Monday, February 28, 2011


Classes just started yesterday (they go from Sunday through Thursday) and during the four days prior, we had orientation.  Being here reminds me of when I first arrived at Olin - new faces, fun camaraderie, group activities. My favorites are the hikes - I'm used to hiking in forests and at high elevations, but definitely not the barren desert.  No trees for shade, no grass or dirt to break a fall.  Just rocks, sand, and the occasional shrub.

Just another winter afternoon here

Taking a break in the shade of a valley

P.S. I don't take a whole lot of pictures, especially when the people with me have much nicer cameras and take many more pictures. I'll try to include some of those photos (here are some taken by Josh, one of the Program Associates).  Besides, a camera can't capture so much of what I see here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm in Israel!

So I didn't really introduce my blog in the first post, so I'll do so here. I am currently studying abroad at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which is in the Arava valley of southern Israel. Before arriving in Israel, I spent about a week and a half in Europe (see my previous post and Steven's blog). I flew into Tel Aviv from London on Monday night and met up with fellow students to board the bus to the institute. On the way, we went through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea area. The first thing that struck me was the astounding variety in terrain/landscape going from central to southern Israel - green and hilly to dry and hot. This country is roughly the size of New Jersey, but incredibly diverse.

I didn't know all that much about the Arava Institute (besides what's on the website) before arriving, but now I'm getting a pretty good idea of the place I'll call home for the next four months. The institute is located on Kibbutz Ketura, so we share facilities with 400 other inhabitants of the kibbutz.

View of Kibbutz Ketura from the base of an electrical tower we hiked up to.  The mountains in the distance are in Jordan.

There are ~40 students here from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, the U.S., and Canada. Some have never been in college, while others have graduate degrees. I've met three people who have heard of Olin (small world), one of whom read about Olin in an article - the word is getting out!

So far we've been participating in lots of orientation activities, which I can elaborate on later.  As for the title of this blog, the fact that I'm in the desert should be pretty clear by now, and I also hope to include prayer (requests, praises) in my posts.  "This is my prayer in the desert" comes straight from Hillsong's Desert Song.

Praise: This place is really awesome - unlike anywhere I've ever been.  The bright sun doesn't hurt either :)
Request: Finding a Christian community in this sparsely populated area. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Steven: "You've seen more of Paris than I have"

So before I head to the desert in southern Israel, I'm visiting Steven (Olin) and Grace (Wheaton) in Paris. And I think Steven's right - I've seen so much of Paris in the last week it's ridiculous.
I won't bore you with minute details about the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, and Versailles (pictures here and here). But I will mention my trip to the Eiffel Tower as a candidate for Steven's strangest/most interesting thing competition. Now, the tower itself is well-known and an awesome feat of engineering, but can hardly be called strange. Put an ice skating rink in the first level up, though, and now we have a contender! I almost didn't believe it when I read about it online, but it's true - there's a small rink with real ice and great views.

The other especially noteworthy experience I've had - being the target of pickpockets. My first time as a target was relatively tame - an acquaintance walking next to me noticed the potential thief before she could even touch my bag. But my second time was quite an encounter.

I stepped on to the train as usual with Grace but as soon as I was in, someone pushed me forward roughly. I was surprised because the train was not crowded at all. I thought, "There's room for everybody, don't push me!" Then things took a turn for the worse. I got shoved to the side even more aggressively than before. I was able to hold on to the center pole, otherwise I would have fallen. That's when I noticed that my bag was open and the lady next to me had a coat over her arm. I quickly checked my bag, noticed that my wallet was missing, and swiftly slapped the lady's arm. Out came my wallet from under her coat! She had even managed to unzipper my wallet and a couple coins fell out. Good thing I was wearing my money belt. I reached down to pick everything up and the lady had the nerve to try to "help" me pick up the coins. I didn't give her that chance and as soon as I had my things, I fast walked to a seat farther away. I glared at her until the train got to the next stop, where she left with her daughter.

Later, Grace told me that this mother-daughter team had also tried to get into her bag, but were unsuccessful. This all happened in the span of 20 seconds and at first I just felt overwhelmed, but then I got angry. Who would teach/recruit their daughter to do such things? Who would stoop to such low behavior? Did they really think I wouldn't notice during the time the train took to get to the next stop? I miss the Honor Code.

I guess I don't blend in well enough - I'd say I look like an American engineering student and my clothes pale in comparison to standard Paris fashion. Paris: you are an amazing city with jaw dropping sights but I will be glad to double-cheek-kiss your theives goodbye. Au revoir!