Israel/Palestine Preparations

28 February 2017 – Tara Kleponis

After planning for months of traveling to Israel and Palestine, the trip is finally days away, and I’m struggling to fathom just how soon I’ll be abroad. As soon as I learned about an opportunity to travel to an area with a culture so rich and a conflict so deep that the only way to understand is to go, I knew I had to be there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip where I will experience religion and disdain, homestays and hotels, bussing and hiking, new foods, new oceans, and so much more. I’d never imagined that my senior year would include a journey to a region brand new to me, yet here I am, packing my suitcase and gathering my passport.

In Israel and Palestine, I will be speaking to locals to hear their stories and learn about their cultures. As there is conflict ongoing in the area, I will be sure to hear stories that contrast with one another in belief and action, yet every single one will be true. Why is that? Each person has had their own experience, and some have dealt with situations which have caused them to look at the world and their neighbors in different ways. While abroad, it is not the job of us Westtown students to draw conclusions about what we encounter, but to listen respectfully and learn from those we meet.

I cannot wait to explore a place so different from the one I know, and hope to see the world in a new way, or a bigger way, upon my return. Here I will share my personal experiences from Israel and Palestine–talk to you soon!

Cuba: Prologue Edition

First, let me start by introducing myself.  My name is Madison Rice, I prefer to go by Maddie, I am a senior this year, and I have very little experience with the Spanish language.  What I mean by that is I completed Spanish 2 and proceeded to drop the course, therefore I am not anywhere near fluent.  I can choke out a few butchered sentences about the weather and my day, so I’m very nervous to completely dive into a whole new society where English is not their first language.  Quite frankly, I’m terrified.  This sense of fear has been shoved to the side as I’ve been packing and getting ready for the trip, but now that I’m a little over one day away from loading my suitcase onto a plane and flying to Cuba, the fear has settled in.

This fear is accompanied by a strong desire for adventure and curiosity.  I am excited to dive into a new country and to be enveloped by a new culture.  I’m overwhelmed with joy to be able to go to a country with beautiful weather.  I’m also excited to be able to take this leap into Cuba with many of my friends.  This is my final hoorah as a senior at Westtown, my second home.  I am so thankful for this opportunity and I cannot wait to come back and share my experience, and learn about other senior projects once we return from spring break.

Maddie Rice


Before Israel/Palestine

I’ve wanted to go on this trip since 8th grade, when I took Middle Eastern History with T. John McKinstry. He had just gone on the trip and was telling us all about it. I remember sitting there and thinking how amazing this trip sounded. I was ready to stop sitting in a classroom and go visit these places. Unfortunately I would have to wait four more years.

The purpose of the trip is to learn about the religious significance of the region and the ongoing conflict. We will be visiting many religious sites along with sites of conflict, such as the Separation Wall and the Aida Refugee Camp. We will be talking with people from both sides of the conflict to hear their views and opinions.

Our many pre-trip meetings have provided excellent information. I feel so much more knowledgeable and prepared to delve into the region’s issues because of our research and discussion. I have been aware, however, that everyone in our group tends to see the issues similarly. That’s fine of course; it’s great to be traveling with people who share values and perspectives. But I do want to be careful that I never get stuck in group think or feel pressure to conform to a certain opinion. I won’t be a valuable contributor to the group if I fail to promote and respect independent thinking.

Something I’ve realized with the recent election is that some people fundamentally see the world differently than I do. It’s easy to become frustrated and angry and blast my political opponents with what I consider persuasive information. That doesn’t work. What I’ve tried to do recently is more fully understand what they think and why they think it. I’ve got to carry this new approach with me to Israel/Palestine. I can’t go in thinking I know how people should feel or act. People have lived different lives and have different perspectives. It would be incredibly arrogant to think I know how to solve the region’s centuries-old conflicts. I’m going there to listen to everyone with thoughtful respect. I will learn everything I can, and then come home and process the information. I will then be able to develop a much more enlightened and nuanced understanding of this globally important region with its rich culture and complicated, sometimes terrifying problems.

Jane Mentzinger