As a young Iranian-American woman, I chose to take summer classes in Israel. Many of my family and friends were shocked at the prospect of me studying in Jerusalem. All they ever hear about is the violent conflict occurring there. My loved ones failed to see my reason for wanting to study in Israel. I wanted to experience the Israeli way of life and to gain a new understanding because I do not trust the news to present the full picture regarding the conflict. Thus all concerns put aside, I was very excited and intrigued to live in this Holy Land.
With immense enthusiasm, I boarded my flight and was ready to begin this educational journey, but my first impression of Israel was not pleasant. Arriving in Tel Aviv airport, I was detained at customs for three hours because I was born in Iran. I was fully aware that something like this would occur and that is why I obtained a student visa before leaving. Since I was very prepared, I was not expecting to be held for three hours. By the time they granted me entry into the country, I was tired and frustrated. It took a lot of positive attitude to put aside my negative first impression of Israel.
I took it upon myself to understand their security procedures because the more I learned, the less frustrated I became. From the very first day, I began asking questions. Thank goodness almost everyone spoke English because I only knew how to say “Thank you” in Hebrew. My classes provided a great platform to ask questions and to experience Israel through field trips. I was studying Conflict Resolution and Collective Memory from experts in their fields in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. My classes along with talking to people from both sides of the conflict gave me a new understanding of the situation. This conflict is far too complicated to be resolved in a day. But I have hope with time that the people will come together and enact a peaceful compromise.
Due to the conflict, I knew the people living in this region had a different lifestyle, but I wasn’t fully aware how they lived. What surprised me the most was the amount of security and supervision the people undergo on a daily basis. To enter the Hebrew University of Jerusalem campus, one must go through a mini airport security that checks you and your belongings. Any public structure, like the mall in Jerusalem’s City Center, has security by the entrances. I came to realize that extra security is a norm for the people living in this region.
Now that my month long journey has ended, I’m reflecting on my overall experience. Putting aside the frustrating airport security, the rest of experience was truly wonderful. It took some time adjusting to living the kosher lifestyle. I never realized how much poultry and red meat I combined with dairy for my daily meals. I will admit the fruits and veggie were very fresh.
From my classes to the people and food I experienced, my short time in Israel left me with a better understanding of life in this region. I began my journey with questions and I left the country with even more questions. The more I learned about the conflict, the more questions I had. My academic journey left me frustrated, but my cultural journey made me informed.
Author: Shadi Namiranian