Becoming a Citizen of the World in Israel

Tags: Federation, Young Adults, Israel, Overseas, PR

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Article reprinted with permission from USA Today College.

Masa Israel Journey participant Jon Sender on the promenade of Hebrew University overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. (Photo:Masa Israel Journey)

There are nights when I like to walk from my dorm to the art museum and stand in contemplation on the promenade. That’s been my reflection spot for several years, and each time I return, I consider how much I’ve changed since the last.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve grown since standing there before studying abroad in Israel, before navigating a culture close to my heart, and before understanding that outside of this continent, people in other countries live their lives quite differently and offer much to learn from. The answer? I’ve grown far more than I thought possible.

But study abroad doesn’t begin as a catalyst for personal growth; for me, it merely turned into one in hindsight, as I imagine holds true for many things that force you to take risks, deal with challenges, and expand your worldview. Originally, it was just an opportunity to take advantage of. As for choosing Israel as my destination, the choice was clear because it was the sole place that would allow me to hone my Hebrew language skills, gain exposure to foreign entrepreneurship (it is the “start-up nation,” after all), and understand a culture intertwined with my heritage and religion. When I later learned that an opportunity to study in Jerusalem could be subsidized with scholarships from Case Western Reserve University, Masa Israel Journey (in collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel), and the Hebrew University, my decision was made.

There are three main ways Israel has changed me, and I imagine they’re the same ways studying abroad will change anyone: I’ve learned how to solve problems I have not prepared for, network with people I have not planned to meet, and be receptive to ways of life I have not considered. These same three developments are also the reasons why I now feel as if my understanding of society has splintered apart, and why I am inspired to further discover myself. It’s simply impossible to leave and come back home the same person. Here’s why:

  1. Taking a deep dive into a foreign language – though I realize not everyone does this while studying abroad – has taught me to become more patient, particularly with respect to international students here on campus. Taking classes in Hebrew helped me put myself in the shoes of non-native English speakers here. When professors zipped through slides that weren’t in English, and spoke in Hebrew, and used mathematical words I had never even learned in English, there was only so much I could absorb. Though I scurried to take notes and keep up, I realized later I was truly absorbing so much more than that day’s lesson. I was learning about day-to-day life in Israel because I was part of it, living it in the most immersive, transformative way possible.
  2. Interning abroad at OurCrowd, an Israeli venture capital firm, and participating in networking events in Israel made me a better self-presenter. If you’re at home and you meet someone from Singapore, they immediately become an object of fascination with a story to share. But when you’re the one traveling and you bump into hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors at a conference, it doesn’t take long to mold an elevator pitch through practice. Moreover, that skill comes in handy when crafting conversations with people on the bus, in the supermarket, and even during job interviews.
  3. Experiencing another culture overturned my perspective of the world and showed me just how much I could learn from watching other people go about their lives. Living with four, mature Israeli guys who completed world tours after their army service imparted upon me the value of international experiences and raised the significance of my time in Israel. Being invited for a meal every time I met a stranger showed me how to be a better host and taught me to balance planning with flexibility, despite spontaneity not falling within the nature of my personality.

When you study abroad, you learn the world is both simpler and more complex than you thought. You discover that Israel is much more than a representation of Jews and Arabs, that your time should really be spent on things important to you, and that there is no decent reason why you can’t break with a societal pattern or construct.

And when you question how these discoveries have impacted your life and you return to your reflection spot like I do with the art museum, you begin to see that studying abroad is but another step to becoming both a citizen of the world and the person you are ultimately meant to be. Six months in Israel taught me that, but don’t take my word for it; go out and have your own adventure.

The worst that can happen is you’ll home a little less certain and a lot more mature.

Jon Sender is a senior majoring in finance with a minor in computer science, who is a student advisor at the Office of Education Abroad. He studied overseas in Israel through Masa Israel Journey this past spring. He shares his tips about preparing for studying abroad at his blog, Plane2Plane.wordpress.com.

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