BestSemester Student First Female to Finish Palestine Half Marathon

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The BestSemester photo contest winning image, "Making a Living," by Christopher Lund, Bethel University, St. Paul, Minn., taken while participating in BestSemester's Middle East Studies Program.

Marissa Flannery and Middle East Studies Program Director, Doug Magnuson, give a thumbs up before the race begins. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Northwest University student studying abroad in Jerusalem was the first female to finish the Palestine Half Marathon last week.

Middle East Studies Program student, Marissa Flannery, a junior cross-country runner from Auburn, WA, finished ahead of more than 150 female runners in the race on April 11. Flannery’s time of 1:42:14 was more than a minute ahead of her closest competitor.

The race was only the second of its kind, and was offered as part of a global initiative called “Right to Movement” which promotes the health of Palestinian women, and guarantees women’s right to participate.  A total of 3,200 runners from 39 countries participated in the 10K, half marathon and marathon.

Despite quadrupling the number of participants since last year, race officials were especially proud of the fact that they were still able to maintain a high percentage of female racers, 35% to be exact.  On their Facebook page, they accredit this success to the “brave female trailblazers in the Right to Movement community in Palestine and around the world, who inspire other women to follow their lead and compete in sporting events on equal terms with men.”

When asked about the significance of the number of women in the race, Flannery said, “It was great being out there with other girls who are willing to work hard, they don't care if they're going to get first, second, third or last but they're going to go out there and achieve something. It's women showing that we are going to work hard to make that change and push ourselves and do whatever it takes to achieve equality.”

Flannery was able to participate in this groundbreaking race during her semester studying the contemporary religion, culture and politics of the Middle East on the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Middle East Studies Program (MESP).  Throughout the semester, MESP students become deeply immersed with the people and places of Israel and Palestine.  They study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a nonpartisan perspective, live with local families during a weeklong homestay, journey to historical sites like Galilee, and participate in various service projects. 

Flannery viewed this race as another opportunity to engage with the local community. She said, “A lot of the people that surrounded you were locals -- the majority of the people handing you water, cheering you on, the policemen -- were all locals and having them cheer you on and all join together over one cause; it felt like I belonged there.”

This race, offered in the final weeks of Flannery’s semester, is just one of the many MESP activities that bring students closer to the people and cultures of the Middle East.

“I've learned that things are not always just black and white. Everyone is going to experience everything differently; you have to encounter people on a one-on-one basis. You can't just initially count one as right or wrong; you have to go to that person and understand their experiences and understand what they feel and believe what they say they feel,” said Flannery of her experience thus far. 

In terms of what she will take with her from her time in the Middle East, Flannery concluded, “I've learned a lot about trusting God. I'm not going to have the answers to everything and being ok with that and being open to God taking me wherever he wants to and finding freedom and peace in that.”


About BestSemester: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Scholars’ Semester in Oxford; Oxford Summer Programme; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit for program details.

About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 174 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 119 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 55 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit