Israel spring 2011
WMU senior Stephanie Iovan with children at a Tanzanian orphanage
My interest in learning about people and places overseas began in high school, when I was introduced to the organization, Invisible Children. The organization’s compassion and dedication to saving the lives of children forced to become soldiers not only sparked my interest in learning more about Africa, but the rest of the world as well. I made a commitment to travel and learn as much as I could about foreign people, places and cultures, which resulted in my exposure to significant life-changing experiences that have contributed greatly to my education and given direction to my career path.
Majoring in Global and International Studies at Western Michigan University has been extremely beneficial. Declaring this major, combined with a social work minor, has allowed me to take intellectually stimulating classes and has greatly deepened my awareness of our complex world. I am focusing on sociology and Africa—two topics for which I have great interest—as well as taking courses on Russian history and United States government.
Along with the wide range of classes offered by the multi-disciplinary Global and International Studies program, I have had incredible opportunities to travel. In May of 2010, I left Kalamazoo and ventured to Arusha, Tanzania for three weeks. There, I volunteered at Cradle of Love orphanage, caring for underprivileged or abandoned infants and toddlers. Though my title was volunteer, I felt more like a mother to the children in the orphanage. Cradle of Love opened my eyes to a whole new world of poverty, struggle, and beauty.
My most memorable experience in Tanzania was at a hotel pool just around the corner from my volunteer house. Joined by a few other volunteers, we took a small group of neighborhood kids to the pool for a day. After only an hour of games and swimming, the kids fiercely debated in Swahili whether or not that was the best day of their lives. That alone was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
My exploration of Tanzania included a four-day safari. I will never forget witnessing lions, giraffes and elephants freely roaming the Serengeti. Needless to say, the three weeks I spent in Africa dramatically changed my life and strengthened my desire to travel and study the world.
In January of 2011, I embarked on another adventure to Israel for a study abroad experience. During my seven months in Jerusalem, one of the holiest places on Earth, I was exposed to devout Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and the most right winged Israelis and Arabs. I gained an entirely new perspective on the Israeli-Arab conflict and discovered conflicts I was unaware of that resided within the religious community. Also, I was able to meet my Israeli relatives and gain a cohesive sense of identity from the connections we made.
The classes I took at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem expanded my global knowledge and also greatly increased my Hebrew skills. Although many Israelis spoke English, knowing Hebrew was definitely a useful tool. Shopping in the local markets and speaking only Hebrew was a thrilling experience and gave me the chance to feel like a part of the community.
One course I took at Hebrew University, Archaeology of Jerusalem, was structured differently than anything I had taken at WMU. We took field trips nearly every day. Walking on the stone streets of The Old City of Jerusalem was like walking through history. My favorite expedition was exploring areas below the streets of Jerusalem and walking along remains of the original Western Wall dating back more than 2,000 years ago.
Israel has a very unique quality, one I had never seen before. The northern part of the country is very green, covered by grasslands and trees, and the southern part offers a completely different landscape— miles and miles of beautiful desert and blue sky. Hiking and exploring in the Negev desert, where we were frequently accompanied by Bedouin settlers, offered one of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever experienced. The time I spent living in Israel affected my life in the best way possible. I am forever grateful for the knowledge I gained and the life-long friendships I made, both of which have contributed significantly to my personal growth.
Connecting with members of my extended family in Israel encouraged me to learn even more about my past. From Israel, I took a short trip to Eastern Europe with my family in hopes of retracing our roots. We began by touring the beautiful architecture of Budapest and eventually made our way to Ukraine. Going from the beautiful Westernized world of Israel to the underdeveloped small towns of Ukraine was difficult. We spent days exploring the streets where my grandparents grew up and walked through the designated “Ghetto” my grandmother lived in before deportation to Auschwitz. The experience was one I’ll remember the rest of my life.
This semester, I had the good fortune to land an internship working on outreach for the Global and International Studies program. Working in the Haenicke Institute for Global Education is helping me develop valuable professional skills and has given me the opportunity to work closely with accomplished professors and administrators. My enthusiasm for the GIS program and traveling greatly aids me in my work recruiting students for the program and encouraging them to study abroad.
As I evaluate my post-graduation plans, I am excited to consider the many life-changing experiences ahead of me. A year from now I hope to be teaching English in India. The list of places I want to travel to grows longer every day, and I can’t wait to embark on my next adventure.