Riding camels in the desert. Floating in the Dead Sea. Exploring some of the most revered and sacred religious holy sites of major world religions. And experiencing Middle Eastern hospitality.
This is just a glimpse of the jam-packed, 14-day study abroad adventure a group of students experienced this summer during their trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine. This pilot program marked the FIU in the Middle East program's first study abroad trip to the region.
The group journeyed to famous cities including Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Haifa. They visited renowned museums such as Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center and the Museum of the Jewish People, as well as major universities, including Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and Bethlehem University.
They rambled through local markets; got a behind-the-scenes look at a Palestinian glass factory; ate Middle Eastern ice cream; and celebrated a Shabbat dinner with Jewish families. The students also got to experience the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The study abroad program was supported through scholarships from the Kimberly Green Scholarship, Dorothea Green Lecture Series Endowment and the President Navon Endowment for Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish Studies. The trip was in conjunction with two courses (Politics of the Middle East and Topics in International Relations: Arab-Israeli Conflict), taught through the Department of Politics & International Relations, under the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.
Here are some highlights of the trip as told by the students and their professor.
Junior, International Relations
“We went to Petra!!! The natural architecture was mesmerizing. I don’t think I will ever see something like that again in my life. I can also officially say I was on the set of Aladdin. Well, not technically. I really was in Wadi Rum. We were able to do things such as ride camels and sit in a Bedouin tent. At the Dome of the Rock, I witnessed a Muslim pray for the first time. There is a certain beauty to watching someone pray, a certain vulnerability that comes from seeing a person and their faith colliding. We also went to Ramallah and were able to spend the day at a senior citizen center – which I absolutely loved. It seems like grandparents transcend culture and religious backgrounds. They have the same mannerisms and the same reaction of love when they see kids that could be their grandkids. It showed us that just because someone lives on the other side of the earth, that doesn’t mean they are much different from us. This trip was very easily the trip of a lifetime for me.”
The group of students along with Mohamed K. Ghumrawi, faculty director of the FIU in the Middle East program (third from right) and Pedro D. Botta, senior director of strategic initiatives of the Green School (second from right) at Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
The group at the archaeological city of Petra in Jordan.
Senior, Political Science
“I got to experience something I only imagined in my dreams. We went to Wadi Rum, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my life. We got a Jeep ride through the desert, and I felt like I was in a Star Wars movie. The landscape was breathtaking. I was lucky enough to check another box from my bucket list by riding a camel through the desert. We also walked the “Via Dolorosa” where Jesus walked with the cross. And we had the honor and the opportunity to be part of a Shabbat dinner, where a Jewish family opened their doors to teach us about their culture while enjoying a family dinner. Not only the food was delicious, but the family hospitality was out of this world. We talked for hours.”
Junior, International Business
“Jerusalem is the place where the three Abrahamic religions converge into this melting pot of a city. I spent three hours visiting the Dome of the Rock. The architecture, the symbolism and the detail left me scraping my jaw off the carpet. To follow this experience came the most profound religious moment of my life, which was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In a single building, I touched and prayed on the rock where Jesus gave His life for my sins, I touched and prayed on the slab of marble that carried Him into His tomb, and I touched and prayed at the foot of Christ’s tomb. It was beautiful. It was holy. And it was incredibly powerful. We also went to Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Making the commitment to walk those zig-zagging exhibits and trying to fathom a world where these atrocities were a human being’s reality is a truly daunting task. Yet I felt it as an obligation. In other words, I owed it to the millions who were murdered to hear their story however painful it must be.”
“The first day of the trip, we went up to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses looked over the Holy Land. From there you can see the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho. This put into perspective the distances between areas. We also saw the oldest map of the Holy Land and visited the Jordan River to see where Jesus was baptized. We saw people following in His footsteps and getting baptized there, too. After crossing the border, we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to see the tomb of Jesus and the site of His crucifixion. This was my most anticipated site in Jerusalem because of my seven years of Catholic school, and I was not disappointed. Another highlight: We drove up to Acre, which was my favorite city. The architecture and the sea walls are among some of the longest standing and most historic structures. It was different from anything we had seen.”
The marble slab that Christian tradition identifies as the place where Jesus Christ's body was prepared for burial in the tomb.
Junior, International Relations
“After our site tour of the Jordan Valley, we attended a meeting in Amman about Muslim and Christian coexistence. It was beautiful to see how both religions are similar. To see both of these important religious figures, a priest and a mufti, connect with each other and recognize that they can coexist without any difficulties was breathtaking. Coming into this trip, I did not know all the similarities Christians and Muslims had, which is an eye-opening experience. Another highlight of the trip: The food was great! It consisted of pita, falafel, white rice, chicken and different types of dips to put on your pita, rice or chicken. Extremely appetizing. The places we visited are beautiful. The sand in Jordan was this reddish orange color, and it was gorgeous. There were these beautiful boulders of rocks forming an astonishing scenery.”
Mohamed K. Ghumrawi
Faculty Director, FIU in the Middle East
Adjunct Professor, Department of Politics & International Relations
“This study abroad trip was an amazing opportunity for our students to become immersed in the region of the Middle East. It is one thing to learn about something from a book in a classroom. It is another to actually travel to and directly interact with the region you are studying. The program exposed students to the historical, cultural, socio-political, economic and geographical linkages between Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Based on a theme of promoting interfaith relations, co-existence and reconciliation, my students were able to interact with the local population and hear their stories. Our trip included stops at historically important renowned sites such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Petra – which came complete with a camel ride in the desert, because after all, what’s a trip to the Middle East without a camel ride! Traveling is one of the best methods of learning. I believe it’s very important to give our FIU students an opportunity to receive a high quality and life-changing experience like this program provided.”