On the morning of Feb. 10, I awoke with nerves the size of the Boeing 777 plane I was about to board. My fears might have been large enough to hold me back, but now I see that my plane-sized anxiety came from fearing the unknown. That day, I left for a four-month semester abroad in Haifa, Israel. It did not occur to me then that spending time away from Conn would be an opportunity to grow in ways I had not imagined.
A few months ago, I wrote of our pre-departure meeting in this blog post and expressed my interest in getting uncomfortable in all the right ways. To begin my experience abroad, I took Dean of the College Jefferson Singer’s advice and followed my heart. I traveled around Israel and met people who challenged my beliefs (politically especially), taught me about religion, introduced me to eating kosher food, and gave me the courage to try new things.
I spent one memorable Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath, or day of rest, usually celebrated from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday) in Jerusalem with my cousins, who keep a kosher home, something that I had not grown up with. When I am not in Israel, I usually keep in touch with my cousins using apps like WhatsApp and Skype, but being with them in person was very special. While I was visiting, they showed me how to cook a kosher, Shabbat dinner. First, we went to buy the ingredients at the Shuk, an incredible open-air market in the middle of Jerusalem. We returned to their kitchen with the freshest of vegetables. I learned that when fresh carrots are roasted with local olive oil and sea salt, they really taste like salted caramel! I also learned how to make a challah from my cousin, Suzanne. Challah is a traditional bread served on Shabbat. These dishes are now on my Shabbat table every week.
These very people ended up showing me that life is about accepting the hard things that come at us because that is what makes life worth living. People in Israel face acts of terrorism on a daily basis and they continue to live their lives, realizing that life is certainly too short to waste. During my stay abroad, I learned the politics of the Middle East and what makes a falafel more delicious than a shrawma (it is the fresh vegetables and tahini, or sesame sauce), and I know now that my own happiness is dictated by my ability to go outside my comfort zone.
Going partway “home” to Rome, Italy: April 2017