Just Like Me: Meeting Israeli Students from Brenner High School

By Bailey D., New Brunswick, NJ

Nobody said that moving halfway across the world for four months would be easy. During my first couple weeks at URJ Heller High, the new challenges that I faced forced me to mature and reach out of my comfort zone. Adapting to such a unique environment can be a difficult task for some, but the opportunities that the program provides make it easier for us to adjust to our new home. One of these opportunities was our trip to visit Israeli students at Brenner High School.

My peers and I were at odds about what to expect from this excursion. When I first heard the plan, I was doubtful that I would be able to connect and communicate with people who were raised in such a drastically different environment. What could children living thousands of miles apart expect to have in common? How could I possibly become friends with kids who speak an entirely different language? Thankfully, though, my worries were soon eased. When we arrived at Brenner, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large crowd of students who, if I had not known otherwise, I would have assumed to be ordinary American students just like myself. They had similar haircuts, wore the same clothing, and stared at their phones with the same admiration. Seemingly, the thousands of miles separating us had little to no effect on our lifestyles.

Heller High and Brenner students mingle

The planned activities allowed us to practice our Hebrew while also learning about the lives of our Israeli peers. However, it was not the activities that made this trip meaningful, but the time we were given to converse freely with the Israeli students. I had the privilege of meeting and speaking to an Israeli girl named Sarah. Like me, she enjoyed playing sports and hanging out with her friends after school. She told me about her annoying older brothers, the fight she was currently having with the girl sitting just a few chairs away from us, and her constant internal struggle to find the motivation to finish her homework. She seemed to be the Israeli version of myself. I was shocked to hear how analogous our lives were, despite living on opposite sides of the world.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned from the visit to Brenner was the fervent interest that the Israeli students had concerning the United States and our culture. It was fulfilling to be able to tell them about the things they were so eager to know about American society. I was invigorated in a passionate conversation with a fellow basketball player about Lebron James, and I enjoyed hearing one boy’s opinion on Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address. From these conversations, I was able to understand a perspective that I had never recognized before: people living in other countries feel utter fascination toward the United States. It was interesting to talk to the students about their glorified ideas about America because it allowed me to realize how fortunate I am to live where I live and have what I have.

This interaction was eye-opening to say the least. I surely had not expected to form such a prominent connection with some of the Israeli students. Overall, the experience is one that I will never forget and I am looking forward to keeping in touch with my new Israeli friends.

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