Reflections on My Time at Hebrew University
By Helen Kosc, Toronto
I am a firm believer that the most rewarding things in life lie just beyond our comfort zones.
Having grown up with a fascination for human behaviour and decision-making, it was only fitting that I studied Sociology and Psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, recognized internationally for its faculty in these programs.
During my first year of undergraduate studies, I was encouraged by my older brothers to apply for a Summer Study Abroad experience at Hebrew University. They were both HU alumni, having both partaken in the Coexistence summer courses when they were my age.
Having spent my first year of undergrad studying the complexity of human relationships, the importance of culture and tradition for human behaviour, and the strength that comes with collective action, I was curious to learn about religious and cultural coexistence by witnessing and experiencing it, firsthand, in Jerusalem, Israel.
So in July 2017, I found myself at Hebrew University enrolled in two summer courses –Coexistence in the Middle East: The History of the Jewish Palestinian Conflict and The Rise of the Arab Spring. These courses allowed me to immerse myself in real human experiences that I would otherwise only read about in textbooks.
Our classroom extended far beyond the walls of a lecture hall: we visited the Lebanese and Syrian borders, toured the Israeli hospital responsible for treating hundreds of Syrian refugees, explored parts of the West Bank, toured parts of Israel next to the Gaza Strip, even camped in Bedouin tents overnight and rode camels in the Judean Desert near Masada.
One of the most rewarding aspects of these courses was the amount of unique personal histories and perspectives we were exposed to: We spoke with members of the Knesset (Israeli parliament), United Nations stationed soldiers, members of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, members of the Palestinian Authority, grieving parents who had lost children in the conflict, religious leaders, and average citizens. Despite how different each person’s history and experiences were, as a Sociology and Psychology student, I was struck by the stories, values and commonalities that bind human beings together.
I also learned an incredible amount from my peers and classmates. For the first time, my classmates all came from incredibly different backgrounds – geographically, academically and culturally. This meant I was learning even during weekend trips to Tel Aviv with friends or evening adventures in Jerusalem with classmates. Three years later, and I’m proud to say I still keep in contact with so many of them, even bumping into some when travelling to different parts of the world.
Israel is a beautiful place, and Jerusalem is a city like no other in the world. My one month at Hebrew University taught me more about human behaviour, the value of culture and faith, and the importance of individual perspective than I could have ever imagined. This is because by pushing myself out of my comfort zone, traveling to a place I had never been and immersing myself in a culture that was new to me, I was learning in the most impactful way… experiencing.
Helen graduated from Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree, as a Sociology Major and Psychology Minor. This fall, she will begin an MSc in Sociology at The University of Oxford.