Toby Lawhon and his sister Haley stand on top of the old city wall in front of Jerusalem’s city skyline during his family’s Christmas visit.
Overseas Study Program
Toby’s majors: Religious Studies and Jewish Studies
Year/term abroad: Academic Year 2007–2008
Reason you chose this program: I chose Jerusalem because I’m a religious studies major and Jerusalem is holy to three religions. There’s lots of history and politics as well.
Favorite classes: I had two favorite classes. Contemporary Israeli Identity and a case study of the Ethiopian Jews.
Housing situation: I lived in an apartment off campus, a short walk from the college. I lived with a Dutch guy, an Italian girl, and an American.
Best memory: Traveling. When I was in Jordan on Yom Kippur I met guys in a coffee shop and they took us all around the city, to restaurants, ice cream shops and they bought us tea and coffee.
Greatest challenge: Seeing the effects of conflict and suffering. Hearing stories. I was never in direct danger but it was difficult seeing what people live like every day.
Biggest Surprise: The desert is awesome! It’s really enchanting. It’s very cool. The temperature drops at night and it’s very soothing.
Culture shock vs. reverse culture shock: While I was in Jerusalem, my parents moved from our home in the United States. Going back to South Carolina was like doubling the trauma of reverse culture shock. I wasn’t really “home” even when I returned. I really looked forward to going home and seeing my family, but I’m still dealing with some reverse culture shock.
What I wish I knew before I left: I wish I had known the dollar was going to drop into the abyss. I would have budgeted the dollar at a lesser value.
Fact about Israel that you think people would be surprised to learn: Israeli security is one of the safest in the world. Bags are checked in almost all public places, including shops and banks.