I have safely returned from Israel and just had my last first day of school as an undergrad. I want to reflect on my experiences from this past month and share how my identity affected my life abroad.
In the previous blog post, I talked about the locals’ comments to East Asians in the streets. Previously, I had concluded that this was due to the lack of East Asian presence in Israel; however, I was able to have some insightful conversations with locals that allowed me to understand a bit more about their actions.
In Nazareth, Israel where we were placed for the month, people who live there were born in Nazareth, and their parents and their grandparents were also born and raised there. In other words, there are very few outsiders in Nazareth, so it is difficult for them to grasp the idea that there are many immigrants in the United States, including many immigrants from Asia. Another interesting discovery was that many of the other “mentors” we were working with at the after-school program were younger than us, contrary to our initial assumption that they were much older than us in the late 20s. This misconception came from the fact that they were working full-time and also always making sure that we have everything we need.
In Israel, the Jewish population is required to serve in the army for a few years after high school, but Arabs are not. Since Nazareth is a predominantly Arab community, many of the high school graduates take a few gap years before going to college since they do not want to stand out from the older students in university. Israel is actually the country with the oldest average age to attain an undergraduate degree due to military service. Whenever I introduced myself in Israel and said that I am in my last year of college, everyone was surprised; though this is partially due to my looking younger than my actual age (everyone guessed I was about 18, though I am 22), in Israel, I am at the age where people normally begin attending college.
Throughout this month, I was able to gain teaching and leadership skills. Being a team lead allowed me to build my skills in decision making and prioritization. Being a teacher allowed me to meet the group of amazing, respectful, and motivated students and impart my knowledge to them. As a first-gen student, I know that there are many efforts in the US to provide opportunities for first-gen students, high financial need students and many minorities in the US. However, the problem of access and utilizations of these opportunities persist due to the fact that many students from do not even hear about these opportunities.
Especially in such a small town as Nazareth, where there are rarely foreigners, I hope that I was able to expose them to cultures and backgrounds they didn’t know much about. I also hope that I was able to encourage them to chase bigger dreams than they had considered. Coming from a low-socioeconomic background, I understand first-hand the importance of spreading opportunities with students who are normally not reached. I am thankful to MIT and MISTI for providing me the opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge from MIT, and simultaneously allowing me to grow as a leader and exposing me to a part of the world I would not have explored on my own.
Kalyn Bowen is a member of the class of 2019 studying Computer Science and Engineering. This independent activities period, she was teaching app development to high school students in Nazareth, Israel.