The Case for Dialogue

 

Story by Connor Sadler, sadler.c@husky.neu.edu

This summer I had the wonderful experience of traveling on one of Northeastern University’s “Dialogue of Civilizations programs”. This one month foreign immersion allowed me to take two classes whilst also exploring and enjoying the delights of Israel.  The beauty of dialogues, is that because they are short-term summer programs, rather than traditional semester-long programs, they give students who are unsure of studying abroad the opportunity to test the waters.

While the number of international students coming to America is increasing, less than two percent of American students studied abroad in the 2013-2014 academic year.  Because we are living in a more globalized age, it is important to encourage students to be global citizens through study abroad programs like these.

Having been interested in learning more about the Arab-Israeli conflict for some time, I decided to go on the dialogue to Israel and the West Bank, with Professor Dov Waxman and Professor Lori Lefkovitz. I can say without a doubt that this was the most valuable travelling and educational experience I have had in college thus far.  

People often worry that the due to to the controversial nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, implicit bias’ are inevitable.  However, the structure of this trip made that impossible. We were to learn about a number of key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ranging from settlements, to the status of Jerusalem and the issue of refugees, in an unbiased, holistic nature.

During our visit to the Old City of Jerusalem,  we saw both Jewish and Muslim holy sites, and heard both Jewish and Muslim perspectives on the issues facing Jerusalem. Similarly, during our visit to the West Bank, we saw both a Palestinian refugee camp and an Israeli settlement. Due to the fact that we visited both Israeli and Palestinian sites, we were exposed to speakers who held a diverse range of opinions – which in turn provoked engaging and diverse discussion between the speakers and the students.

At the beginning of the dialogue, Professor Waxman warned us that we would be confused by the end of the trip.  He also went on to reassure us that this was not necessarily a bad thing. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue in which many people already have preconceived notions, including myself.  However, this trip challenged many of my opinions and even as many months have passed, I am still torn on many aspects of the conflict.  This experience has encouraged me to continually learn and read about the issues I saw first hand while abroad.

How many university students could say they have been to the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and met the US ambassador to Israel in a month, whilst listening to a variety of different speakers and taking two classes at the same time? I would imagine that this would be a very small number.  This opportunity is somewhat of an untapped resource in the university experience, that allows students to gain hands-on experience outside of the classroom. We can learn about foreign countries by reading about them in books and watching documentaries, but there is no replacement for travelling to these countries, interacting with locals, hearing their views on the issues they face, and observing the way that they live.

My trip is just one of many examples in which study abroad can be an effective way to widen your horizons and allow you to hear new perspectives on a number of issues.  Study abroad can be a lifechanging experience and this month-long immersive option offered by Northeastern is an exemplary program. Students are exposed to new perspectives and ways of life, that they can bring back to campus and share with fellow students. It is vital that universities explore innovative ways to incentivize students to study abroad, as Northeastern has done with their dialogue of civilizations programs, in order to maximize the college experience and gain global perspectives.