PowerPoint in class, and the very next day you are on a bus to go see them in person. Verses about wine presses, fig trees, centurions, and the Temple Mount came alive as I looked into the faces of the descendants of Jesus's contemporaries.”
In addition to biblical history classes from BYU professors, students learn about the languages and historical narratives of the Holy Land from local instructors. Richards says, “Students will be exposed to so many disciplines (archaeology, history, political science, geography, religion, anthropology, and more) in such a hands-on way, from the classroom to the archaeological site to the museum. I feel like I came back with a ‘mini PhD’ in Near Eastern and Middle Eastern studies because I had been so thoroughly exposed to the basics of everything going on in the Holy Land.”
During free time, students hike across the Kidron Valley to explore Jerusalem’s rooftops, fragrant open-air markets, and ancient tunnels. They find time to serve by assembling humanitarian kits, sharing musical talents, playing carillon bells, and accepting church callings. They meditate in sacred spaces like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb, the Western Wall, and the plaza surrounding the Dome of the Rock. Each Saturday, students gather for sacrament meeting in the upper auditorium of the Center; while looking at the setting for the Savior’s final moments in mortality, they can ponder on the Savior’s past, present, and future roles in this land.
“It is an immersive learning experience unlike any other,” Richards says. “I got the opportunity to stand on the Mount of Olives and feel rain and wind whip my face. Later, when reading about Lehi and his family journeying for eight years in the wilderness from Jerusalem, suddenly I could imagine much more vividly what eight years of cold and rainy winters and blistering desert summers must have felt like in the Judean Wilderness.”
The immersive learning takes on a literal dimension as students float on the Dead Sea, dip their feet in the Jordan River, and swim in the Sea of Galilee. Out-of-country field trips to Jordan and either Egypt, Greece or Turkey (depending upon the semester) introduce students to the broader context of the Middle East, situating the Holy Land in the grand sweep of history.
Students leave their footprints in this Holy Land, and in return, the land and its people leave indelible impressions in their hearts. Shimizu says, “‘Learning’ while in this program was more than just classes and cool field trips; it was about experiencing what it was like to live in the Holy Land during biblical times. Those experiences are things I continue to reflect on as I strive to exemplify Christ each day.”
Currently each student enrolled in the Jerusalem Center program receives the same cost-reduction grant funded by generous donations. In addition, students can apply for need-based scholarships through a Jerusalem Center endowment.
If you would like to contribute to financial assistance for future Jerusalem Center students, please visit: donate.byu.edu/JCAlumniStudentSupport.