Different Identities in Different Situations in Israel

Shalom from Israel! My name is Kalyn, a senior studying Computer Science and Chinese. This winter, I am teaching App Development (Android Studio), Java, and UX/UI to a group of high school students at Loop, an after-school coding enrichment program in Nazareth, Israel. I will be sharing my experience in Israel as a first-generation student: first-generation to attend college, first-generation Japanese-American after immigrating to the US as a teen…pretty much first-generation everything.

Me at the Sea of Galilee featuring the MISTI t-shirt we got at our IdentityX Ambassadors’ meeting!

Before I dive into my life in Israel, I wanted to share how being a first-generation college student has shaped my academic life at MIT. I graduated from a low-performing public high school in Hawaii, which meant that I had very limited access to AP classes, and my counselors didn’t know any student who had been accepted to or even applied to MIT. Being a teen immigrant, my English was still poor, and I didn’t even know that opportunities like math camps or tutors for SAT/ACT tests existed. Saying that the first year at MIT was hard would be an understatement. However, although I still face academic struggles in my final year, I have been able to better adjust to the rigor at MIT with the help of instructors and classmates.

This background leads to the reason I chose to participate in GTL Israel this IAP. Teachers—from elementary school to college—are some of the many people I would like to thank for guiding me to the opportunities I have today. From something as small as a new English vocabulary term to encouragement and advice for future endeavors, I hope that I will be able to make a difference in my Israeli students’ lives as my teachers did with mine. Another reason I chose Israel is that I had never been to the Middle East! And now I will dive into my life in Israel: I want to share my experiences in two situations, at work and outside of work. When walking around Israel, people see me as “Asian”; in a work setting, people see me as “MIT Student.”

First, I want to share my experience traveling around Israel. In the past, I had only lived and traveled in East/Southeast Asia, Australia, and the US, where East Asians are a common part of the population. In the Middle East, East Asians are relatively rare, and with all four of us on the MIT-Loop GTL 2019 team being of East Asian descent, we get “nihao” from locals all the time, whether we are in Tel Aviv or Nazareth. We get comments ranging from “Why aren’t you guys speaking in Chinese?” to “China!” just from walking in the streets. I had heard from my friends of Asian descent that when traveling in areas with very little Asian populations, locals won’t believe you if you say that you’re from the US. When people ask us where we’re from and we say the US, we’re always followed up with the question, “Where are you actually from?” In countries like Israel where East Asians aren’t prevalent, I have come to the realization that we’re all perceived as Chinese. However, even with these prejudices, the locals have been very kind to us. We encountered many acts of kindness in Israel, such as a local lady offering to call our Airbnb host when none of us had cellular data on the day we arrived. Another time, a customer offered to change our 20 one-shekel coins for 1 twenty-shekel bill when the store owner didn’t have any twenty-shekel bills.

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I toured Haifa with some GTL-Israel students this past weekend, and we got to catch a beautiful sunset!

Second, I want to share my experience working and teaching in Israel. Since we teach at an after-school program that focuses on computer science skills, the staff and students regard MIT as the best educational facility in the world. We often get questions like “What did you do to get into MIT?” and general questions about the US education system. All the students we have are sweet and eager to learn, which makes the teaching job easy and worthwhile for us. Initially, I was afraid that the students might be disappointed in our lack of knowledge in certain areas, but they’re appreciative of anything we can help them with, and they also love sharing their knowledge with us. The staff members have told us that the students have been looking forward to our arrival, and they have been very respectful. We are thankful to have these students!

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I am on the right with my teammate Ariel on the left. Here at the Loop Campus, we all wear Loop apparel!

For more about my experiences teaching and touring in Israel, follow our team blogs here, we’re required by MISTI GTL to update it quite often: http://kbowen19.scripts.mit.edu/misti-gtl-israel-loop-2019/

My adventure continues in Israel…

Kalyn Bowen Bio PhotoKalyn is a member of the Class of 2019 studying Computer Science and Chinese. This independent activities period, she taught App Development and UX/UI to a group of high school students in Israel through the MISTI Global Teaching Labs (GTL) program.