Friday, August 9, 2013

10 Things I Learned in Israel

Yes, it has been a while since I returned from the Holy Land (2 months, 2 days to be exact). This has been the first time that I've actually had time to sit and let my mind wander since then. I spent the summer volunteering at a camp in Eastern Kentucky for the second year in a row, and it was amazing. More to come on that later.

This is a list that I’ve compiled in processing my time in Israel since I’ve been home. It is by no mean an exhaustive list, as I’m sure I will still realize what I have learned from my time abroad months, even years, from now. For now, here are the top 10 (in no particular order) that I came up with in June:

1.         Hebrew is hard.
            I am amazed by how quickly I learned two new alphabets and a new set of pronunciations in just 4 months. Even though it was a struggle at first, I am now much more interested in learning other languages so that I can communicate with people wherever I travel in the future.

2.         Jesus loves me.
            I have had enough experiences in Israel to know that I either have a lot of luck, a guardian angel, or some of both. I have had plenty of experiences that were high risk but also high reward. I know that I would not have been as fortunate without a bit of Providence.

3.         Yes, people are different, but they are also more similar than we often realize.
            Despite the fact that I come from a different hemisphere and different culture than many of the people with whom I interacted, we had so much in common that is simply a part of humanity. While I was in Jordan, we talked with our Bedouin hosts about everything from relationships to politics to life advice. Even though our experiences were with different parties, we drew the same conclusions and learned many of the same lessons from our different lives. Humanity is more connected that we like to imagine.

4.         At the same time, everyone is shaped by his/her unique background and experience.
            This may sound contrary to #3, but they are both true. The lessons we learn and conclusions we draw depend on our individual background and experience. It is also possible to group people’s reactions and beliefs into different groups, which is a very basic description of psychology (my major).

5.         Along the same lines, everyone has a unique narrative. No matter how much that narrative is based on factual truths, it is important because it is the truth for that person.
            It is all too easy for us to dismiss someone’s point of view because it does not agree with ours or we can’t put it in a nice, neat box. That’s not the point, though. By dismissing a narrative, we are refusing to engage with it, refusing to be challenged by it, refusing to deal with it. I’ve learned that it is important to take each narrative within its context and address it and process it as such. Many of the narratives of the conflict are the result of life experience, familial beliefs passed down, and exposure to the conflict. Even if narratives are formed by lies or misrepresentations, they are still the narratives of those individuals and are just as important as everyone else’s narrative.

6.         IT’S COMPLICATED!
            There is a reason this conflict hasn’t been resolved for over 65 years. The vast number of parties and perspectives on all sides of the issues must be taken into account in order to move forward with any sort of resolution. The conflict is regional, as well as global, as it is a conflict of religions, cultures, and peoples. So many parties from all over the world have a stake in it, which makes it so difficult to move forward. Up to this point, it has been nearly impossible to make progress of any kind without approval from all parties.

7.         Constantly search for the nuance.
            This has become a kind of life motto for me. I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot, especially during my time abroad. So much of what I’ve seen and heard requires me to use my critical thinking skills so I can most fully evaluate what I am really experiencing and the context within which it lies.

8.         It is amazing to feel so connected to people you don’t personally know and to be a part of something greater.
            Being in a region of the world where Christianity, particularly Protestantism is not in the majority caused me to feel so grateful when I stumbled into a worship service or celebration, even if I didn’t know what exactly was happening. Additionally, visiting any ancient site made me realize how connected I was to people of today and so many years before who had seen the same place.

9.         It’s also a surreal and unreal feeling to be completely disconnected from people and the rest of the world.
            Stargazing in the middle of the desert in Jordan with only seven other people anywhere near to you with no way of contacting anyone outside of those seven people is so freeing. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to become so disconnected in today’s age, but it is possible and wonderful. It is the ultimate “me” time.

10.      Silence is ok. Being alone is ok. Doing nothing is ok.
            We live in a society that is always moving and shaking. If you’re not being productive, you’re being lazy. You could always be doing more, better, faster. Sometimes we need to disconnect and have a personal day doing absolutely nothing. And that is all right. We shouldn’t punish ourselves for taking some time to do that every once in a while.

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