Although this blog has been focused on the field trips I have been going on over the past year and a half on my guiding course, I have made only limited reference to the large amount of time we spent in the classroom.
Many people have asked me what we study on the course, so I thought I would explain a little for the avid readers!
In addition to our weekly field trips (leaving Tel Aviv at 6.30am and returning anywhere between 7-9pm) we had class twice a week: Tuesday evenings from 5.30-8.45pm and Friday mornings from 8am-2pm. The Friday morning class was a real killer – Thursday night is a big night out in Israel and Friday is the main day off to do various fun activities (on Saturday many things are closed because of the Sabbath). So the course severely curtailed my social life!
While we used our time in the field to mainly concentrate on the sites we were visiting and the actual things we were seeing, our classroom time was used to give us general background on key topics. Most people realise that to be a guide you need to have a good understanding of history in Israel, but they still don’t realise what that entails.
History goes a long way back here, including the earliest human remains in the world. In addition to the sheer amount of the period of time to study, there is also the fact that this is a country that has been invaded by a large amount of civilisations. There are the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Israelites, the Greeks, the Romans, the various Arab dynasties, the Crusaders, the Mongols, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the British and of course the modern Israeli state. It is not just enough to know what these great empires did here; in many cases we had to study some broader background about their activities outside of Israel to understand some of the events that took place here.
Of course in addition we needed to understand the cultures of these different societies – their values, their art and architectural styles, their religions, their laws. As a large part of the history here is based on archaeological finds and research, we also had a crash course in basic archaeology.
Apart from the history, we also had to understand the geography, geology and geomorphology of Israel, which again in many cases is connected to the broader region, and is also remarkably complex for a country of such a small size. This led onto understanding the natural phenomena here – the climate and weather patterns, the different types of flora and fauna (again highly varied).
Moving onto the people living in Israel today, we had to study in reasonable depth the three main religions of the country: Judaism, Islam and Christianity; additionally we had to study and understand several minor religions or ethnic groups found here: the Druze, the Bahai, the Circassians, the Bedouin.
We also needed to understand contemporary Israel. We had classes on the Israeli economy and political system; the water issues and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Which of course led to plenty of lively debate.
An element of the course was more practical. We had a few classes on the methodology of guiding, a class on topography and map reading, and a first-aid course. We also had a class with a tour agent which was more focused on the logistics of planning and running a trip.
I very much enjoyed the studies, but also found them very challenging. There is a huge amount of information to absorb, across a wide range of academic disciplines. In many ways, the course (combined with the field trips) was harder than my degree!
Still, I now feel that I have a very good basis from which to hopefully launch my guiding career. And I am sure that I will continue to learn even more over the coming years.