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Danville Community College students recently spent 10 days touring Israel and the Holy Land. Shown in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem are left to right are: Kimberly Whalen of Chatham, DCC Professor Dr. Mark C. Wallace, Kelly Byrd of Dry Fork, Ryan Brooks Riddlesperger of Dry Fork, Selina Cole of Chatham, and Lauren Haley of Danville. 

Selina Cole at entrance to the Tomb 

DANVILLE, VA, January 22, 2009 –  Students and instructors from Averett University and Danville Community College (DCC) recently spent 10 days learning about and exploring the Holy Land.

"Trips like this expose students to a different culture and way of life they would not have the opportunity to experience otherwise," said Dr. Bill Trimyer, Associate Professor of religion at Averett. "They have the opportunity to see places they have only been able to read about in a textbook. On this journey the students also gained a different perspective on the conflict between the Palestinians and the Jews. They saw a wall that is a symbol of the conflict and a wedge in the struggle for peace."

Students from DCC attending the trip were: Kelly Byrd, Selina Cole, Lauren Haley, Ryan Riddlesperger, and Kim Whalen. DCC offered three full and two partial scholarships to eligible students, thanks to the Barksdale-Rorrer Study Abroad Scholarship Fund and the Danville Community College Educational Foundation. The Averett students included: Allison Simmons, Meredith Schwane, Russell Deaton, Jessica Stokes and Kristin Koger. Trimyer and DCC History Department Chair Dr. Mark Wallace led the trip.

The students visited Galilee; Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee; the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus preached to the people; Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home; the Roman Aqueduct and Theatre at Caesarea; the ruins of Jericho; Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery; Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Several of the highlights of the trip included walking through the Roman ruins of Bet She’an, which is south of the Sea of Galilee and date back to the 4th Century B.C.; and the students enjoyed floating in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea, appropriately named due to its inability to support life of any kind, is the lowest point on Earth.

Prior to the trip, the DCC students participated in a course, "The History of the Holy Land," taught by Wallace. The purpose of the class was to examine the Holy Land through personal research and biblical perspectives, interpretations, and modern and historical conceptions and preconceptions.

"I encouraged students to become more aware of themselves, their national identity, and their place within a wider context," Wallace explains. "Additionally, I challenged students to consider how one’s beliefs affect worldviews and ideologies, how the foundations of Christianity influence other societies and cultures, and why a common belief does not necessarily translate into a global acceptance of people, places, or ideas."

As an historian, Wallace understands the need for interaction with what he calls "tangible history."

"Sometimes, our worldviews may be limited by the media or our lack of interaction with other cultures," Wallace continues."While we read and experience history, we make history, and through study abroad trips I endeavor to facilitate students’ ability to recognize how personal character influences attitudes, as well as fostering an understanding of other societies. Ultimately, students should recognize changes within themselves as a result of experiencing history, not simply studying it."

For the students, the trip was historically and politically educational. For example, DCC student Selina Cole says that traveling to the Holy Land was "a life-changing experience, especially after hearing news reports about the conflict in the Middle East.

"It makes the politics more real to me, after having been to Israel and seen it," Cole notes. "And now hearing about the conflict in the Middle East and knowing that I have been there made an impression. I actually walked there!"

In addition to the political significance, the students were intrigued by the actions taken to enforce a tangible separation between Palestinians and Israelis.
DCC student Kelly Byrd remembers that "it was strange" to see a giant wall around the city of Bethlehem.

"Bethlehem — the place of Jesus’ birth, which means ‘House of Bread’ in Hebrew," Byrd explains. "This holy city is surrounded by a large concrete and metal wall, topped with barbed and razor wire."

While Averett and DCC have a long-standing academic and community partnership, this is the first time the schools have collaborated to take students on an overseas trip, which was sponsored by Educational Opportunities Tours. Trimyer and Wallace are tentatively planning a "Letters of Paul Cruise" in 2010. Destinations for this study abroad trip will include Athens, Corinth, Istanbul, Ephesus and the island of Patmos.


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