From a young age I had always been obsessed with travel and experiencing different cultures outside of the United States. In school, I found myself most fascinated with geography, and I would constantly research various regions of the world on the Internet during my free time. When I was 16 years old I was able to experience the trip of a lifetime: a five-week adventure in Israel through my summer camp, Camp Tevya.
Although our itinerary was jam packed, I occasionally found free time to roam the streets of Jerusalem and Tzfat — mostly to find the best, cheapest shawarma joint but also to have some sort of meaningful thrill that the other kids on my trip didn’t have. Due to my unfortunate sense of luck with directions, I got lost in Tzfat at 10 p.m. with a 10:30 p.m. curfew. A family saw me clearly distraught, panicking and confused as to where I was and where I should be going, so the family guided me back to my hostel. After that warm encounter with a generous family, I knew that going back to Israel would be a necessity of mine.
Over the course of the next four years before returning to Israel, I made it my goal to try and learn Hebrew, along with getting straight A’s in school and joining the football team. I didn’t achieve any of those goals, but I was able to land a spot on the Nevada Community Birthright Trip this past summer, so I would conclude that as a valuable trade-off.
Although my Taglit trip was a 10-day version of my first time in Israel, I believe it has been the most rewarding journey of my life. No longer a 16-year-old, hormonal teenager, I found it much easier to pay attention and really benefit from the educational aspect of my trip, while immersing myself in the culture. As a 20-year-old college student in Israel I found myself researching Yitzhak Rabin in my free time, discussing with guides their experience with conflict in the region and casually writing in a journal so as to not forget the important information I received. The connection I felt to Israel after learning so much, meeting so many amazing people and experiencing a beautiful culture triggered an epiphany that made me switch my study abroad program from Lyon, France, to Haifa, Israel.
At first my mother — like most Jewish mothers — was worried about my decision to study abroad in a foreign place such as Haifa. There are so many reasons that led me to study in Israel for the 2016 spring semester. I believe the University of Haifa has excellent programs for my major, and Israelis are quite possibly the most inviting, pleasant people I’ve been around.
But the majority of my decisions are encapsulated by one word: change. I hope I’m able to grow as a person from my experience in Israel, and I hope I’m able to change the lives of people when I study abroad.
I intend to embrace this change wholeheartedly on my journey. I also extend this encouragement to those around me. If ever presented with the opportunity to submerge yourself in the roots of your culture, do it. Take the opportunity and realize it’s okay if you get lost a few times along the way.