In 30 years at Arcadia University in Glenside, physical therapy professor Jan Tecklin can't recall any students studying in Israel, despite the fact that the university is known for its study abroad program.
As a local Jew, Tecklin said, "that makes me crazy," so he made it a personal mission to change that. On March 10, he and fellow professor Karen Sawyer will lead a spring break tour of Jerusalem as part of an interdisciplinary freshman course. Of 16 students, two are Jewish. Only one has been to Israel before.
The course is designed to give students an appreciation for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, said Tecklin. Students have already heard history lectures from Tecklin and Sawyer, who is Christian, as well as Muslim guest speakers. During their week in Israel, they'll tour the Christian, Jewish and Arab quarters, museums and other attractions in Jerusalem, plus the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Tecklin said he hopes students get a sense of why Jerusalem is such a special place in the world, especially after standing at the Western Wall and looking up at the Dome of the Rock, and then taking a short walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In addition to Israel, university faculty will lead freshman trips to about a dozen other countries this spring. After returning home, all the students must offer a presentation at a global expo in April.
The travel study courses have become a staple since the college experimented with its first one to London some 15 years ago, Tecklin said. The university subsidizes the trips so that students pay just $495 out of pocket.
The idea, Tecklin said, is that students will be more inclined to pursue a semester or year of study abroad after having a positive educational travel experience early on. He said that the school's study abroad office has already talked to a few students looking into a semester in Israel.