Bridgett Hess - 2015 Program Participant

Wall built around Palestine

The separation wall that was built around Palestine to "protect" Israel from the Palestinians. This wall cut Palestinians off from their families, depleted their economy, and destroyed their resources.

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I have been following the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict since I was around 15. I studied in Jordan last summer, and have been studying Arabic for two going on three years now. I wanted another chance to immerse myself in the culture again.

Why did you choose your specific program in Palestine?

I graduate in May 2015, and I hope to work in Palestine post-graduation. However, I was unsure if I wanted to pursue a career in the political sphere or NGO sphere. This internship was meant to help me make that decision.

What was your favorite part about Hebron?

The favorite part was that Hebron, Palestine helped me learn about the conflict first hand. Hebron gave me the opportunity to witness the impact of the conflict while still watching the culture of the people flourish. It is split into H1 and H2 (Hebron 1 and Hebron 2), where the Palestinian Authority governs one half of the city and the Israeli Army controls the other. Seeing this separation, living next to settlements, and hearing the stories from dozens of people that live under the constraints of the occupation daily opened my eyes.

An international relations student in the U.S. can sit in a class and debate the solution as much as they want, but it becomes a whole lot more complicated when you are sitting in the house of one of the people living your debate topic. This location gave me the perspective I needed to see the conflict without the lens of Western media.

What made your program unique?

This program is one that not many people can put down on their resume. True. However, for me that is not what makes it unique. What makes it unique is that this internship put me right in the middle of human rights history. Years from now when the occupation is over, the Palestinians are free and the Israelis have found security that does not jeopardize the existence of others, I will be able to tell stories of the demonstrations I witnessed and the people I met. I can tell people I was there; I experienced the history they are reading about.

Quote on the separation wall in Bethlehem

A quote on the separation wall in Bethlehem - The people decided since they had no say in its construction, they would make the best out of its existence. They call for an end of the occupation that helped further the occupation's presence in order to make a point. The point is: the occupation helps no one; it hurts everyone.

How did the local staff support you throughout your time in Palestine?

The staff was absolutely amazing. I am still great friends with many of them. They were not just directors, they were friends. They cared for me like we had known each other for years, and when you are alone in a foreign country that is exactly what you need.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had extended my stay and spent more time with the locals. This trip was meant to be about learning about the conflict; the people are the conflict. I wish I had spoken to more Israeli guards. I wish I had spent even more time trying to understand where both sides are coming from. I learned a lot, but I wish I had learned more.

Describe a day in the life of an international teacher in Palestine.

A day in the life of the program; I can only use one word to describe it: flexible. It ranged from teaching four hours a day to sipping tea and playing soccer with my host family. Meeting new friends at cafes to teaching English classes at a local refugee camp.

We did it all, and we loved every minute of it. We traveled, we taught, we experienced, but most importantly we learned. Every day, this program taught me something, and that is exactly what I signed up for.

What did you enjoy about your program, outside of the normal day-to-day scheduled activities?

Coming home to my host family. I could not begin to explain how much this family meant to me; The mother Fatima and her four children Yasmeen, Yaseen, Amer, and Anas, they were absolutely amazing. A family that has gone through so much, yet they continue to live life and smile while doing it. I promised to come back in one year and stay with them again, trust that I will uphold that promise.

Tell us more about your accommodation.

I stayed in a homestay with a bunch of the other interns. She took in about 11 of us, yet she still managed to feed us dinner every night, even during Ramadan. We all took Iftar together, like a family. She made me feel so at home, and my family, as well as myself, are forever grateful for that.

Graffiti in Israel

A plea to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking him to tear down the wall

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

It has reminded me why I started this journey so many years ago. I have started diligently studying Arabic again, as well as beginning the search for government jobs that focus on the conflict. I have regained my drive to help see peace be returned to the region.