The following points were covered already in your interview and/or elsewhere in the attached materials. But just to be certain, let me state them again very bluntly.
Valid U.S. Passport. This program is limited to U.S. and Canadian citizens, and we will enter the various countries with group visas. The only passport matter that should concern you, therefore, is whether you have one that is free of any Israeli stamps and whether it is valid well beyond the end of the trip. If you do not have a passport, apply for one immediately at your local post office. You will need two photographs and a birth certificate.
This is not offered as a free trip. The Pittulloch and other foundations are about to invest more than $5000 in you. By accepting this travel grant you are agreeing to participate fully in the whole program from beginning to end. This will involve your presence and intellectual investment during the Orientation and the trip on May 15 – June 7, and during the Wrap-Up Session on September 10-11. It also involves writing and submitting a thoughtful reflection paper within three weeks after the conclusion of the trip —i.e., during the last three weeks in June. So think about what other commitments or plans you have in the works for the last three weeks of June and for September. Will you have some "space" in June to write the paper? Are you prepared to commit to be in Atlanta on the weekend of September 10-11? If not, you should decline participation in this program.
Neither is it a "Holy Land Tour." It is a travel-seminar, an extension of the classroom, that attempts to engage the whole of Middle Eastern history and culture. The seminar will have as much to do with Saladin and Suleiman, for example, as with Solomon; and as much with Classical history and Islam as with the New Testament and Christianity.
And it certainly is not a "high school senior trip." During the Orientation and three weeks of travel, we will cover basic information and engage in "contextual education" easily the equivalent of a year in seminary. You will need to be fresh in the mornings as well as attentive and intellectually invested each day. Leave your playing cards, iPods and MP3 players at home; it is not that kind of trip.
Everybody participates in everything, and we will do lots walking. Breaking from the planned program to do your own thing, or choosing not to get off the bus with the seminar group to visit this or that place because you are tired, or it does not interest you, or involves an up-hill walk, are not options. Everybody participates fully in the program.
Tasting local foods is part of the experience. All of us have food preferences and occasionally pass up this or that item offered to us. But excessively "picky" food habits cannot be accommodated on the trip and are counterproductive to the purpose of the program. Please be fair with us on this matter.
The time spent on the bus is an important part of the seminar as well. We will spend a considerable amount of time on busses. The first and most obvious purpose is to get us from one place to another. But these cross-country rides provide an overview and "feel" for the topography of the Middle East. Also they provide time for explanations, for study of the handouts and other educational materials related to the trip and, most important, for group interaction. Naturally there will be times when you need to rest or want to be quiet with your own thoughts. But the bus is not the place to retreat into a novel, or into anything else that is totally unrelated to the trip, to the scenery outside the bus window, or to the group process.
Engaging people who think and believe differently from you. A major purpose of this program is to provide a situation in which rising leaders in different Protestant denominations can gain a better understanding of each other. That requires an earnest effort on everyone’s part to engage and seek to understand those in the group with whom they disagree, as well as to articulate as clearly as possible one’s own positions.
And worshiping with them as well.
We will have worship services during the trip organized and conducted by members of the group. Those planning these services are expected to take into account the ecumenical character of the METS program. Moreover, before signing on to participate in the program, you should consider whether you hold any views that are not universally held by contemporary Christians, but which you will be unable to compromise for the purposes of group worship. Past incidents have involved seminarians who objected to the use of certain standard translations (KJV, RSV) in worship because of what they regarded to be “non-inclusive” language, and another who objected beyond compromise to women leading in worship.
One "belly bag" and one "carry on" both of reasonable size. The issue here is not what the airlines will allow (specified in the Tour Conditions form), but the practicalities of traveling for three weeks on various busses, in and out of a different hotel almost every day, and negotiating customs check-points. Yes, I know about bags with wheels and extended handles, but I warn you that these are not very practical in some situations. Remember too that you will accumulate things along the way. Specifically, you should leave Atlanta with two bags—one "carry on bag” and one "belly bag." The "carry on bag" must be a true "carry on," something that really will fit under the seat of an airplane and something that you could hold in your lap for a short distance on a bus if necessary. I use a canvas book bag. The "belly bag” is the bag that you will check on the airplane and that will ride in the belly of the bus during the ground portion of the trip. It should be no larger than 30x20x10 inches (or the equivalent).
No shorts in some areas. We will be in some rural and conservative Islamic areas where shorts are not appropriate. Churches and mosques will have dress codes as well. And we will want to blend into the streets and engage the local culture as much as possible. So plan to dress conservatively. Bring your shorts, but know that they will not be appropriate in the Arab countries, or even in some situations after we reach Israel.
Director of the Middle East Travel-Seminar