My STEP project consisted of a Study Abroad program in Israel at Tel Aviv University. I took two courses, one on the history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and another on the Arab Uprising. The STEP money I received went towards my transportation to and from Israel.
Israel is often perceived as a country plagued by conflict and adversity. The portrayal of the country and the ongoing conflict with Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries is often very biased in the media. Getting the opportunity to travel to Israel for myself very much humanized a country that is often depicted as almost abusive towards Palestine and its people. People there do not live in constant fear for their lives; instead the country is full of life and opportunities for a wide array of people, no matter, age, gender and more. Being given the opportunity to live among the Israelis and experience their lifestyle gave me a new perspective, as well as helped me appreciate my own lifestyle back in the United States.
The first experience that led to my transformation from this trip was living with Israelis at the University. Interacting with them every day made me feel accepted into their culture and helped me step outside of my comfort zone. Since I went to the gym to exercise 5 out of 7 days of the week, I met several Israelis there who I became friendly with. I was eventually invited over to one of their houses for a Shabbat dinner and went out with several of them at night. We even exchanged language lessons, with them helping me improve my Hebrew and me helping them improve their English.
Another experience that was very eye-opening was our trip to Jerusalem. I went with my roommates and we stayed for two days, visiting many of the religious and historical sites there, such as the Western Wall. The Western Wall is arguably one of the most significant religious site for the Jewish people because it is the last remaining wall of the Temple that was destroyed. This was the very same temple that Abraham worshipped at and where he almost sacrificed Isaac to God. Being able to pray with the Israelis and meditate at this extremely important site in Israel was one of the simplest things I could do, but also one of the most meaningful. I reconnected with my Judaism and evaluated myself as a person in the country of my ancestors.
The last experience may not have directly happened to me, but is still something I will not forget for a long time. One day after leaving Jerusalem, there was a terrorist attack in the very spot that we had been standing in 24 hours prior. Two police officers were killed, as well as the terrorists who attacked the area. This made me appreciate how I was raised, always knowing I was going to be safe and cared for by my parents. In a country that is at constant war with its neighbors, you are not necessarily guaranteed this type of security. Anything can happen in any given place, but one must take certain precautions when in higher risk areas like Israel. However, what also struck me is how prideful and resilient the Israeli people are. They have fought to keep their homeland and would not move anywhere else given the choice. I heard several stories of those who left Israel for a certain period of time to travel, or live in the United States, but they all returned to Israel because it is their home and they love it.
My study abroad trip to Israel changed my view on foreign countries and their affairs. As an international studies major, it is my responsibility to be more aware of these various cultures and have a degree of appreciation for them. My trip to Israel has inspired me to continue to travel, certainly back to Israel and definitely elsewhere across the world. I hope to one day potentially even live in Israel and work for the government there. I learned a lot about the country of Israel while studying abroad, but developed an even deeper understanding of myself being in a country far from home with my own responsibilities.