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Silver Linings Despite a Change in Plans

Hello everyone! This week I am going to be writing to you all about my overall feelings on the coronavirus situation. If I am going to be completely honest the first word that came to mind for me when thinking about this situation was “devastated”. At least that is how I felt at first. This virus has taken experiences away from me that I spent years looking forward to and planning for. Originally, I was supposed to study abroad in Haifa, Israel through USAC (Universities Study Abroad Consortium) for 2 semesters (September 2019-June 2020) and then study through the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) in Tangier Morocco the summer after. Unfortunately, I received news on Friday, March 13th that my USAC program was going to be canceled because of the Coronavirus. I fully support USAC’s decision to cancel the program because the U.S State Department had increased its travel warning for Israel to a level 3 out of 4 at the time. Now the travel warning is at a 4 and the majority of flights out of Israel to the U.S. have been canceled. Thus, those students who choose to stay against the wishes of USAC run the risk of being stuck in the country for an indefinite period. This is not a risk that I was willing to take and after speaking with my local friends in Haifa I am reassured that coming back home to the United States was the best decision for me at the time.

Israel is currently in a state of complete lockdown and residents are not allowed to leave your place of residence further than 100 meters. I can’t imagine being stuck in my dorm room in Haifa for an indefinite period of time with no family or friends around. Additionally, I was required to return home because of the federally funded David L. Boren Scholarship I received. The Boren scholarship team sent me an email around the same time that USAC did asking that I return home as soon as possible. I remember when there were only a few confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in Israel and then it had dramatically increased to hundreds of cases within a few days and is currently in the thousands. During my final days in Haifa, the atmosphere of the country was completely different than what I was accustomed to. Everything that I knew and loved was closing and going into a complete lockdown.

I am grateful to the University of Haifa International school for allowing me and my fellow colleagues to complete our classes online via zoom and moodle. Taking classes online is not nearly as engaging as a physical class and requires a great amount of discipline and self-motivation to complete them. I would prefer to be back in Haifa taking my classes in person but in light of recent events that is clearly not possible. As I am writing this blog I am currently on my 14th day of self-quarantine in Minnesota. After being abroad for so long it took me a while to adjust back to life in the U.S. Something as simple as hearing people speak English around me was shocking at first because I was so used to always hearing Arabic and Hebrew. Now that I have had time to reflect upon this situation I have realized that it has not been as devastating for me as I initially thought. Although my program was cut short, I was still able to live in Haifa, Israel for 7 months and complete 1 1/2 semesters there. I met the most wonderful people and visited places that I will never forget. During my break in between the two semesters, I traveled to Cyprus, Malta, Morocco, Paris, Budapest and South Africa. Additionally, I gained an unmatched first-hand experience of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I now look at the conflict in a completely different light and believe that I can take my new perspectives and apply them in my future career working for the federal government.

As cliche as it sounds, the greatest lesson that I learned from this situation with the coronavirus is that life does not go to plan and when it doesn’t you have to adapt and keep pushing forward. When I first arrived back in the U.S. two weeks ago I had lost all motivation and was not sure which direction I wanted to take with my life anymore. Everything that I worked so hard for had perished overnight. After speaking with my TRiO coach Daniel, Mr. Davidson from the U.S. Embassy in Israel, my academic advisor Anna from the UNR College of Liberal Arts, and Jade Wright who generously created the “Discover Middle East” USAC scholarship which helped me study abroad, I felt much better about the overall situation. They helped me recognize that everything I had worked for is still there and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my Arabic language studies online and reapply for the CLS program for the next summer. Furthermore, I plan on applying for graduate school to Georgetown University this upcoming fall to pursue a master’s degree in Arabic. Before this situation, I was naive in my belief that my life was going to go perfectly according to my plan. I placed a great amount of stress on myself to ensure that I would be able to attain my goals through the very precise plan that I had created. I now know that life will not go to plan. There are many different paths available to me and I am learning to go with the flow and enjoying the ride. I would advise future USAC students to study abroad!! Do not let this situation deter you from experiencing and immersing yourself in other cultures. My study abroad experience was a defining moment for me thus far in my life and I do not regret it at all. I applaud USAC for their handling of this difficult situation and attending to my needs during this time. They have done a great job of facilitating open and active communication throughout this time. The staff at the UNR Student Health Center was also a great asset to me during my time in self-quarantine. The nurse, Tammy, was especially helpful to me and provided me with useful information for me to have an inhaler prescribed to me even though I do not currently have medical insurance at the time. I would like to end this blog post by expressing my gratitude to everyone that helped me in my journey abroad. Thank you all for reading this week!! Below I have attached one of my favorite photos from my time abroad.

My favorite picture from Israel

I'm back in the U.S.

Hello Everyone! It has been a crazy past couple of weeks for me. I am currently writing to you all from my mother’s house in Minnesota. I received notice last friday that my program was being cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak and that I should return home as soon as possible. Upon hearing this news, I packed up my dorm room in Israel and booked a flight back home for Saturday. I was not completely surprised by my home University’s and USAC’s decision to cancel the program because several other students on different programs were being required to return home a couple days prior to their announcement. Additionally, the U.S. State Department had increased the travel warning to a 3 out of 4 at the time. Now the travel warning is currently at a 4. I remember when there were only a few cases of the coronavirus in Israel and then it had drastically increased to a hundreds of cases within a few days. During my final days there the atmosphere of the country was completely different. Everything that I knew and loved was closing and going into a complete lockdown. I am grateful to the University of Haifa International school for allowing me and my fellow colleagues to complete our classes online via zoom and moodle. Taking classes online is not nearly as engaging as a physical class and requires a great amount of discipline and self motivation to complete them. I would prefer to be back in Haifa taking my classes in person but in light of recent events that is clearly not possible. Additionally, my summer program for the CLS in Morocco was cancelled and now I have to find a new plan for the summer. I find it disappointing that they did not even offer us the option to defer our program. They just informed us that we would have to reapply for next years program if we wished to participate in the program again. I am trying to stay positive and continue my language learning despite these unexpected changes in my plans. I still plan on applying for graduate school and have been looking into master degrees in public administration, Arabic, and international relations. I would like to thank you all for reading this week and I will be sure to update you all on my plans for the future. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures to share with you all this week.

Weekend Trip to Mitzpe Ramon and Coronavirus fears

Hello, everyone, I hope you all had a great week! This week has been a little hectic due to the fears of the coronavirus going on internationally. I have received a vast amount of emails from the U.S. embassy, the Israeli embassy, my scholarship programs and my USAC study abroad program regarding the virus. The international school informed us this week that if we are required to return home because of the virus that they will facilitate our classes online to ensure that we finish the semester. This is very nice of the international school to do this, but I hope that it does not have to happen. I love studying here in Israel and would be extremely disheartened if I had to return. I would like to finish off the rest of my semester and continue my Arabic language studies here in Haifa. Additionally, I had planned a trip to visit Tbilisi, Georgia and several cities in Spain but I had to cancel these flights over fears that I would not be let back into the country if I were to visit these countries during my spring break. The Israel Ministry of Health has advised us to avoid all international travel to prevent us from having issues returning to the country.

Besides this news, the rest of the week has been great! The international school took us on a two day trip to Mitzpe Ramon in the South of Israel. We left around 6 am on Friday morning and took a bus to many historic sites across Israel. We visited the burial site of David Ben Gurion the first prime minister of Israel and learned about his life and legacy. We stayed overnight at a Bedouin camp and had a bonfire where we sang songs and roasted smores. During the first day of the trip, the weather was too cold and rainy to hike so we were not able to do much. The weather was much better the second day so we hiked for the majority of the day. The hike was hot and tough but once we completed it I felt a major sense of accomplishment. Overall, I enjoyed the trip and made many new friends in the international school that I did not have the opportunity to interact with before.

I am excited to start the new week because of the upcoming Purim holiday. Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an Achaemenid Persian Empire official who was planning to kill all the Jews, as recounted in the Book of Esther. During this week people dress up in costumes and party all night. My friends and I from the international school are planning to dress up in costumes for a day. I would like to thank you all for reading this week!

I got into the CLS Program!!

Hello Everyone! I have great news to share with you all this week. I found out on Thursday that I was selected as a finalist for the U.S. Department of State 2020 Critical Language Scholarship Program in Tangier Morocco. I can not express how happy I am to be a part of this program. It is truly a life-changing opportunity that enables me to continue my Arabic studies in Morocco this summer before I go back to school at the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall. The program is a fully-funded intensive overseas Arabic language program located at the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco.

While in Tangier, I will be taking 20 hours of formal language instruction (16 in Modern Standard Arabic and 4 in Darija the local dialect). I will be living with a host family which will allow me to experience life in a Moroccan family and practice Arabic outside of class. Additionally, I will have a language partner and participate in weekly cultural classes, activities, and excursions to explore the cultural heritage of Morocco. My favorite aspect of the program is the mandatory language pledge that I will take to only speak in Arabic during my time in Tangier.

The CLS program will start on June 18th in Washington D.C where we will have a 3-day orientation before we leave as a group to Morocco on June 20th. My program in Israel ends on June 4th, so I plan to go back home to Vegas and Minnesota to spend time with my family during the two weeks in between both of these study abroad programs. I am looking forward to seeing my family as it will have been almost a year since I have seen them by this point. After the CLS program ends on August 14th, I will return to Reno to finish out my senior year of college. Upon my return to Reno, I plan to apply for graduate schools in pursuit of a Master’s degree relating to Arabic and Islamic Studies. I believe that my combined experience of learning Arabic in Israel and Morocco will make me a competitive candidate for graduate school at Columbia, Harvard, Yale or Georgetown. I would like to thank you all for reading this week!

This week I wanted to share a photo from Morocco with you all in light of my recent news about the CLS program 😄

First Week of the New Semester

Hello Everyone! I hope you all had a great week. This week I began the new semester and it has already been amazing. I am continuing my spoken Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) language, and Model United Nations classes. In addition, I am taking two more classes titled “Israel Jewish Redemption or National Demise” and “Cyberspace, Terrorism, and Counterterrorism.” My first class for the Israel Jewish Redemption or National Demise was very interesting. My professor began the class by explaining where the original concept of Israel emerged and tied into the modern national understanding of Israel today. I am looking forward to seeing the direction this class will take and will be sure to update you all along with me. My cyberspace, terrorism, and counterterrorism class were also interesting. We discussed a range of different topics including white hat hackers, the Ashley Madison cyber incident, the concept of cyberspace, and where international law falls short in defining and countering cyberterrorism. My MSA Arabic class this semester is much more difficult than it was last semester because we are covering higher-level grammar and vocabulary. Although, this is challenging I am up to the task and not afraid to put in the work needed to be successful in this course.

My favorite class is my spoken Arabic language class because I can take everything I learn and apply it to the world around me as soon as I leave the class. Also, I am making note cards of all the vocabulary from the book to expand my vernacular. There is also a new cohort of international students and they are kind and I have become good friends with some of them. Moreover, I booked a flight to visit Tbilisi, Georgia in 2 weeks for a weekend with my friend Theo from the international school. I am excited about this trip and am grateful for the many opportunities that I have had to travel to all of the new places I have been able to see. In good news, I received my official grades for my fall 2019 semester abroad and I received straight A’s for the 18 credits of classes that I took. I can’t wait to write to you all next week. I hope you all have a great week!

Haifa, Israel

Weekend in Budapest

Hello Everyone! I hope you all had a great week. Last week was one of the best weeks of my entire time abroad so far. Last weekend I went to Budapest with my friend Nia from the University of Nevada, Reno and Theo my friend from the international school. I was able to get a round trip ticket there for less than $100 USD. Also, everything was much cheaper there, so we were able to do a lot for less. It was very cold, and the temperature was below freezing most of the time. My favorite part of the trip was the thermal baths that we visited. The water was hot, refreshing and the architecture surrounding the baths were breathtaking. Additionally, we visited the House of Terror Museum which is a museum which contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. I also tried traditional Hungarian Goulash for the first time. Goulash is a stew or soup made of well-seasoned meat and vegetables that originated in Hungary. I am so grateful for my friends Theo and Nia because traveling with them felt natural and we all bonded deeply over the weekend. Traveling to all of these different countries over my break has increased my confidence and I feel that I am officially an experienced traveler.

Before I left for Budapest, I attended an event put on by the U.S. Fulbright Scholar program titled “Fulbright Alumni Events in the Arab Community: The Path to Excellence – Public Service Leaders.” The Fulbright scholarship team in Israel hosted an excellent panel that featured local Arab community leaders in Israel who studied in the U.S. on Fulbright scholarships. They led an interesting discussion on issues facing the Arab community and offered some solutions to address these issues. I would like to thank you all for reading this week and look forward to writing to you all next week.

Budapest, Hungary
My friend Theo and I
My friend Nia and I
Thermal Bath, Budapest

Taking my Arabic Language Skills to the Next Level

Hello Everyone! I hope you all had a great week. For this week’s blog post I would like to further discuss my plans for practicing the Arabic language. I have decided that this semester I want to push myself even harder to practice my language skills. My roommate who is a native Arabic speaker had agreed to help me practice speaking the language 1-2 times a week for an hour and in return, I am going to help him with his English homework. I am going to come up with a script every week of things that I would like to know how to say and he is going to teach me how to write, say and pronounce them correctly.

I am also pushing myself to only order my food in Arabic when I go to restaurants and local food stands. I have also introduced myself to the owners of my favorite places to eat and told them about my goals to learn the Arabic language. Now every time I come into their stores, they only speak to me and Arabic and teach me new words every time I come in. Additionally, I am looking into finding a permanent language partner for the rest of my time here in Israel. I will also be continuing on with my Modern Standard Arabic Language Classes for the next semester.

A couple of weeks ago I heard back from the Critical Language Scholarship Program which will enable me to study Arabic in Jordan for the summer. I’m very happy to share with you all that I was selected as a semi-finalist and I will find out at the beginning of March if I am going to be a finalist. If I am fortunate enough to be selected as a finalist, I will then take a language test to determine if I will be sent to Jordan or Morocco to study until August. I would love to attend the program in Jordan because the Arabic Dialect that they speak in that area shares many similarities with the Palestinian dialect and will relate more to the dialect I will need to know in my future career. I am excited about my future and I know that if I continue to work hard, I will be able to reach my goal of fluency in the language within the next couple of years through more immersion and formal language instruction. I would like to pursue an M.A. in the Arabic Language after I graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno. I truly love learning the Arabic language and Middle Eastern Culture. It is truly an amazing feeling to be able to successfully communicate with people in another. Doing things as simple as ordering Kebab and asking for all my favorite ingredients in Arabic at the restaurant gives me great feelings of accomplishment.

I would like to thank you all for reading this week!

Picture of me in the dorms from this week

My Interesting Experience in South Africa

Hello, everyone, I am currently writing to you from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Before I arrived in Cape Town on Tuesday I had a connecting flight at the Addis Ababa Airport in Ethiopia where I was able to have an authentic Ethiopian breakfast. I spent my first couple of days in Stellenbosch with my friend Heaven from UNR who is studying abroad there. Stellenbosch is very beautiful and has many great places to see. They are well known for their wine farms. Although my favorite part of the week was from Thursday-Monday that we spent at a hostel in Cape Town. The hostel was extremely cheap compared to an Airbnb or hotel so we were able to save money. Cape town has many things to do and we were able to explore a good portion of it. We went to the Zeitz Mocaa Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, V&A waterfront and Boulders Beach where we able to see hundreds of African penguins in their natural habitat. We also rode a cable car to the top of Table mountain which had a beautiful view of Cape Town.

My favorite part of my time in Cape Town was visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he was unjustly put behind bars. The historical significance of this island was very prevalent throughout my tour and I learned many things about Apartheid that I did not previously know. Apartheid was a racist segregation system that existed in South Africa and South West Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. In this system, the white minority held the highest status, followed in descending order by Asians, Coloureds, and black Africans. What became apparent to me upon my arrival to Cape Town are the lasting effects of Apartheid that still lingers on the South African population today. From walking the streets of Stellenbosch to Cape Town the racial disparities can be seen. The places that we visited that are considered to be “nice” are occupied predominantly by White people, whereas the “less nice” places are occupied predominantly by black Africans. Additionally, I noticed that people of the same ethnic group tend to stick together and there is not much intermingling between different ethnic groups of people. The most shocking thing for me is that in America I am classified as black but here people considered me to be Coloured. In South Africa, Coloureds are a multiracial ethnic group native to Southern Africa who have ancestry from more than one of the ethnic populations within the region. For example, a person whose father is black African and mother is white would be considered Coloured. My father is African American and my mother is Italian, Lebanese and Liberian so I am usually classified as a mixed person in society in the United States but officially just as Black. In my personal experience growing up in the United States, I have felt that even though there are issues of colorism that need to be addressed between lighter and darker skin African Americans we come together at the end of the day to fight the bigger issues of racism facing our community as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not what I have witnessed in South Africa. Consequently, there is a clear tension between Coloured people and black Africans that is the result of Apartheid. I hope that these two ethnic groups can set their differences aside and fight the systematic and societal pressures that exist today in South Africa because of the racist Apartheid system. The clear economic disparities between the majority-black African and Coloured population compared to the minority white population is incomprehensible. The White South African population owns an extremely disproportionate majority of the wealth in the country. I was inspired by many of the local black African and Coloured students whom I met here. They are aware of these issues and are striving to create change within their communities through grass-root organizing, protest, and education. I believe that with time and more young leaders the issues that this country faces may be resolved in the future.

I would like to thank you all for reading this week!

Boulder Beach
Table Mountain
My friend Heaven and I at Robben Island
V&A Waterfront
Heaven wanted to share some of her Ethiopian culture with me and took me to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant in Cape Town. It was delicious 😁
One of the prison cells at Robben Island

A Week full of Travel :)

Hello Everyone! I hope you all had a great week. Last week was an amazing week for me because of the traveling I was able to do. When I wrote to you all last I was in Malta. After Malta, I flew to Marrakech, Morocco with my friend Chris for two days and then we went to Paris, France for a day after that. I was very impressed with Morocco and I was surprised by how much I was able to communicate in Arabic with the people living there. At times it was difficult to understand their Arabic because there is a heavy French influence on the language. Overall, I was able to overcome this barrier because I spoke to them in “Fusha” otherwise known as MSA (Modern Standard Arabic). There was one point in the trip where the taxi driver did not understand the time to pick us up in English and I told him it in Arabic and he actually understood me. Additionally, the majority of the people living in Marrakesh thought that I was a local and asked me if I was from Egypt or Morocco. My favorite thing I was able to do in Morocco was visiting the Atlas Mountains and the Berber village within it. The Berber people live an extremely hard life today but they told us how much the quality of their life has improved because of tourism in the area. One thing that surprised me was how happy the less fortunate people in Marrakech are with the current king of Morocco. I heard from many locals how the King has improved life for the less fortunate and truly cares for the people. Paris was amazing as well. The city reminded me of New York in many ways. While we were in Paris, my friend Jemima who I met back in Israel in the international school met up with us for the day. She showed us around the city and we visited many places including the Louvre, Sainte Chapelle, and the Eiffel Tower. I returned back to Israel on Thursday January 17th. I was very tired upon my return but didn’t have much time to rest because I had to finish my final papers for two of my classes. I am currently on my way back to Ben Gurion Airport to travel to South Africa until Jan 30th. I will be staying with my one of my best friends Heaven from the United States who is currently studying abroad in Stellenbosch. I am looking forward to this trip and can’t wait to share everything about it with you all. Thank you for reading 😁

Agafay Desert, Morocco
Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Berber Village in the Atlas Mountains
Marrakech, Morocco
Sainte Chapelle Church, France
Paris, France

Week 16 of My Study Abroad Experience

Hello everyone I hope you all had a great week! I am currently writing this blog post from Malta. This week I finished my first semester studying abroad in Haifa, Israel on Wednesday. The week was very busy due to my final presentation and test for my Modern Standard Arabic class. I am confident that I did well on these finals. My break in between the two semesters has begun and I flew from Tel Aviv to Cyprus on Saturday and then from Cyprus to Malta today. Cyprus was amazing and I hope that I can visit again before I go back to the States. Cyprus is similar to Israel in many ways, but is also different in its own unique way. The food there was amazing and the weather was perfect so I was able to wear a t shirt outside for the first time in months. I am beyond impressed with Malta. The people here are very kind and the scenery is gorgeous. I recommend visiting the city of Valetta if you have the chance to come to Malta. I am looking forward to the rest of the week because I am going to Marrakech, Morocco tomorrow and to Paris, France after that. I am excited to have the opportunity to practice my Arabic language skills in Morocco tomorrow. I am very interested to learn the differences between the Palestinian dialect that I speak in Israel and the Moroccan dialect. I received a taste of a different Arabic dialect today in Malta. My taxi driver spoke Arabic and he was also listening to an Arabic radio station. I noticed slight differences in the accent spoke with and some of the words used but overall I was able understand a good portion of what was said. I also went to Jerusalem this week with my friend Chris from the states and I was able to give him a full tour of the city. Additionally, he was very impressed that I was able to order our food and bargain with the merchants at the market in Arabic. I would like to thank everyone for reading this week and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you all.

Paphos, Cyprus

Valetta, Malta