By Lauren Romm
I was offered a spot in the University of Haifa’s Peace and Conflict Management program 245 days ago.
244 days, 23 hours, and 59 seconds ago, I happily accepted.
I made a journey of 5,676 miles across the Atlantic, from JFK Airport to Ben Gurion Airport. (That’s 9,132 kilometers for those of you with the different colored passports.)
I made 31 friends out of the 31 people in my program, representing 15 nations from all over the globe. I share an apartment with a fellow American, a Canadian, and Dutch, and a Mexican.
2 feral cats chase me every time I leave my apartment, in the hopes that I have some food to share. 3 hang back because they now know better.
I currently have 4 excellent professors teaching 4 courses this semester. (There are more excellent professors teaching more courses, but I haven’t had the opportunity to take them yet!)
So far, my camera took 982 pictures, each capturing a moment I hope to never forget. Approximately half are food-related.
On a more serious note, for the 8 days of the most recent Israeli-Gazan conflict, I must have received well over 100 well wishes from friends and family. I called my parents another 100 times to assure them all was well with me, although I was still worried for my neighbors in southern Israel and Gaza.
I’ve buried my head in my hands out of frustration countless times, but I’ve thrown my hands to the sky in victory countless more times. Israel, with all the bizarre curve balls its thrown at me, always surprises me with how sweet the nice moments can be.
This is Israel by the numbers, and yet, numbers alone don’t do justice to the breadth of experience I’ve already had here. I like to talk with my classmates about their backgrounds and how they wound up here, and they all, without exception, have interesting stories and background which have led them here. Some ended up here last minute. I, however, have dreamt of coming to the University of Haifa for many years now, so I am experiencing that very sweet feeling of a dream being realized.
I studied political science and history in my undergraduate career at Rutgers University. I had an interest in international conflict resolution, but aside from a few classes on the subject, I was unable to take it as a major course of study. I didn’t want to be let loose upon the job market with an understanding of how wars happen, but without an understanding of how wars end. I could have gone to a school close to my home, but I would have lacked that special thing that makes Haifa one of a kind – the incredible location. Nestled south of Syria and Lebanon, west of Jordan, and north of Egypt, we eat, sleep, and breathe our favorite case studies. Conflict resolution in the Middle East has become an obsession for all of us. Coming from a variety of backgrounds with a trove of different life experiences, we are prone to going nose to nose in passionate debates outside class. However, no matter how hot our debates sometimes get, any and all tension can be diffused by clinking a couple beers downtown.
Our program brought together students from every continent besides Antarctica, and as a result, we have brought a multitude of customs from our homelands that we are eager to share with one another. Many of my favorite moments in Israel have involved learning tidbits of languages from my peers, trying their home cooking, even watching my Mexican roommate teach my American roommate how to dance the salsa in our kitchen. I was elated to watch my peers experience sufganiot (jelly donuts) on Hanukkah for the first time, and they were just as amused to watch me eat roasted chestnuts at Wadi Nisnas during the Holiday of Holidays.
As a class, we have already had the opportunity to participate in several workshops, conferences and lectures with various diplomats, ambassadors, and experts in our field of study. We have traveled to East and West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Isifiya, Akko, Sakhnin, and we will travel to many more places around the country before we graduate.
I look forward to the upcoming semesters of classes, projects, and trips and the memories I will take from it all. I am proud to be a part of this new program that I know will bring even more prestige to the University in the coming months and years.