My goals for my study abroad experience in Israel were to practice Arabic, gain comfort living in the middle east, and to better understand the conflict and problems facing the region and country. In just under 3 months, I think I accomplished all of these to some extent, as well as learned new perspectives on religion and politics, and experienced entirely new and delicious foods. In addition, I somewhat unexpectedly gained insight into what it means to be Jewish, discovering that the word Jewish takes on numerous meanings and connotations in Israel.
I was hoping to come home to the United States with ideas of how to resolve the problems I witnessed in Israel and the Middle East. This is something that I did not accomplish. It has become even harder for me to express my opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as my experiences have blurred what I perceive as fair and just in this conflict. This is a pattern I have started to recognize from studying politics and conflict of the Middle East: just because I learn more doesn’t mean solutions present themselves. Often, the more I learn, the more complex each problem seems to be and the harder it seems to find a solution that will bring lasting and comfortable peace.
But this takes the form of a different lesson from studying abroad – my time in Israel was just a fraction of the time I plan to spend abroad in my life, because more experiences abroad will continue to sharpen my views on my own country and about the conflicts that I hope to help solve someday. Even though, right now, solutions seem just as far away as they ever have. Being outside of the United States, regardless where, is invaluable for someone like me who wants to help facilitate positive change in the world. In Israel I learned Hebrew and Arabic and talked to people living on both sides of a 9 foot security fence. I may not have learned how to solve the world’s problems, but I learned to understand why Israel presents itself the way it does to the international community, and what kind of psychological impact living in an insecure territory has on individuals. I floated around in the Dead Sea and sat through hours of Shabbat dinners. I learned how to rescue people from earthquake rubble and got to experience the old city of Jerusalem at night. Israel provided me a beautiful, fascinating home for 3 months, and I am grateful to all of the people who made that possible.
Thanks for reading. Good luck to all of you on your adventures.