Sunday, March 30, 2014

"I'm Going on an Adventure!" Introductions and My First Week.

Could it be a form of homesickness? Nostalgia? Living pathetically in my past? Who knows.

But I want to re-live the amazing experiences I had in the Holy Land and elsewhere this past fall and winter by writing out my thoughts and feelings in hindsight, and I invite anyone and everyone to join in the fun!

Just so you readers know where I'm headed here, this first post will probably be one of the longest and have the least amount of pictures because it requires introductions and back-stories. I hope to write approximately once every week or two, each post having about one or two weeks' worth of the program's events, depending of course on how much there is to cover. So all together, I think I'll have somewhere between 10 and 16 posts by the time I'm done.

First, a short introduction before the prologue of our Jerusalem adventure:

C'est moi. My sweet roommate Nichel snapped lovely pictures
of our roomies on our balcony overlooking the Old City.

My name is Sheridan, I recently finished my BFA degree in Illustration at Brigham Young University, and the final semester of that degree was spent on a study abroad program in Jerusalem. (See my other blogs for my sketches and temporary online portfolio!)
The BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies is located on Mount Scopus,  immediately East and a little to the North of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, just across the Kidron Valley. Mount Scopus is the large hill immediately North of the Mount of Olives. Perhaps it's just the nostalgia talking, but the J.C. is really one of the most beautiful buildings to me.

jerusalem center
The BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Easter Studies. Photo from here.
As a student of the Jerusalem Center, you attend class, eat, and sleep in the building alongside your classmates (~ 80 of them), some of the teachers, and a few miscellaneous administrators. You have 15 credit hours of classes, the same ones as every student there, all centered on studying the history of the Holy Land and thereabouts.

My Jerusalem story begins quite a while back, with many small things that played a part in my applying for the program in the first place. As far as I remember correctly, I have at least 6 neighbors from home who went on this same study abroad and one who went as a child of a teacher. I've taken some excerpts of my journal to explain the rest:

"I think the first I heard of the Jerusalem program was when a neighbor of my same age group went. I’m not even sure which one went first. There’s been Alison, Sarah, Tyler, and of course Alisha. You know when you look back in time and feel like you can begin to see a pattern and see that things were laid out so perfectly in order for something else to take place? That’s what it’s like thinking of how I came to be roommates at BYU with Alisha and the two other girls who were with her in Jerusalem, Aubrianne and Sarah.
Shamelessly stolen from Facebook, this is left to right:
               Aubri, Jonathan (her husband), Sarah and Alisha.
                 I hope they're not too embarrassed by this picture,
         it was the only one with all three of them.
"It was primarily their influence and shared experiences that made me begin to think about Jerusalem for me. I think it was our last year together in 2011/2012 that I began thinking of what it would be like for me to go to Jerusalem, and maybe a few months later that I began asking what my parents thought about it. There was this point at which I was aware that I didn’t just want to go to Jerusalem, but that I could feel something else pulling me there. That I needed to go, and not in the way you ‘need’ that new product you would love to have or ‘need’ to travel the world for travelling's sake

I was nervous! I re-checked every bit of
information multiple times to make sure I wouldn't
be denied due to a silly mistake. I'm about to hand
it in here.

"I wanted to go in the spring of 2013, but with everything else going on there just wasn’t time to apply for Jerusalem and I didn’t think I’d be up to packing up after the previous exhausting semester. I applied for fall semester and found out that if I got in, and was signed up for classes soon, I could keep working at my excellent job in the library Book Repair (another HUGE blessing). I was living in Provo that summer, and my parents were out of town on the weekend the response with my fate came in the mail to my house, so my neighbor Dean opened it for me and called my mom with the answer. I was in a work party when my mom called me to give the news. I answered saying, “Mom? What does it say?” I was trying to prepare myself for it to say ‘no’ or to have me on the waiting list, meaning I may not be able to keep my job. I remember hearing her pause, and in that one second, I thought “Oh no, she’s trying to brake the bad news to me gently, I didn’t get in.” Then she burst out singing “JERUUUUSALEM, JERUUUSALEM!!” I was ecstatic!!!
            "All in all, I just want people in the future, whoever ends up reading this, to know that I did not just decide one day that I wanted to go on a study abroad and that I simply wanted to do the hardest and most expensive one on a whim. I gave this a lot of thought and prayer for a long time and had repeated discussions with my parents about it. My parents were lucky enough to go on a Jerusalem tour in 2011, and I think that they understood with their hearts what I meant when I said I felt the need to go. Bless them for it!"

Mom and Dad at the Olive Tree garden in Jerusalem. (Gethsemane)

So there you have it. That's how I came to be accepted! Now for the fun stuff....

Let's talk about how orientations are the worst. The orientation given to future students of the J.C. is meant to scare them into compliance-- but just so you know, it's because they'd much rather err on the side of safety and caution than risk a student not taking things seriously and ending up in the hospital or in a very sticky situation... which has happened in the past. I was honestly fine with that tactic. Even though I was afraid for a while that I'd be molested at every corner. You're not, by the way. I was never even touched.

Then it was "off we go into the wild blue yonder!" I was thankful to sit on the plane by someone I knew previously, it really helped my nerves. I got sick after I ate some super expensive sick-nasty pizza in JFK airport, but thankfully survived the 11 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Another short excerpt from my journal:

"September 4th and 5th was Rash Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday. So the airline people gave each passenger a ‘red delicious’ apple before boarding. I made myself eat its nasty, mouth-drying meat so I wouldn’t pass out after the gross New York pizza disaster. It’s a really big and special holiday, so our flight was filled with Jewish people coming [to Jerusalem] for it. I’m probably just bad at spotting them, but I didn’t notice any Jewish women. The men were easy to spot. I’m sure they were Orthodox Jews, as they had shaved heads except their side ringlets and long beards, wore kippas and top hats, and wore typical black suits with their tallits showing a bit underneath. Every once in a while, they’d get up, wrap their tallits around them, face a certain way, and pray while rocking back and forth. I loved seeing their unashamed devotion to their religion."

(A tallit is a Jewish man's prayer shawl, for lack of a more accurate description. It's the little bit of generally white cloth and the tzitzit (fringe) that hangs out from underneath their shirts if they're more orthodox.)

Tevye from The Fiddler On the Roof, wearing his tallit. Photo snagged from here.
The hour long bus ride from Tel Aviv to the J.C. was rough. We were jet-lagged like crazy, and mixed with the stun of seeing Jerusalem for the first time, everything felt very surreal and fuzzy. Upon our first time in the J.C., the organist played a beautiful arrangement of a hymn while we watched the very bright orange and pink sunset from the huge auditorium windows that overlook the Old City. All the buildings in Jerusalem are required to be built of the traditional creamy white limestone, and the blazing colors of sky lit the white city on fire, burning brightest on the golden top of the Dome of the Rock. It was the most beautiful evening, and everything felt special in that room.

One of the many beautiful sunsets in Jerusalem.
Pictures never did them justice.
This one isn't as bronze as the one I described above.

It was unfortunately followed by days of orientations. Really, days. They were very important, but why they thought we could retain fire drill information while still getting used to the time difference of 8 or 9 hours ahead of Utah time (variable depending on Daylight Savings) I don't understand.

On our first morning, we went in groups of 10 students or so with a leader out into the Old City on foot. It was just to show us around and introduce us to the city. Every corner and every shop put a big silly grin on my face.

Our first Sabbath (held on Saturdays instead of Sundays to accommodate the worship schedule of many of our staff) was lovely, though perhaps a bit forgettable since our heads were still swimming at the time.

To finish things off for today, I'm bringing out the nerd in me. As my parents drove me to the airport on the morning I left, I was looking at the lovely sunrise coming up over my beloved Utah mountains. Though I was ecstatic in every way to be off to Jerusalem, I was reminded of this line in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring said by Bilbo about Frodo wanting to go on adventures: "I think in his heart, Frodo's still in love with the Shire. The woods, the fields... little rivers." 
I began feeling like I was a small hobbit from a little hole in the ground who was about to embark on a big adventure. I've been on other big adventures, but it was my first time without my family.

"I'm going on an adventure!" The Hobbit Part 1. Photo from here.
Yet off I went, away from my Shire. I'm glad that Jerusalem was no Mordor, but perhaps it has only been my stop at Bree. The stone has begun rolling and the front door is open...
 And you know what Bilbo always said: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."