Well I made it to Jerusalem! It's been really great here so far. Here's what's happened so far:
On Tuesday morning, I went to the airport to fly from Salt Lake to New York. My flight was delayed 2 hours, so that was nice because it meant I got to spend some extra time with my mom (she had flown into Salt Lake for the Melaleuca convention that week) and Nate and Jessica Marchant (my cousins). We ended up going to the distribution center and to Denny's for a late breakfast. Then I went to the airport, and I waited at the gate with the other students and got to talk to some different people. Everyone is really nice and very excited to be here. So eventually we got on the plane, and we flew from Salt Lake to JFK airport in New York. We had a three hour layover in New York. (Originally it was supposed to be six hours, but because of the delay in Salt Lake, luckily we didn't have to wait there very long.) Then we had to go through another security check at the gate before we got on the plane to fly to Tel Aviv. The plane that took us to Tel Aviv was HUGE! It was a B747. It was 10 seats across, and there were two stories on the plane. The flight from New York to Tel Aviv was REALLY LONG!! It was about 12 hours! I slept for about half of it, and they fed us dinner and breakfast on the plane. I also did a lot of the reading that the professors assigned us to do before we arrived here in Jerusalem.
Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, we got our bags, and they had to check our passports. We got our visas and headed out to the buses that would take us to Jerusalem. Our professors were there to meet us on the buses (It is about an hour's drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.) So we all boarded two buses (There are 75 of us: 47 girls and 29 guys.) and made our way to Jerusalem. We were all so tired, but everyone was so excited to see the city. One thing that everyone immediately noticed was that we had to go up a lot in elevation to get there. It made me feel bad for Nephi and his brothers for all the times they had to go back to the city to get the brass plates and Ishmael's family. It was amazing to finally arrive at the Jerusalem center after all the time we spent traveling to get there.
Being at the BYU-Jerusalem Center is what I would imagine living in a palace is like. The building is so pretty inside and out! On our first night, they took us into the auditorium, and we had a welcome meeting. At it, one of the sisters from one of the service couples played a musical number on the fantastic organ that they have here. She played "All Creatures of Our God and King," and while she played, they opened up the curtains behind the podium in the auditorium to reveal a breathtaking view of the city of Jerusalem. It was nighttime, so the city was all lit up, and it was really neat to see. The Spirit hit me really strongly and let me know that this was the Holy City and that this was home for the next four months. It was really an amazing experience.
The next day, we were all suffering from jet lag pretty badly, but we had a lot of fun because they took us on a walking tour of the city for three hours. We also had a ton of orientation after we came back. On Friday, we had more orientation stuff, and we actually got to start our classes. We just had our Old Testament class and our Ancient Near East class. They were both two hours long each. After classes and lunch on Friday, I went out with a group of people. We wanted to go to the money changers, but it was closed for the Sabbath the next day, so we ended up just wandering around East Jerusalem for a little while.
Today was the Sabbath, so we had church on a Saturday! It was really weird. But I think it will be neat because that means that tomorrow, which is Sunday, will be a free day for us, and we can do whatever we would like pretty much. Having church in the Jerusalem Center was really neat. There were quite a few people there that are not part of the program here. It was really neat to hear those people talk in testimony meeting because today was Fast Sabbath. Also, the choir sang "There is a Green Hill Far Away," except they changed the words to say, "There is a green hill very near." I thought that was really neat. It was also neat to be 7000 miles away from home, and church is still exactly the same. We have the same meetings, the same things are taught, and I could still feel the same spirit. :-) It made me love the Gospel and the church even more than I already do.
After church, I went out with a small group of people, and we went into the Old City. We tried to go to the Church of the Holy Seplechre, but there were tons of people, and it was pretty much impossible because this is Easter weekend for the orthodox Christian churches here in Jerusalem. It's because they follow the Julian calendar, while the rest of the Christian world follows the Gregorian calendar. Anyway, then we tried to go to the Garden Tomb, but it was closed for some special service. So another time. It was still fun to be out in the city. :-)
I should take this opportunity to explain that Jerusalem is divided up into three parts. First there is West Jerusalem, which is controlled by the Israelis, and it is by far the most western of the three parts. Then there is the Old City in the middle that is walled all the way around. In the Old City, there are four quarters: the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter, and the Armenian quarter. So far I have only been in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. Then there is East Jerusalem, which is controlled by the Palestinians, but it is not a very good part of town. It is much dirtier and not as nice as West Jerusalem. The Old City is pretty dirty too, and it is mostly full of tourist shops and restaurants in between the holy sites. However, since the Jerusalem Center is on Mount Scopus on the east side of Jerusalem, we have to walk through East Jerusalem to get to the Old City.
Living at the Jerusalem Center is awesome! Everything here is really nice, and we have a cafeteria here called "The Oasis." I have a full buffet available to me every meal. So I quickly made a "no seconds" rule for myself because it is all such good food! And they told us that people usually gain a lot of weight eating the food here. But I am so glad I came here. I feel like I am starting to make friends and that the classes here will be really enriching. I am also excited to see more of the sites, and I hope that I will be able to learn as much as I can while I am here.
These are some pictures that I have taken since I started my trip: