Connecting through language

MEET - January 2017

Many students in the US take at least one foreign language class during their high school careers. As with most things, some students hate their foreign language classes, some love them, and some could care less about them. I learned French in high school and actually really enjoyed it. The nerdy side of me enjoyed mastering various verb conjugations and learning new vocabulary words. And of course, watching French movies was quite entertaining. Since arriving in the Middle East, however, I have discovered what I think is an even more important outcome of learning a foreign language.

True Story #1:

After spending a long night at the open session for Nazareth students, Ted and I go for a walk near our hostel. Ted wants me to meet his “potato friend” whom he had met the previous week. We arrive at the door of a small baked potato shop and are welcomed in by a man…

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Something New

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

—Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

I’ve been in Jerusalem for 18 days now. The newness of being in a different country has gradually worn off, which means that I’ve had more time to think about my surroundings. The other day, I found myself really upset, and I was having a hard time articulating why. Now, I realize that it was because I felt like an outsider—I don’t belong here.

All my life, I’ve lived in places where it was relatively easy for me to fit in. I was familiar with the culture and the customs, and I always managed to find food that was familiar to my taste buds. But here, no matter what I say or do, I’ll always look different from everyone else. And while the food here is great and an adventure in and of itself, I really do miss Asian food.

But then I reminded myself why I decided to relocate to Jerusalem in the first place. It is a city flooded with religious and historical significance, and I was eager to learn as much as I could about it all. The cuisine would be different from what I was used to, but I figured it was about time that I grow out of my picky-eater lifestyle. And probably most importantly, I wanted to meet the people who love and care about this region so much that they would fight to protect it.

Every single one of those reasons involved experiencing something new. Of course, it would be uncomfortable. Of course, I wouldn’t feel at home. That’s the whole point of new experiences.

Humans are social beings, and when it comes down to it, all we want is to be accepted. I fell into the trap of thinking that to be accepted, I needed to be like everyone else here. But quite frankly, that’s out of my control.

What I can do, however, is continue learning as much as I can about this region and the wonderful people who live here. My job is not to blend into society here, but rather to stretch my mind with these new experiences. When I leave Jerusalem in two weeks’ time, I’ll be taking with me a new strength: a new lens with which to view and appreciate the world around me.

Students will be students

MEET - January 2017

It’s been a while since I wrote specifically about the MEET students, so I thought now would be as good of a time as any.

My typical teaching schedule looks like this:

SundayYear 2FlaskJerusalem
MondayYear 1Python OOP and inheritanceJerusalem
TuesdayAllOpen Session (office hours)Jerusalem
WednesdayAllOpen Session (office hours)Nazareth
ThursdayYear 1Python OOP and inheritanceNazareth

As you might notice, we see each student 1-2 times per week, which is not a lot, considering that Shankha and I are here for only four weeks. Anyway, we’ve been doing the best we can to make the most out of each 3-hour session.

I’ve noticed that the students generally are not afraid to ask for help when they need it. In fact, they are so comfortable asking questions that sometimes they’ll forgo the process of reading the instructions…

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Israel Museum Finds

Appreciating art in Jerusalem

MEET - January 2017

The worst part about getting my phone stolen is being unable to share the photos that I took today during my walk through the Rehavia Park Valley of the Cross and at the Israel Museum. You’ll just have to accept the reproducible photos that I found online.

I’ve actually never gone to a museum by myself, so it was pretty neat having the freedom to go through the exhibits at my own pace. Rather than try and cover every inch (or centimeter) of the museum, I chose to delve into only a few exhibits.

Shrine of the Book

My first stop was the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are tons of pictures online of the white dome, which is supposed to resemble the tops of the jars that originally housed the scrolls.

1280px-israel_-_jerusalem_-_shrine_of_the_book Shrine of the Book

Less commonly photographed is the black basalt wall…

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Attention aux pickpockets

How do I manage to get myself into these situations…

MEET - January 2017

No, I did not photograph the anti-pickpocket graffiti. In fact, I am sorry to report that I will not be sharing any of the photos I took today. It’s a shame because there were some awesome photos in today’s batch.

Now, the reason why I won’t be sharing my photos is that I can’t. My phone was stolen as I was walking along Yafo Street. Some old man came up behind me and tried to sell me a string of postcards. He was getting all up in my personal space, but I thought it was just because he really wanted to sell me postcards. I insisted that I didn’t want to buy any, and eventually he let me leave. As I kept walking down the street, I started to feel a little bad for not purchasing postcards from him. That is until I reached the next intersection and realized that my phone was…

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And so the teaching begins

MEET - January 2017


In preparation for our first day of teaching, one of the MEET instructors, Ted, gave us a pep talk about how to interact with the students. According to Ted, there are usually no problems with Israeli and Palestinian students working together in the classroom; it’s during the breaks that the students tend to self-segregate by nationality.

During class, the computer science material is the common bridge that connects the Israeli and Palestinian students, but during the breaks, it is up to the instructors to serve as that neutral bridge for the students. It’s not enough just to serve as the bridge, however. Ted stresses the importance of eventually stepping out of the way so that the Israeli and Palestinian students feel like they’re interacting with each other and not just the instructor.

Let’s say that it’s break time, and the students have clustered off by nationality. Just as an example, Ted…

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Deeper understanding

MEET - January 2017

Our mission is to educate and empower tomorrow’s most promising Palestinian and Israeli leaders to take action towards creating positive social and political impact in the Middle East.
—MEET mission statement

Spending the day with Lorenzo gave us an opportunity to learn more about the history of MEET, as well as how the program has evolved since its conception in 2004. I thought I’d share a brief story from yesterday that resonated with me.

A relatively newer component of the MEET program is the Deeper Understanding curricula. The goal of this additional component is to help foster—you guessed it—a deeper understanding between the Israeli and Palestinian students. Lorenzo told us about one particular emotion-filled Deeper Understanding class, during which the students were asked to bring in an object that meant a lot to their family and culture. One Palestinian student brought the keys to his grandmother’s home before they were…

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Safe arrival in Jerusalem

The beginning of a month-long adventure in Jerusalem and Nazareth!

MEET - January 2017


After a full day of traveling, Shankha and I finally made it to our apartment in Jerusalem! Even though we haven’t spent a full day here yet, I’ve already noticed a few cultural differences since boarding my plane to Tel Aviv.

The first thing that struck me on my flight from San Francisco to Tel Aviv was how friendly the passengers were with each other. I’ll admit that whenever I board an airplane, I always wonder who the person sitting next to me will be and whether or not we’ll have an interesting conversation. More often that not, we don’t speak a word to each other besides excusing ourselves to go to the bathroom. However, on my Tel Aviv flight, I noticed several strangers striking up friendly conversations with each other. They were speaking in Hebrew, so I had no idea what they were talking about, though I did pick up the words 

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