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Interterm takes Bethel students to Middle East, Europe and the stars

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – While most college students were still hitting the Snooze button in the morning, many Bethel College students headed back to class.

Bethel College’s January interterm began January 3 and runs through January 26. Students on campus have only one class that meets three or four hours a day.

Many take the opportunity to fill a General Education requirement in a brief if intense time frame. Off-campus courses are popular interterm options and this year, there are four of them.

Professor of Bible and religion Patricia Shelly is in her 21st year of taking groups of Bethel students – often joined by Mennonite pastors, seminary students and/or community members – to Israel and Palestine for the Jerusalem Seminar. This year, with the help of Tabor College professor of biblical and religious studies Doug Miller, a group of Tabor students joined the seminar and will get credit for Tabor’s January interterm.

Over the years, Shelly has observed that “some students go for the biblical and spiritual connections and others for the historical and political aspects.” It’s not unusual, she says, for students who go with one main focus to be surprised by how much they gain in other areas.

There are six Bethel students in this year’s group, which will visit such sites as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee region, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb sites in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and the ancient architectural marvel of the city of Petra in Jordan.

“I remember a pastor [on the tour] telling me that he had thought he had no interest in ‘holy stones,’ that faith was enough. But then he realized the significance of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ and the geography,” Shelly says. “It’s part of the richness of the seminar,” and there have been many others who have experienced it, she adds.

She never gets tired of leading the seminar, she says, because “I’m a teacher – and here I have such great visual aids.”

Another off-campus class this January is Literary London, which is even longer-running than the Jerusalem Seminar, although leader Brad Born, associate professor of English and interim academic dean, is leading it for only the second time. Professor of English John Sheriff began the class 30 years ago.

Objectives are “to study dramatic literature, London theater and English cultural and literary history,” says Born, “as well as to experience firsthand the people, social systems and cultural artifacts of London and explore sites of literary and historical interest in England.”

The 15 students will spend most of their time in London, where they will see six plays and visit sites ranging from the British Museum and the Globe Theatre to Westminster Cathedral and the Tower of London.

As part of the cross-cultural studies element of the class, the group spent its first two days in Northern Ireland at the Corrymeela Christian community near Ballycastle. The community was founded in the 1960s to help foster dialogue and reduce violence in a factionalized Northern Ireland.

The third off-campus course this year is German Language and Culture in a German Environment, with professor of German Merle Schlabaugh leading it for the seventh time. He has also organized four Bethel European Choir tours, the most recent being last January, and several other tours, making this “probably my 24th trip to Europe, with Germany included in all of those trips.”

One obvious change in the tour over the years, Schlabaugh says, has been the unification of Germany in 1990, “so that we no longer experience two very different German countries. Related to that have been the incredible changes that have taken place in the East – infrastructure as well as economic, political and social.”

Schlabaugh and the seven Bethel students in the group will visit Trier (a city founded in Roman times with structures dating back to the 1st century), Aachen, Köln, Wuppertal (where the university has a long-running exchange program with Bethel and where the Bethel students will stay in homes of German students), Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Nürnberg and München, with a side trip to Prague.

“Students always indicate that this trip was one of the highlights of their Bethel experience and gave them a greater in interest in other cultures, countries, traditions and people,” Schlabaugh says. “All participants must have had some previous German, although their German language skills are quite varied.”

Finally, 15 students under the leadership of associate professor of history Mark Jantzen are participating in the off-campus version of The History of East Central Europe, which Jantzen is directing for the second time as a travel course. The group will visit key cities and sites of east central European history, including Berlin in Germany, Gdansk and Cracow in Poland with a side trip to Auschwitz, Vienna in Austria, Belgrade in Serbia and Sarajevo in Bosnia.

Meanwhile, back on campus, students are working on everything from critical writing to human genetics, environmental chemistry to advanced printmaking, public speaking to entrepreneurship. One of the interterm courses based on campus may actually take students the furthest distance – Introduction to Astronomy, a perennial favorite for those in all disciplines, now running for the 12th time.

“There are lots of people who have a passing interest in astronomy, and this is a chance to pursue it [in depth] for a short period of time,” says assistant professor of physics Tracy Tuttle. “Some classes lend themselves really well to the January term format and this is one of them. Students can immerse themselves in astronomy for a whole month.”

Starting in 2003, class members have been able to access the Mabee Observatory in Krehbiel Science Center and Bethel’s 16-inch telescope. “We can get tremendous views and images of celestial objects that weren’t previously possible,” Tuttle says. In addition to the 16-inch telescope, the class uses Bethel’s other main telescopes, a 120 mm achromatic refractor and a solar (hydrogen alpha) telescope to image and observe the sun’s surface.

The class has 32 students, half of whom have opted for an extra-cost trip to New Mexico late in interterm for even better sky viewing and to visit some world-class observatories. But those who stay behind to work on special projects will still be able to travel millions of light years via computer and telescope.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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