With clinicals, Public and Global Health trips, and immense loads of homework, BYU College of Nursing students keep themselves busy. The idea of doing a non-nursing study abroad trip may seem out of the question for some, but eight nursing students lived the dream when they studied at the BYU Jerusalem Center this past summer.
Ironically, the students did not coordinate between themselves to go. It was mostly spontaneous decision-making by each student.
“It was just one day in class I was like, ‘You know, I think I really want to go to Jerusalem,’” Hailey Coburn, a fourth-semester student, says.
“None of us planned to go together, but we always found each other,” fourth-semester Jessica Butterfield says. Some, such as third-semester student Maggie Gunn, had friends or family who had attended before and highly recommended the experience.
Upon arrival to Jerusalem, the students realized that they were not in Provo anymore.
“It was unlike any country I’ve ever been to in my life, and that’s saying a lot because I’ve been to a lot of countries,” says globetrotting fourth-semester student Ashley Dyer, who has visited 23 countries.
“One of my favorite parts was walking through the Old City—you could smell all the spices and they always had their olives or their pickles,” Shannon Beech, fourth-semester, says.
The immense diversity of Jerusalem was a defining feature of the trip for most of the students, who appreciated being able to learn from the different people and cultures of the city.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience to be there and understand the culture a little bit better,” Gunn says.
“One thing that I learned from going there is that even more important than the sites is the people,” Coburn says. “There are some of the nicest people over there.” Students routinely were welcomed by locals and invited to participate in communal dancing and other activities. Each culture brought something new that the students were able to learn about and respect—for example, the students visited churches, a mosque, and a synagogue.
“It was really cool learning about the different cultures because I haven’t really been very familiar with Jewish or Muslim culture before, and I think that’s really going to help me in the future,” Dyer says.
The devotion of the adherents of the various religions in Jerusalem also struck a chord with the nursing students.
“When you think of the Middle East, everyone thinks about tension and violence,” Dyer says. “I mean, there was some violence going on, but it was definitely a lot more peaceful than I expected, and a lot more spiritual, both from my religion and other people’s religions as well. People are so dedicated to their faith and it really inspired me.”
“They all lived for a purpose,” Beech says. “That’s something that really hit home with me.”
Life in the Jerusalem Center was a mix of hectic and spiritual.
“Something about the Jerusalem center is that everything changes—nothing is consistent,” Butterfield explains. “Usually five days a week we have class and our class schedule is not consistent.”
Students took classes on the Old and New Testaments, Palestinian history, local languages, and the different religions of the region. In between classes, students could relax in the lounge, visit local sights, or get food at the Center cafeteria. Butterfield noted that one of the best parts about the trip was not having to cook a meal for three-and-a-half months.
“Usually Mondays were our field trip days,” second semester student Katie Glaus says. Field trips could be within Jerusalem or farther abroad. During the semester, students visited Galilee, Jordan, and Greece on extended trips.
Adventures abounded during the students’ stay. They floated in the Dead Sea, canoed down the Jordan River, rode camels, visited the ruins of Petra in Jordan, climbed rickety towers in Greece, and explored old tunnels in Jerusalem.
One of the most important parts of the trip, however, was the bonding that occurred between the students. Several of them were assigned as visiting teachers to each other, and they all came closer as they struggled through the immense workload of the Center. Of course, the conversations would come frequently come back to nursing.
“Since I’m in a lower semester, I would always ask questions about the next semester,” Glaus says. “I would just always go to them for advice with nursing stuff.”
“I feel like there’s a special connection between us now,” Coburn says.
The students were impacted spiritually as well. Each had special experiences that contributed to both their spiritual growth and their nursing abilities.
“One thing that was very special about to the Holy Land was that we were able to go see the sights where Christ healed people,” says Dyer. Visiting these sights taught the students about charity and truly caring for patients the way Jesus Christ did.
“I think being there and also studying the life of the Savior while I was there and what He did for the people just helped me to be more loving and helped me to see the bigger picture,” Glaus says.
Back in Provo, the students have to adjust to not hearing the Islamic call to prayer five times a day and not having cheap falafel (common street food in Jerusalem) within walking distance of their classes. However, the impact of the trip continues to be felt, and the students are confident that their nursing careers have been positively influenced by the trip.
“I feel like one of the cool things about this experience is that it’s still affecting me as I come back to normal life,” Butterfield says.
Photos courtesy of Maggie Gunn, Jessica Butterfield, and Ashley Dyer