Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

World-sized classroom takes students to Middle East

Samantha Sussman may have learned the most significant lesson of her life last year when she spent time studying in Israel. 

“Living in Israel you recognize what’s really important in life and not to sweat the small stuff,” says Sussman, a senior international studies major from Philadelphia who spent the first six months of 2006 in Israel. 

“Being in a country that is constantly in a state of war, you learn to focus on being happy and living life to the fullest,” she says. 

Sussman’s journey was part of DU’s study-abroad program, which includes Middle Eastern countries Israel and Jordan. Students who visit Israel attend Ben-Gurion University in the city of Béer-Sheva, perched between the Mediterranean and the Dead and Red seas. 

In Jordan, students attend the School for International Training, where they study Arabic, social change, history, politics, culture and religion. Students also complete an independent study based on their interests. 

Study Abroad Associate Director Karen Becker says DU has just added Morocco and Oman to their offerings.

Becker says she believes that offering studies in the Middle East is important because it allows students to “experience firsthand the cultures that we usually only read about in the news.” Last fall, 10 DU students participated in study-abroad programs in the Middle East. 

Becker adds that as with any study-abroad program, personal experiences can help students to “understand the cultural difference while appreciating the similarities” among people.

Sussman agrees. “Don’t think you have to be Jewish to go to Israel. It’s a beautiful country with so much to see and do that’s not really related to Judaism.” 

Sussman says the region is small, making it easy to travel and experience other parts of the Middle East, such as Jordan and Egypt. 

But, she says visiting Béer-Sheva is a must. “That’s where you really experience Israel,” she says. “You’ll hang out with Israelis and speak Hebrew.” 

And, she says, “You feel safer there than you do in the United States sometimes.” 

An example: Walking to class, Sussman would pass through three security checkpoints before entering the classroom. 

“You couldn’t possibly feel more safe,” she says.

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