One of my favorite aspects of being in Jerusalem was becoming friends with a Palestinian kid, who we’ll call Michael. It was an unlikely friendship. Michael is 18 and has lived in East Jerusalem his whole life. He’s Muslim and had never had any close female or non-Arab friends. I’m 22, Christian – Protestant at that – and have lived in Arkansas my whole life. For me, zatar is exotic and for him, tacos. But here we were, both sitting in an ulpan classroom at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as if we were both foreigners, learning Hebrew.
So, proximity and curiosity made us friends. He told me about Islam. I told him about Christianity. He introduced me to his friends. I introduced him to mine. He taught me Arabic phrases. I explained English ones. He took me to Ramallah. I took him to the Garden Tomb. And it was there, at the Garden Tomb, where our friendship made the most sense.
We both had our audio-guides – his in Arabic, mine in English – and were standing at the Garden’s overlook. He was looking out over the main Arab bus station in Jerusalem and I was looking out toward Skull Hill when he said, “You know, I walk by this every day, and I’ve always wondered what’s up here.” Suddenly, we had switched roles.
You see, wherever we go, whether we’re playing the part of Michael or me, we have something to both learn and teach. It’s the beautiful give and take nature of friendship that finds its most obvious expression when there are major differences, when it’s the differences that in fact make us friends at all.
Studying abroad didn’t only expose me to the new, but gave me fresh eyes for the familiar. While I was gone, I learned about other religions from their actual followers, and I learned about international politics, economics, customs, food and art … but I also learned so much about my own personality, faith and culture, which led to thoughts of both appreciation and critique.
Thank you, Ouachita, for giving students a variety of opportunities to grow in the disciplines of awareness and curiosity. There are all kinds of things waiting for us “up there,” whether we’re home or on the other side of the world.
Interested in studying abroad? The application deadline is March 1. To learn more about Ouachita’s study abroad program, click here.