By Rachel Phillips
Sitting on the far side of the new Student Center’s upper balcony, I could barely see the face talking to me on the computer screen, the sun only partially blocked by the tall wooden beam jutting out of the floor.
I adjusted positions and turned up the screen brightness as high as it would go. It was almost 11 p.m. in Israel, and I was going to make the most of the few minutes I was given to talk to my friend and fellow IBEX participant, Sarah Snyder.
From the moment our conversation began, I perceived the following symptoms of a student who has caught the “IBEX bug:” Increased excitement about multi-cultural experiences and field trips, excessive studying due to difficult classes, changes in appetite, often caused by questionable cafeteria food and feelings of fondness towards the small group of people she had been living with for over two months.
I had definitely seen this before. In fact, if you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who’s been to IBEX, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Few programs have had as much influence on The Master’s College students as the Israel Bible Extension. Sarah’s enthusiasm and vivid descriptions of life in Israel only echoed what I had heard before, and in fact seen for myself. And that’s the fact that IBEX is a study abroad program like no other.
There are so many things offered during a semester in IBEX that could never be available here on the California campus. From Shabbats in Jerusalem to archaeological digs in the Shephela, students will always tell you that it was the best semester of their life.
But even after experiencing IBEX for myself, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. So, I decided to ask.
After talking to several IBEX alumni, a former IBEX secretary and Dr. IBEX himself, I stumbled across an answer I wasn’t expecting. They all told me, in one form or another, that what makes IBEX unique, what students talk about more than anything else (even falafel, which is saying something), is their professors.
“Abner Chou was a professor the year I went to IBEX,” said Michelle Longacre, a former IBEX student who went in the fall of 2008. “He taught our Life of Christ class. So often your Bible classes focus on just knowledge, but Abner would give us the opportunity to make practical applications about what we were learning. I didn’t just learn; I grew. Not only that, but I became close friends with both him and his family. We’re still good friends to this day.”
Stories like this are common among former IBEXers. One student talked about the encouragement she received from Bill Schlegel’s wife Stephanie while attending her small group. She also said that Schlegel, the professor for her Land and Bible class, was a father figure to their group. It’s clear from student testimony that the professors aren’t just there for you in the classroom; they invite you into their homes and invest in your lives.
“Having professors who care so much not only for the land, but also for you as a student, really makes what you’re seeing come alive. I truly believe I would not have gotten as much out of IBEX if the professors weren’t there to walk us through it,” said another former student.
There have been many professors throughout IBEX’s 18-year history. Just a few include Ariel Burkawitz, who teaches Jewish Thought and Culture, Todd Bohlen who taught History of Ancient Israel, Bill Schlegel, (the man who’s been there through it all and rotates teaching classes like Land and Bible and Modern Hebrew) and Abner Chou.
Chou was only a professor for two years, taking the place of Todd Bohlen, one of the professors who was with Schlegel and Randy Cook just after the IBEX program started. Benj Foreman would eventually come during Chou’s second year (he was only there for two years), replacing Cook, and was the Land and Bible professor during my semester.
Although students rave about field trips, travel study, friends and classes, what ties it all together, what makes IBEX, IBEX, is the people who guide you through it. And I guess I had never thought about that. I would have told you the best part is the land or the experiences, but really what makes you understand and value those experiences are the professors.
They’re the glue holding IBEX together.
When I asked Dr. William Varner, the director of the IBEX program and its ultimate cheerleader, what it is that makes IBEX so unique and causes students to come back with such high praise, this is what he told me:
“Students come back and say it was their experience with the faculty that made their trip. Not just the classes or the field trips, but the professors and their families themselves. I guess that’s taken a while for us to figure out, but it’s something we’ve heard the students say again and again. They are truly ‘satisfied customers,’ which makes my job easy!”
Josiah Neeley, someone who went to Israel with me back in the spring of 2012, summed up his experience this way:
"In Israel, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: the land. The cities, the buildings, they all look different than they would have in Bible times, but when you stand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, when you look up at the cliffs, those things haven’t changed. It was our professor who stood on that beach and told us, ‘Jesus stood right here on this shore and changed the world.’ That really blew me away. Jesus changed the world. Right here.”
Rachel Phillips is a TMC communications major.