My travel abroad has been the most life changing experience for me and I would recommend it to any college student. This past spring semester I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East to attend Jerusalem University College (JUC) in the heart of Jerusalem, Israel. The vast and rich cultures plus the various religions opened my eyes to see different aspects of the world.
Jerusalem is a complicated and complex city, that allows any traveler to grasp three major and different religions, as well as a variety of different cultures. During my time abroad, I learned so much about the Jewish religion and culture, the Arab culture, and the Muslim community. I had the opportunity to learn about the complicated history of Israel as well as the modern political stance of the country/State. You have to be very careful with the terminology you use and with whom. To Jewish people, you would refer to the country as the Jewish State of Israel. To Arabs and Muslims, you would say West Bank, Palestinian territories, or even Palestine. It was very important for me to be culturally aware, so I wouldn’t cause any unnecessary tensions among the people I was with.
The host college, JUC, recommended that their students get involved within a community and to volunteer/serve there. I decided to travel into the West Bank/Palestinian territory every Tuesday to teach at Bethlehem Evangelical Academy. There, I was a teacher’s assistant and helped teach English to 4 year old Arab children. It was probably that most amazing experience I have ever had and it was my favorite thing to do while I was studying abroad. It was truly amazing to see these children learn and to be a part of their everyday lives in the Middle East.
Their culture in the East is much different than where I grew up in the West. Yet, they are still children. They love to play and at that age are very eager to learn. I was amazed at how disciplined they were and their enthusiasm for learning English. It was always a laugh when they would make fun of me for trying to speak Arabic because my accent was silly to them. When play time outside was over, I would yell, “yallah, yallah,” to get them to line up and come in. The majority of the time they would listen but have a smile on their faces and tease me because to them, I sounded funny.
This volunteer opportunity made me realize the love I have for children and for learning. The workers and teachers at the school were so encouraging and amazing human beings. Some of the teachers were Palestinian Christians and I had the privilege to hear their stories. I was always excited to come in every Tuesday because I knew I was going to learn something new, help these kids learn, and step into the culture of the Middle East.
I found that I have a newfound passion for teaching and traveling. I love cultures. I love little kids. I love the stories that people have. This volunteer opportunity opened my eyes to a new future. If I could give any college student a piece of advice it would be to study abroad. Go learn. Go travel. Go explore the world and the many cultures out there. You never know what kind of learning experience it will bring and the kind of future you may discover.
Kelly T. is a Senior Communication Arts Major at Gordon College who attended Jerusalem University College this year.