Before applying for the Israel/Palestine GIEU trip, I had very little travel experience. I was raised in a boring, middle-class, mostly white suburb in Michigan. Coming to Ann Arbor for college I was, suffice it to say, rather naïve and unaware of my own privilege. A lot of people use “privilege” like it’s a dirty word, but that’s not what I mean it to sound like. I mean that I had countless undeserved blessings in my life that unfortunately left me blissfully ignorant of the harsh realities of the world. Looking back, I think its okay to admit that. What matters in the end is how we all deal with that type of revelation and what action we choose to take to rectify it. I attribute much of my expanding perspective to this GIEU trip and am forever grateful that the university gave me the opportunity to have this experience.
One of the concepts that was brought into focus throughout the whole experience was how each of us felt about our personal identities. The writing assignments reflected this goal, as did our group discussions. As a science major, I had not been exposed much to these kinds of discussions, and even though it was uncomfortable at first I see now what an amazing journey it was from start to finish. In class, I learned about the many different identities myself and others held, and then we got to analyze those identities in the context of our Israel/Palestine experience. The magic of this was that we were forced to engage honestly with topics that are otherwise difficult to address without getting offended and defensive. I felt that, out of all the GIEU sites, the Israel/Palestine trip had the most potential for ideological clashing, as it dealt with very sensitive and relevant topics: islamophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, etc. I was consistently surprised at how well these discussions were handled with maturity and grace by all of the students in my group.
I think learning about these words in a classroom is one thing, but actually experiencing the consequences of these social behaviors in the lives of underprivileged people is entirely different. We got the opportunity to look a Palestinian man in the eye as he told us the story of how his innocent son was gunned down by soldiers; we listened to Israeli veterans express their unimaginable grief and regret for having opinions that they been raised from birth to believe; and we saw with our own eyes the horrific poverty and devastation of a nation oppressed by hate. Having the opportunity to immerse myself fully in the beautiful and tragic story of this region has forever changed what words like “racism,” “privilege,” and “oppression” mean to me.
I was surprised when I had difficult transitioning back to my normal daily life in Ann Arbor after this experience. In fact, it felt impossible. When one is squarely confronted with such hate and injustice for the first time, it is impossible to continue living in ignorance of it. I often find myself now in conversations with family and friends where I am judged for sharing my opinions on political topics like terrorism and Arab immigration–but the things I’ve learned through GIEU are too important to stay quiet about, even if it mean sacrificing the comfort of easy relationships. I feel a duty now to be a voice for those who have no voice in American society. In this way, my perspective and subsequently my identity has changed. I am not simply an American, but a citizen of the world.
To find out more about our GIEU programs visit us at http://mcompass.umich.edu