BYU-Hawaii students Alexa Benavides and Ana Mendoza said a semester at BYU Jerusalem Center is worth the more than $12,000 cost because of the religious and cultural lessons they learned from the people. Both talked about their experiences at a forum on Nov. 1 where they urged students to attend.
Mendoza, a senior from California majoring in psychology, said of her experience, “You will never regret going. There are a lot of things in life that you can do and say that you might regret, but this is not one of those things. You will never, ever regret it. It will only better you, it will only change your life for the better.”
She told a story of when she was in the Garden of Gethsemane. “One day I was just sitting there, and this shepherd came through with his flock and the sun was shining. It was lush and green and I remember sitting there and my thought was, ‘This is where the garden is. This is what it would have been like.’ [Christ] would have been sitting in the grass by the olive trees, and he probably would’ve heard some sheep in the distance."
They said the study abroad program offers students with an opportunity to live in Jerusalem for one semester (four months).
Mendoza said she went Winter Semester 2017 and said one of her favorite parts about being there was the Church of All Nations, a church located on the Mount of Olives and right across from the Garden of Gethsemane where the Catholic Church and several other denominations meet.
“If you go up this little road right outside the center, there’s a national park. You walk down and you’re in these olive trees. At the time of year I went, it was really green,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza explained she also had the opportunity to learn of the cultures and religions in Jerusalem. For example, she shared about how Muslims pray five times a day. “There was one time we were going to a site and our bus driver, while we were out and about, put out his prayer rug out in the dirt in the parking lot and prayed. Every Friday, the Jewish Sabbath starts at sundown and every Friday they go to the Western Wall, and they sing and dance.
“I learned how to find joy in the Sabbath from the Jews, and I learned how to pray and how to worship at all times and in all places from the Muslims.”
Mendoza also mentioned the animosity between Jerusalem’s citizens, “There’s a lot of racism and hate between the Muslims and Jews, especially in Jerusalem. I learned it is possible to coexist. We can learn something from each other as we do it.”
Her group visited Egypt, Jordan, and Galilee. She said students can go out on field trips at least once or twice a week.
BYU Jerusalem’s website describes the classroom study as being built around field trips that cover the length and breadth of the Holy Land. This includes traveling to Jordan and to Egypt, Turkey, or Greece.
Mendoza said about 80 students attend every semester to live and study at the BYU Jerusalem Center. She said generally 20 of those students come from BYUH.
Benavides talked about the financial requirements. She explained, “The estimated program cost is $12,200. The money that you pay for this program includes everything, literally everything! Tuition, airfare, field trips, rent, books, medical insurance, application fee, and even laundry.
“A cool thing for this upcoming semester is that all students get a $1,000 grant, which is thankfully donated from former students and friends of the Jerusalem Center. What an amazing opportunity!”
Dr. Matthew Bowen, a religion professor, said the students that went had experiences they couldn’t have gotten any other way. “We rarely, if ever, fill our allotment for the school. So if you have a desire to go, you should do it. Even if you have to take out extra student loans to have this experience, it is worth it. So if you are thinking about it, you should do it.”
“It’s the best experience you could possibly have,” said Mendoza. She said there is normally an apostle that visits every semester, and Elder Oaks visited the semester she attended.
“The center is the church’s hidden treasure. Other than the things pertaining to the gospel, the church does not have anything better to offer education- and experience-wise,” she said.
Kristi Nelson, a freshman from Arizona with an undeclared major, said, “After hearing from the speaker's experiences, it seems like an amazing and unique opportunity. Now I am thinking about applying. I actually want to go now.
“I think it will really help me grow spiritually to be able to live where Christ lived, since I feel like that will make it even more real. I am really glad I came.”