Blog #1 - April 28, 2018

Tomorrow, I’m leaving to go on my study abroad program. I fly out of JFK on Monday, and I’ll be landing in Tel Aviv the next day. My program is the Global Connections Course for Israel and Palestine, and we will be studying conflict and coexistence on the ground. I don’t have a lot of information about this program, but I’m optimistic that I will learn things about both myself and the conflict. For the first week, we’re traveling around Israel and the West Bank. The remaining two weeks will be in home stays in Sakhnin, which we’ve been told is an Arab city within Israel. Additionally, at the end of the program I will be taking a side trip to Paris, France. I’ll be out of the United States for a total of 30 days.

While I’m in Israel, I’m interested to see how my identities change within different contexts. I’m assuming that I’ll be able to see my American nationality play a greater role in how I move through spaces, as I just take that for granted while I’m in America. I’m also interested to see how truly American I look, and whether or not I stand out physically — I’m white, blonde, and I have tattoos. I know that in Arab and Jewish culture, it’s not really acceptable to be tattooed, and mine are visible and colorful. I’m not nervous about any possible reactions, but I am extremely curious because I truly don’t know what the responses will be. This is my first time being out of the US.

I’m trying to go into this trip with an open mind. We haven’t been given a lot of specific information (which is probably for security reasons) and I don’t feel like I have any great firsthand knowledge of Arab or Israeli culture at this point. The things I’m most worried about at this point are flight logistics and actually getting there. After that, I’m going to just go with the flow as much as possible and try to not worry about things that are out of my control. I feel like this study abroad will be, among other things, a lesson in how to let go of my Type A desire to know everything.

Blog #2 - May 17, 2018

Today was the first day of Ramadan here in Sakhnin, and I was invite  to my first iftar. Iftar literally means “to break fast,” and it’s the meal that comes after the sun goes down during Ramadan. For the US, Ramadan started yesterday. However, it’s supposed to actually start when an imam sees the crescent moon in the sky, so if there are clouds, Ramadan can get pushed back a day — which it did, in this circumstance. Although I am no longer staying with my host family because of logistical reasons, they still insisted that I eat with them. It was a great meal, and I’ve realized that as an American woman, I’m able to be in certain spaces that I wouldn’t otherwise be “allowed” if I were apart of this community.

After iftar, the host’s mother cleared the dishes and the men stayed outside to smoke shisha, drink coffee, and talk. I had noticed that in the city, I haven’t seen any women out in the evening. Our host student, Majd, explained that most Arab families don’t let their daughters out past dark. It doesn’t say anything to the safety of the city, but more to just a culture that places emphasis on honor and respecting women. My break with this cultural norm helps to explain why I’d been so heavily stared at and catcalled during my three minute walk from my apartment to Majd’s home tonight. Aside from just standing out as a blonde, white, tattooed, American-looking woman, I’ve been breaking some social expectations by being outside at all in the evening.

This especially extends to sitting outside with the men after dark — but they let me, as an outsider. In the intersectionality of being a woman and being an outsider, the outsider status made it more acceptable for me to sit in, ask questions, but mostly just exist in the space and observe. It still wasn’t that straightforward, though. Majd explicitly said to me that Arab girls weren’t really allowed in these spaces, but when I asked him if I should leave he was adamant that I was fine. His phrasing was: “You’re with me,” which was striking. It could have been read in multiple ways. In one way, I could have been fine in any case, but especially fine because I was with him. Or, it could have been read that I wouldn’t have been okay, but because Majd was there, I was. Either way, there’s an underlying idea of having a man responsible for me, which I was grateful of in any case. In any space, male- or female- oriented, I’m glad to know that someone has my back. It gives me more time to contemplate international, intersecting identities.

Blog #3 - May 31, 2018

I’m back! After a brief overnight stay in Ann Arbor, I drove the hour back to my parent’s house, which is where I’ll be for the next few days before I start my summer internship. My transition back to the US was quick and odd. My first interaction with the public was at the bank, and I was surprised to find that I was surprised when the bank teller asked me about my tattoos. We talked about Ann Arbor/Ypsi area tattoo artists, where I got mine done, and other things of that nature. After being in places where English is not the primary language, being able to have more than a basic conversation with a stranger was an unexpected change. I hadn’t realized how truly isolating it was being so reliant on using basic English phrases to communicate.

As far as my identity as a woman goes, I’ve seen it transition back home differently than I thought I would. I assumed that I would get back to America and find that I was no longer going to be catcalled, stared at, or shamelessly made to feel uncomfortable — which, in hindsight, was the dumbest thing I could have assumed. I fell into the idealized trap of “home,” forgetting every experience I’ve had as a woman in America. I went grocery shopping by myself this afternoon, and I was stared at uncomfortably by two different men in the span of a twenty minute shopping trip. I don’t mean stared down. I mean stared at, looked up and down, skin-crawlingly studied. While there isn’t any deep, misogynistic language or actions being taken, it just proves the point to me that socialization and patriarchal structures run deeply across the world.

As I’ve been having to explain my trip to family and friends, I’ve realized how much I have to say. I don’t think I could fully encompass my trip in any amount of hours of talking, and I’m doing my best to explain my experiences in the most accurate, efficient ways. I’ve noticed how much respect my insights and firsthand experiences are getting me, particularly from my father. While we have differing opinions about the conflict in Israel, he’s been very receptive of
the real, indisputable facts and figures I’ve presented him. Even in this small, interpersonal way, I’ve realized how I have become an ambassador of what I learned to my own community. I look forward to seeing how else it plays out in the future.