For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the semester living and traveling in and around Jerusalem, Israel. I spent 5 months studying as an international student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel (HUJI). While abroad, I continued working towards my BFA in Dance, taking daily classes at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance—an institution that partners with HUJI. Israel has a flourishing contemporary dance scene and community, and I was lucky enough to immerse myself in this world amongst other international students, as wells as Israeli students, working professionals, and professors. Along with studying dance, I also had the opportunity to take academic classes on issues in Israeli society, Jewish Mysticism, and the Hebrew language.
Prior to my STEP Signature Project, I had never been outside of the United States. Traveling to, and living in the Middle East was an enormous change to say the least. I flew to Israel with high hopes, but in reality, had no idea what to expect. I was living in Jerusalem for a total of five months, and it was not until about month three did I truly find my stride. I was surprised at how long it took me to adjust to my new life. During this three month adjustment period I saw myself undergo many changes. These changes happened on a smaller, day-to-day basis, that by the end of my time in Israel, culminated into a larger change on how myself and others operate as outsiders in a country.
Israel remains an anomaly for mixing Eastern and Western society and culture. Throughout my time in Israel, I was forced to struggle and grapple with this new way of life. Ultimately, I saw myself not only adapt to this new culture, but also adopt some of these new aspects back into my life upon my return to America. Among these adaptations was food, an enormous cultural tool that did much to unite a very divided region, and learning and using the Hebrew language. As part of my study abroad program, I was required to take a month long Hebrew language intensive. This taught me the basics of the language, but it was really the remaining 4 months of my time, living and being around Hebrew speakers, did I really adopt this language into my everyday use. By the end of my trip I was nowhere near fluent, but had managed to pick up enough of the language to successfully maneuver through the open markets, public transportation, restaurants, and small daily interactions with the locals. It was quite liberating to track my progress with the language and find more and more of sturdy footing in a country so different from my own. Ultimately, it was quite humbling being an outsider in another country. It forced me to be uncomfortable and to listen and look more closely at the people, to follow their way of life to find my own. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to experience being a new immigrant in a different country.
While studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, myself and the other 20 international in the Dance Jerusalem program took all of our dance classes with Israeli students and teachers in Hebrew. Taking daily dance classes in Hebrew changed much about my perception of studying dance and how I process physical information. While there was a large language barrier present in the dance classes I was taking for the semester, it was interesting to see how dance remained the universal language between a diverse group of people. Taking dance classes in a language other than my own, forced me to look more closely at body language, and physical cues from the Israeli students within the class. Ultimately, this obstacle forced me to change the way I look at, think about, and participate in dance classes. Taking classes in Hebrew also greatly enhance my Hebrew vocabulary in directional words, action words, and body parts.
While being abroad, I have also been thankful enough to have the opportunity to travel internationally, outside of Israel. Because I was in Israel for an entire semester, I also had two weeks free for my Spring Break. Being outside of America during my STEP Signature Project gave me a better opportunity to explore other parts of the world that I may not have been able to experience if I wasn’t already in Israel. During my two week break I travelled to Europe, visiting Croatia and Budapest, Hungary. Visiting these new countries expanded my world view and taught me how to travel independently. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to explore other parts of the world, made possible by my STEP Signature project.
I decided to study in Israel for the semester to enhance my academic and professional goals in dance. While I learned much from a diverse group of students, professionals, and professors in the dance field, I find that my trip abroad did most to change and develop my personal future plans. Learning to live in a different country and region taught me much about my own independence. I have always considered myself a pretty self-sufficient and independent person. However, before now, I have never had the opportunity to see how living independently, in a foreign country, could truly test my independence. Now having this experience under my belt, I have much more confidence to venture off by myself. I have a much better grasp on traveling independently as a young woman. These new personal experiences thus open an array of doors for my future professional endeavors post-graduation. In many ways, my experience abroad had emboldened and encouraged me to look at professional dance opportunities outside of the United States.