Students prepare for Middle East trip

For the third summer in a row, Gannon University students will be hitting the dusty trail to the deserts of the Middle East – helping Jordanian children practice their English and visiting historical sites like Jerusalem.

So far, five Gannon students are going on the May 16 to June 7 trip, which is still welcoming new participants. Six Penn State Behrend students will also be going.

It’s a road less traveled, but far worth the trip – at least, according to Jeff Bloodworth, Ph.D., an associate professor in the history department and trip organizer.

“Anyone can go to the Eiffel Tower. London’s nice,” he said. “But living in the Middle East – hearing the call to prayer five times a day, going to an Arab wedding – this is one of these trips that can transform the way you look at the world.”

Students will work in local Catholic schools and in a community center in the village of Dhivan. At the center, they will teach conversational English to students. Bloodworth said the American students will receive some training in workshops before they go, but it isn’t necessary that they have any background.

Most Jordanians already speak some English, and mainly want to practice in a formal setting.

They will also be helping local children put on plays.

Students will stay in the family home of a local priest in Madaba, Jordan. Madaba is a mixed Christian and Muslim city.

Bloodworth said one of the mosques in Madaba is named after Jesus.

“The relations are really quite good and it’s a really special place,” he said.

The home where students will stay is a five-minute walk from 1,500-year-old ruins of Christian churches, he said.

The priest’s home is a series of apartments and includes wireless Internet and running water. Bloodworth said the accommodations aren’t luxurious, but are comfortable, and it’s nice to stay with the locals.

“You aren’t a tourist,” he said. “You’re an honorary Arab for about three weeks.”

The cost of the trip is $2,200, which covers all costs, including the $1,200 airfare and various side trips. Students will travel to Jerusalem, the Red Sea, Petra, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv and other locations during the three weeks.

“You get a lot for your money,” Bloodworth said.

“It packs in a lifetime of travel and experience in three weeks.”

Ian Van Dyke, a sophomore history major, will be making the trip for the first time this year, and he thinks the trip is worth the cost.

“I think it’s great value for money – three weeks in Jordan for the price of one week in Western Europe.”

Dyke, who has never been outside of the United States – besides the Canadian side of Niagara Falls –  said he was interested in the trip because he thought it would be cool to visit the Holy Land.

“It’s the most historically important place on earth.”

Bloodworth thinks one of the most valuable parts of the trip is the way it changes perceptions of the Middle East, and erases stereotypes American students may harbor.

“A lot of students are vaguely afraid of Muslims and Arabs,” he said.

“This trip changes those perceptions. You’re treated like a rock-star.

“You are going to be invited to dinners and to teas and the kids are going to give you gifts every day.”

Coryn Reiser, a freshman history major, who went on the trip last year, said Jordan couldn’t be further from the danger people associate with the Middle East.

“It is a very safe place and the people are wonderful,” she said.

She said she couldn’t believe the hospitality she received.

“No matter how much food we ate, they would try and make us eat more,” she said.

“But the food was amazing.”

Those interested in going on the upcoming summer’s trip, or going next year, should email Bloodworth at [email protected], call him at 871-5768, or go to his office in Palumbo Academic Center Room 3218 to get more information and sign up.



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