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TO APPLY --deadline to apply Monday, Feb. 6, 2012


Your home for spring semester will be the Middle East. We will study and explore the culture, traditions and history of the region, with a home base in the ancient and conflicted city of Jerusalem. In addition to field trips in the Jerusalem area, we will spend substantial time exploring the rest of Israel and the West Bank (Palestine), as well as four neighboring countries: Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and, hopefully, Syria. Off-campus learning will include classroom lectures, field trips and site visits. We will benefit from the expertise of local guides, and enjoy official briefings, small-group discussions, field work, readings and always conversations—conversations with host families, professors, locals, in the street, in the marketplace. Whether we are in class, traveling, worshiping, playing, eating, we will always be learning. The program will also include a number of service learning opportunities in cooperation with local agencies and organizations.

Westmont in Jerusalem will be rich in challenges and rewards. Travel will be exciting but sometimes exhausting. A close community will be supportive but it may test your patience. Readings and lectures will enrich your travels but they will also limit personal freedoms. The very things that challenge us also cause the greatest growth—personally, intellectually, and spiritually.

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Answers to Common Questions

1. What countries will we visit?

The program will focus on Israel/Palestine, with excursions (approximately one week each) to four neighboring countries: Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Syria is currently unstable; a decision about whether or not to include it will be made in the coming months.

2. Will the program include cultural immersion?

As much as possible during our travels, we will seek opportunities to get to know people from various cultures. We will stay in small, family-run hotels, hostels, family homes, agricultural communities, and even Bedouin tents. We will meet people in churches, mosques, synagogues, shops, universities, a theater, the marketplace. Our study of conversational Arabic will help us listen and speak wherever we travel.

3. What are the courses /credits, and what General Education requirements will I fulfill?     

Courses: 16 units

RS104: Jesus in the Gospels and the Land (4 units) (plus elective for RS majors)
IS121: The Israel-Palestine Conflict (4 units)
PSY150: Cultural/Narrative Psychology (4 units) (plus elective for Psychology majors)
IS003: Introductory Arabic (3 units)
PEA034: Outdoor Education (1 unit)
AP191: Service Learning (0 units)
ANTICIPATED GE: Thinking Historically, Thinking Globally, Foreign
Language, Physical Education Activity, Serving Society

4. Who are the faculty leaders?

Professor Bruce Fisk, Religious Studies – As a veteran of two Europe Semesters, three Middle East Mayterms, Mediterranean Semester and many trips to the region, Professor Fisk is eager to introduce students to Jesus in the Gospels and in the world of 1st century Roman Judea. Author of A Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground (Baker, 2011), he thinks the Land works like a Fifth Gospel that sheds valuable light on the other Four. He also thinks Western Christians won’t understand the modern Middle East until they meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, for themselves, listen to their stories and share their lives.

Professor Tom Fikes, Psychology – Trained primarily in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, Professor Fikes also teaches on the history and philosophy of psychology, and his current work centers on social neuroscience and the intersection of biological and relational understandings of the person. He rarely refers to himself in the third person, and although he generally eschews Middle English pronouns, he's always resonated deeply with Buber's I-Thou. He had the opportunity to explore the concepts of relationality and social construction in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict when he co-lead a Mayterm course in the Middle East with Prof. Fisk in 2009. Prof. Fikes has directed and taught in the Inoculum program since 1999, leading and teaching Westmont students on a 2-week trip in the Sierra backcountry exploring issues integrating faith, personhood, theology, wilderness, and sustainable living. He enjoys mountaineering, backpacking, sea kayaking, but sees his participation in local church and college community as one of his biggest adventures. Given his interest in narrative, social construction and self-organizing systems, it is natural that he often imagines himself as part of the emergent church.

5. Will the program be physically demanding?

Bruce and Tom are excited about cultural and geographical immersion, not mere surface exposure. This will mean not only home stays but also other  “close to the ground” experiences: lots of outdoor learning, walking tours, short hikes (using map & compass),  a multi-day hike in the Galilee), kayaking in the Mediterranean and rafting on the Jordan River. We will use public transportation whenever possible (which will be more authentic but not as comfortable as tourist buses) and encourage traveling light. We will build in rest days, of course, but it will probably be more physically demanding than most off-campus programs. Translation: it will be awesome.

6. Does the program have a theme?

Our time together will center on a threefold theme: People, Person and Place. We will explore the importance of being culturally, relationally, and geographically situated – that is, we will study the ways in which our sociocultural groups, our local communities and networks of friends, and the lands we inhabit are not merely peripheral to who we are, but are instead central to our identities and ways of being in the world. We are not simply individuals who choose to relate to the world around us; we are persons formed and transformed by our relationships (people) and contexts (place). This was true in the days of Jesus, whose identity was formed by his family (the line of David), his tribe (Judah), his people (the Jews), and his context (bucolic Galilee, crowed Jerusalem, occupied Judea). It is also true today among Jews, Muslims and Christians who live side-by-side throughout the Middle East, and on top of each other in Jerusalem.

As we study the concepts of person, people and place, we will ask how we can leverage these abstractions to gain a deeper and more pragmatic understanding of the complex realities of the Middle East. Concepts such as marginality, peace and conflict, and narrative will figure prominently in our discussions. "Narrative" is a term used in a variety of academic fields -- theology, psychology, philosophy, and sociology, in addition to the more obvious field of literature --  to refer to how persons make sense of their reality; narrative also shapes how we experience reality, and more radically, it constructs those realities themselves. Such constructed and experienced realities include marginalization, peace, and conflict.

Simply put, we'll spend a good deal of time exploring the idea that "we tell the stories that tell us." From the parables of Jesus to the Gospel narratives, to the story of the modern church, to the tragic tale of the Israel-Palestine conflict -- stories are everywhere and the way people tell stories shapes the reality they experience. Cultures and peoples define themselves in terms of national, ethnic or religious narratives. Each of us has a story to tell; each of us is a story to tell; and each of us is swept up into stories that are much larger than ourselves. From spiritual formation to community identity to social justice; from popular struggle to international politics to sustainable co-existence -- a narrative framing of ourselves and our world helps us sort out what we know, how that knowledge forms us, and how we can be more effective agents of peace and justice.

7. Who should apply?

The program won’t privilege RS or Psych majors. As for class standing, juniors and seniors rank above sophomores, BUT this is not the only consideration. (We’d prefer a hard-working sophomore to a lazy senior!) The ideal student for this program is curious (eager to learn, adventurous, full of questions, open to other perspectives), hard-working (willing to join a learning community, bring your experience/knowledge/background, pull your weight; work hard), and flexible (willing to adapt and flex for the group, and for the cultures where we are living)

8. When should I apply?

Applications (available on-line) are due to the Off-campus Programs Office by Monday, February 6, at 5pm. You will hear word of your acceptance by spring break, Friday, March 2. You will need to confirm by submitting a form with a $500.00 deposit by Wednesday, March 21.

9. Should I apply?

If you’re still reading and are getting excited, then probably yes! But first read the following warning from the Surgeon General.

WARNING: This Semester Includes Experiences Known To Cause Deep Thought, Meaningful Debate, And Substantial Damage to Unfounded Assumptions and Pat Answers.