JERUSALEM – Last year when the events of the Arab Spring made Cairo, Egypt, an uncertain base for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ BestSemester Middle East Studies Program, MESP relocated to Jerusalem, Israel. This month MESP is already resuming the one-week home-stays that were an important part of the MESP curriculum in Egypt.
“Resuming home-stays so quickly says we are committed to resuming the same high standards for cultural engagement that guided the Cairo experience, and to do it as soon as possible,” explained David Holt, MESP director. “In Cairo, it took at least three years to develop home-stays according to the standard we wanted. The fact that we are launching them during our first full academic year in Israel signals the importance MESP places on maintaining the same quality program it has long been known for over the years.”
Through engaging the Arab-Muslim world in addition to Israeli Jews and Christian Arabs, MESP seeks to prepare students to live the Christian life in a world that is religiously and culturally pluralistic. Home-stays are an integral part of this learning experience. As Holt noted, “Ideally, the home-stay experience allows students to leave the realm of books, theories, and abstractions about the Middle East and enter the world of relationships with real people. If media rhetoric and images in the United States make it seem like we are at war with the peoples of the Middle East region, literally or culturally, the home-stay experience completely obliterates such stereotyping. If things go as hoped, the biggest gains for students are new friendships and personal transformation.”
While the role of home-stays plays the same role in the MESP curriculum in Jerusalem as it did in Cairo, one change MESP has instituted is to finish formal coursework before the home-stays begin. This change gives students more time with their host families and less pressure to complete academic assignments while spending time with the families.
“An important goal of MESP is to educate students experientially and spiritually, and home-stays help to enrich as well as frame the academic curriculum in ways that only such experiences can,” said Holt. “By bridging the physical distance between us and them, home-stays are one way to enable students to sense the tension between formal and experiential learning. While students resolve that tension differently, there is no doubt that the struggle to reconcile these two types of learning produces genuine transformation sooner or later.”
Encountering regional conflict in its Israeli-Palestinian context is an essential part of faith and learning during the MESP program, especially as it relates to controversial issues like religion and politics and the attempt to apply Christian faith in understanding people who follow Muslim, Jewish, and Eastern Christian beliefs. As students struggle together for answers, MESP avoids partisan identification with either side and guides students away from being satisfied with simplistic answers or idealistic solutions that ignore real human consequences.
In addition to home-stays, the MESP curriculum includes interdisciplinary seminars that give students the opportunity to explore the diverse religious, social, cultural, and political traditions of Middle Eastern peoples. Students study Arabic and work as volunteers with various organizations. MESP also typically takes students on nearly a month of regional travel, currently focusing on places like Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt as security conditions permit.
About BestSemester: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.