They say when you go on these programs abroad you “find yourself.” You learn about your strengths and weaknesses, and become a stronger person because of it all. While I’m sure I’ll understand the impact the past nine months had on my personal growth eventually, right now I can’t say this is true for me.
Rather then leaving the LIFE Program having learned about myself, I will leave having learned about people. I have met a whole host of characters, some of whom have made me laugh, some of whom have challenged my character to the very core, and all of whom I hope to always remember. So here’s to the individuals who showed me a new way of seeing things, taught me, or just made plain made me smile:
To Ralphi, the always-smiling Mumbai Jew, who welcomed us with open arms to India with his contagious laugh.
To Lakshmi and Renuka, our curious and lovable underage workers, who despite waking me up most mornings to clean the room, were easily forgivable.
To Mr. Bakshi, our eccentric Siek landlord in Hyderabad, who never seemed to master the art of knocking.
To my Hyderabad friends—Kib, Gopes, Varun, Sashi, Rajesh, and the IDEX team, who took Hyderabad by storm with me. Thanks for teaching me Settlers of Cattan and showing me the ropes of the city that can feel quite daunting.
To Manish, my boss at SKS, who challenged my way of thinking and working every single day I worked with him.
To the staff at SKS, especially Neha, Sivani, and Sakshi, who acted as my lens into everyday Indian society, and who looked out for me as if I were family.
To Swapna, Rajeshwari, Sudaker, Annand, Rajkumar, and Prakash, the staff of Naraynkhed school, whose warmth and hospitality while I spent time at their school, will always make me think fondly of rural Andhra Pradesh—despite finding a snake in my room.
To Venkat, our soft spoken country director who welcomed us into his home, despite being questionable at his actual job.
To Mark Zober, the most compassionate and kooky person I have ever met, who, in one conversation alone helped me decide my future.
To the friends I met in Jordan-- Hassan, the Egyptian protester, Madian, the out-and-proud restaurant owner, and Mohanned, our tour guide; who by the very fact of our talking seemed to break down barriers.
To Nir, Guy, Eyal, and Tomer, founders of the Puzzle Project, whose country-boy attitude and laid-back style showed me a taste of real Israel.
To Michelle, my new Brazilian friend, who knows how to be adorable, impassioned, and an emerging social entrepreneur all in one.
To Matan, my hilarious, IDF-veteran, socialist friend, who isn’t afraid to be a little different.
To Anna, my long-time childhood friend, who I was able to see in a whole new way, as a dedicated advocacy coordinator and ultimate Tel Aviv hostess.
To the gay Palestinians at the drag show, who challenged social norms by just being themselves.
To Kate and Florentine, the founders of Tov Lada’at, who showed me the meaning of true dedication, because having a full-time job and running a non-profit in your free time is certainly not easy.
To all of the asylum-seekers and refugees I had the pleasure of working with, whose resilience, strength, and intelligence is inspirational.
And to the people who count the most:
To Abby who showed me what it means to really listen and how to be supportive. Thank you for all of the good times and the laughs. You are a true friend.
To Alex whose drive, focus, and dedication are characteristics I admire. You will change the world one day.
To Amy who showed me generosity and what it really means to have a passion for a cause. You are a true activist.
To Gabe whose compassion and talent I wish I had more of. Thank you for teaching me that its ok to be sentimental sometimes.
To Phil who always knew how to make me laugh. Thank you for being your unique boxer-dog-loving Snoop-Dogg-rapping self.
To Nurit who lives life with confidence and grace. I know you will be a great success at anything you put your mind to.
To all of the aforementioned people, thank you. I said from the beginning that the next 9 months would be one wild ride, and that it was. Thank you guys for opening my eyes to new experiences and new perspectives. Thank you for making it all worthwhile.
And maybe I had it wrong in the beginning. I’ve met people from all sorts of places with all sorts of backgrounds. Maybe “finding myself” is just about finding my reflection in these people.