This reflection comes from a participant from last summer’s 6 week Yahel program in Beer Sheva. This summer, Yahel in collaboration with Repair the World, is running two summer programs. One program, in Jerusalem, is exclusively for college students in the NY area and the other, in the Negev, is open to college students from all over the US.
I have come to realize that through every “big” step I have taken since I graduated from high school I have seen significant change in myself. When I was in high school I was extremely shy (even more so than what I experienced at the beginning of our trip). Going to Pitt, which is 6 hours away from my home, was a big step for me. I was very sheltered and uncomfortable in new situations. Going away from home gave me the chance to “grow up”. I experienced new things, got involved on campus and became my own person. Before going to Pitt I would have never decided to go on a 6-week program in another country without knowing anyone. Going to Israel on the Yahel program was my next “big” step. I may have regretted that decision at the very beginning of the trip. However, looking back on it now it was the best choice I ever made.
Since returning to school I feel different. I can feel a difference in how I think, how I articulate my thoughts, how I speak to others, how I read into things and pretty much how I do anything. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my Yahel experience. Each and every time I get a text, a snapchat, a Facebook notification from our Yahel group or contact anyone from our program, my day is made.
During my first two years at Pitt I felt exactly the way students at big schools are sometimes portrayed. I felt like I was just a number, one of the crowd. This semester I feel much more important on my campus and much more connected. When I go to Hillel now, I don’t feel like “one of the crowd”, I feel unique. Staff at our Hillel are so proud of what we accomplished this summer and what we are tying to accomplish with our mentoring program in Pittsburgh. Other students are intrigued by what we did and still ask us questions about our experiences. I am proud every day about my experience with Yahel, but this attention makes me feel even prouder.
I have become a leader since Yahel. I was on the Challah for Hunger board at my university, which is a club on college campuses that bakes and sells challah and sends all of the money to hunger relief. Last year I was the ”volunteer coordinator” which basically meant I sent emails. I had never imagined that I would have ran for president of the organization and certainly never thought I would become the president of an organization on campus. I attribute my leadership skills and my drive and initiative to try for this and to earn this leadership position to Yahel.
I have always been a conscientious student and have always done well. However, since Yahel I have a new perspective on learning. I have always been a very grades driven persona and have not really cared so much about what I am learning, as much as what I earn in the class. Yahel certainly changed that for me. I have become a critical thinker. And I appreciate and take advantage of all I can learn in my classes. Because of that I have done better this semester than I have ever before in college.
These changes that I see in myself have come from the women’s shelter, Shiran [the women’s shelter director], all of the other staff, and most importantly YOU and the 15 other participants on our program.
I am sure you have seen posts about our mentoring program that we are working hard at. We are so lucky that we have Repair the World fellows in our city and at our Hillel. Many students are taking advantage of working with these fellows. Our mentoring program is aimed to help children in the city where we go to school. The local Repair the World team is working with us to make it successful and sustainable. So far, it has been meaningful and I am sure it will continue to be, just as my work with sending the books to the women’s shelter and an after school program I volunteered in this semester. However, the most powerful things that I have brought back to Pittsburgh with me are what I explained earlier: the life lessons and changes I have taken away from my experience.