Welcome to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mt. of Olives! Here, I traced the footsteps of Jesus and marveled at the sight of The Father's creation. When you go on a study abroad to Israel, these are the experiences-turned-memories you return with. Yes, I bought some pretty sweet souvenirs, but the gift that matters most is the memory of each place we explored!
My name is Shayden Spradley, and I had the privilege of studying abroad in Israel in December 2023. The decision to go, however, was made long before I signed up for the trip. During my freshman year of high school, my bible study leaders had just returned from Israel and brought us each back a small bag of goodies. We spoke about their travel and where they collected each of the trinkets given to us. One of these things was a small olive wood cross purchased from the Mount of Olives, and you can imagine my excitement! Since that day, I've kept that cross in my bible bag as a promise to see its origin for myself.
When we got on the plane, I was nervous. I'd never flown that far before. But I was so excited to be in Israel finally! It was a long trip; we napped at the airport, ate greasy pizza, and were completely immersed in different cultures. Once we landed in Tel Aviv, we slept for a few hours, then headed out for our first day of tours!
We saw the Caesarea Amphitheater, The Church of Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, a reenactment of biblical Nazareth with a replica of the first-century synagogue, third- and fourth-century synagogue in Capernaum, the star marking the birthplace of Jesus in the stables (which was in a cave), and so much more! We toured several different places each day, walked everywhere, and tried to soak it all up before our 10 days were up.
When you decide to study abroad, you will travel with other students and professors. You'll most likely be paired with a roomie, if not multiple, and spend the entire day together. Needless to say, friendships will be made! This was easily one of the best parts of going to Israel. Our group connected over the shared memories we were making, looked out for each other, navigated unknown streets, and experienced the Lord's presence on biblical sites.
I made new friends and connected with classmates I now have in other courses. We still laugh at the jokes made on the trip and are closer now than ever - making class way more fun!
Our tour guide was really wonderful! He was very knowledgeable about all the sites and made.
learning their history enjoyable. The picture above was taken right before our tour of Masada, where our guide gave us the whole tour as King Herod! Let me tell you, I will not forget that experience.
Not only was the place breathtaking, but our guide really brought its story to life. When you travel with a group from UMHB, they set you up with the best trip experience possible. We were taken care of in all areas, and our tour experience was no exception.
Now what you're really interested in… the food! I was so excited to taste all the native flavors! To the right is a plate filled with options from a kosher buffet. I enjoyed most everything, but I have to say that the pickles were my FAVORITE! Ask anyone who went on the trip with me; that's what I snacked on the most. :) Shawarma was the most prominent of the dishes we were served. It is really delicious when you find it at the market or in the old city!
Something interesting about studying abroad is the people. I enjoyed being surrounded by the locals, overhearing bits of conversation, and observing their mannerisms. Speaking with one of the Jewish families at the Shabbat dinner we were privileged to attend, I was able to ask lots of questions about life and expectations. Experiencing Sabbath was really amazing. I liked going to the market and seeing what it was like during a typical day of the week in Israel.
Overall, the trip broadened my horizons and gave me more of a world mindset than just a Texas mindset. It made me interested in experiencing other cultures and thinking about how my life differs and compares with other people from around the world. It's made me more aware of myself and reflect on some of the patterns and practices in my daily life. I highly recommend studying abroad, and UMHB makes it very affordable and possible for such an amazing experience during college.
Written by Shayden Spradley
Shayden Spradley is a senior Transformational Development major from Belton, TX. She is pursuing a career ir business as mission. Since arriving at UMHB, she has been involved with cheer and Student Foundation, and she was named Miss Mary Hardin Baylor 2023.
Page last updated June 09, 2023
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