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Isaiah Sterrett,’10 in Israel: "You really cannot attempt to understand the complexities of an issue without an understanding of place."

Regional Studies

Profile 3 of 3 in 'What they did this Summer' - features Isaiah Sterrett who traveled to Jordan, Israel
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By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
A summer of intellectual pursuits turned into one of self-discovery for Isaiah Sterrett,’10, who recently traveled throughout Jordan and Israel.

Recipient of a McGillycuddy-Logue Travel Grant, Sterrett was one of Assistant Professor of History Dana Sajdi’s students who took the course The Jordan Connection: History & Culture of the Middle East from Ancient to Modern Times. The class traveled throughout Jordan, starting in the capital of Amman, then traveling to various locations including the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, and experienced camping with the Bedouin people. Sterrett then traveled independently to Israel, making his way by bus via the West Bank, through chaotic checkpoints.

“I think I always knew, in the abstract, that it was important to travel to a region of the world that you were serious about studying. Now, I find it crucial,” says Sterrett. “You really cannot attempt to understand the complexities of an issue without an understanding of place.”

The political science major’s interest in Middle Eastern politics was sparked by a pair of courses taught by Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science Kathleen Bailey. Sterrett said he had wanted to study American and European history, but Bailey’s focus on Middle Eastern issues changed the course of his academic career.

“After my second course sophomore year, I was hooked,” said Sterrett, who is now an Islamic Civilization and Societies minor.
A member of the Boston College Coalition for Israel, a group that promotes, defends and advocates the knowledge and appreciation of Israeli culture, Sterrett already felt knowledgeable in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He didn’t realize, however, the role the conflict would play in the lives of Jordanians.

“The conflict is a much more crucial issue in Jordan than one would think. It’s a feature of Jordanian national life, a theme that came up constantly,” said Sterrett. “I had to make myself aware of the arguments and ideas and passions of the people in Jordan who are very much opposed to Israel — if not of its existence entirely, then to the occupation of the West Bank. It was a consistent challenge.”

Sterrett said he will always remember his ordeal of getting through a checkpoint on the West Bank-Israel border.

“It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I know it might sound melodramatic, but I have never felt so alone,” says Sterrett, recalling a scene of pushing and screaming, and a chaotic mob mentality. “It is tragic when any person is put through a situation like that that is totally out of his control.”

Needless to say, issues of faith constantly interjected themselves into Sterrett’s trip. From a visit to the Jordan River (the site of Jesus Christ’s baptism) to the deeply imbedded issues of faith in a Muslim society, Sterrett said he couldn’t help but consider faith.

“Jordan has a sizable Christian population and that became evident throughout our travels. I found myself reflecting on the fact that Christians and Muslims can get along, live together, work together in a religious country like Jordan. We don’t have to have a situation where groups are isolated. It is possible to have integration,” said Sterrett.

Sterrett said he hopes to continue his education at the graduate and possibly even the PhD level, with a focus on Middle Eastern nationalism.