As I write this blog entry, I am squeezed in a middle seat on the long return flight from Tel Aviv back to the United States. I am leaving the students two days prior to their departure (scheduling changes related to the Christmas blizzard that hit Minot and disrupted everyone’s travel plans). In reflecting on an incredible journey to Israel and the West Bank, I was reminded how powerful the opportunity is to travel and study in another land. Earlier in my career I did work related to collegiate study abroad programming, and so it was wonderful to rekindle those roots and join our LCM students on this tour.
Throughout the week, our students participated in so many activities that a traditional tourist to this land would never get to see and do. Our students experienced the culture, history, religion, politics, architecture, geography, food, music, and so much more. Through it all they listened, learned, discussed, debated, and reflected among themselves and others. This is no small feat considering they were touring one of the most complicated places on the planet and contemplating some incredibly complex issues. Their evening reflection activities, this blog, their individual journaling, and their conversations throughout the trip (and the bus rides) added much to their learning and growth. Throughout the trip, we heard first-hand from Christians, Jews, and Muslims about their lives and experiences. I know it broadened my horizons and understanding of this complicated part of the world, and I am sure it had a similar impact for our students. These conversations and reflections are the very essence and power of a study tour such as this trip. These are experiences students could never get in the classroom, and they demonstrate the significance of experiential learning through studying abroad.
Our students represented themselves, Lutheran Campus Ministries, Minot State University, and the Minot community very well. I was honored and privileged to be part of this group, and come away from the trip feeling so good about our students at MSU. The schedule for this journey began each day around 7 am and typically went until 9 or 10 pm. They were full and lengthy days, but the students were ready to go each morning with a great commitment to growing and learning through the upcoming day’s itinerary. If you supported any of these students or this trip in any way, a most sincere word of Thanks. You can feel very good about your investment and the impact it has had on the participants. Please ask students to share their stories and photos upon their return, and ask them what they learned. I think you will be impressed with what you hear and see.
A big word of thanks to Christoph Schmidt for his leadership and coordination in ensuring a terrific experience for our students. He created intentional learning opportunities and made sure there was always time for reflecting and group dialogue throughout the journey. Trena Montgomery was a wonderful resource for this trip as well with all of her coordination and logistics planning to ensure everything went off without a hitch (no small task with close to 20 people roaming around a foreign land for 9 very long days!).
A favorite quote of mine is by St. Augustine who said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” That quote is as true today as it was when originally uttered some 16 centuries ago. This trip reminded me of the value in studying through travel; I would encourage any students interested in study abroad opportunities to please visit MSU’s International Programs Office in the Student Center. Traveling and studying abroad is one of the most powerful ways our college students have to enhance their education.
As I touched down in the US, I learned there was more violence overnight in Jerusalem (our students are all fine!). I come away from this journey with more questions than I had before the expedition began. The region is a metaphorical onion: the more peeling one does, the more layers that are discovered. I am now challenged to continue exploring and learning about the complexities of the Middle East. We met so many individuals throughout our journey who were hopeful for a peaceful future, and their hope is a powerful acknowledgment of what might be possible in the years ahead. Thanks again for reading this blog, and I look forward to seeing you back in Minot!