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Developing Citizens of the World Through International Experiences

By Marji Itayem, Senior honors student majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies: Global Studies with a concentration in Society and Culture

Through Ready for the World initiative, CHP transforms students into discovering opportunities to transform textbook material into firsthand escapades. Although my interdisciplinary major enhances my deep appreciation and respect for all cultures as well as openness to others’ perspectives, values, and traditions, my experience abroad has proved transcendent.My work in occupied Palestine in the summer of 2014 consisted of daily visits to the city of Ramallah’s central hospital, Palestine Medical Complex, which is surrounded by shops selling colorful clothes, kitchenware, and cell phones. I became aware of the struggles that Palestinians face inside the healthcare system as Israel chooses what aid material is allowed into its city walls. Resources and technology that the hospital utilized was extremely outdated. Surprised would be a severe understatement of a reaction when I first began my involvement. As I walked into the emergency department, I saw doctors and nurses with open-toed shoes, people using needles without gloves, and a lack of customer service culture we come to expect in the West. However, these obstacles stem from a desperate deficit of hospital amenities because from the control of electricity, water, and equipment Israel takes hostage. The hospital would be decades behind current American models from its occupation situation. The staff was extremely accommodating in allowing me to participate in emergency cases in my twenty-day volunteer experience. I learned how to administer EKGs, take blood samples, and dispense intravenous drip feeds.

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Our world needs to change to have a greater focus on drawing upon a social world defined by human relationships, interactions, and sequences of events.

On the last day, as I stepped outside the hospital gates in my green scrubs, I took the inspiring personas of the hospital staff with me. Amid the constant struggles that the Palestinians face in every single aspect of their lives, they attempt to push themselves forward in the best way possible. Their current occupied situation prevents their movement into areas of their previous land, and it is not represented in Western media. Our world needs to change to have a greater focus on drawing upon a social world defined by human relationships, interactions, and sequences of events.

I have always had a strong connection to the cultural world with my identity as an Arab American in a generation battling the idea of cultural pluralism. My summer gave me unforgettable memories. During an early 6:00 a.m. six-hour excursion through the hills of Palestine, I drank rich Arabic coffee brewed over a fire and sang hymns as we stopped to enjoy an Arabic potluck among the olive trees. On another day, I hiked the ancient Palestinian ruins of Hisham’s Palace in one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho, as I stopped to snap a picture of the sycamore tree of Zacchaeus. After a teleferique (sky lift) ride, I climbed to the top of St. George’s Monastery, which is carved out of a canyon wall built in the fifth century, and provides a breathtaking view of Wadi Qelt. Before returning home, I basked in the sun covered in the mud of the Dead Sea as my skin absorbed the natural nutrients. The glass blowers of Hebron effortlessly produced perfect pottery, ornaments, and vases as the brilliant hues reflected against each other in the gift shop. The Mahmoud Darwish museum sits on top of a hill that is a mere twenty-minute walk from our apartment in Ramallah, and reading his inspirational poetry showcases a momentous importance to my personal growth. The beauty of the walnut trees in a neighbor’s garden as we sip tea and dunk cookies is juxtaposed with the miles of bulldozed ancient olive trees as we drive past checkpoints to return to Ramallah.

Despite its beauty, food, and hospitality, Palestinian people struggle to live in subjugation to Israel. As a Palestinian, I am not allowed to enter my parents’ birth city of Jerusalem, under any circumstance. I am not allowed to visit my grandparents and ninety-six year old Tata (grandmother) Odette unless I enter through the Jordanian bridge. It takes an entire day’s journey, from the break of dawn to the evening, to enter Ramallah, Palestine, due to Israeli checkpoints. I am denied access to the Tel Aviv airport with a Palestinian passport; I am restricted entry into any area of Israel–or, rather my ancestor’s land or homes before eviction by Israel. I was able to exit Palestine and return to my home in Tennessee before the 2014 intense political strife erupted, but without assurance of peace or safety to my family.

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Even though I was born in a hospital in good ‘ol Germantown, Tennessee, I am fighting for my right to learn about my cultural and human history. to learn about our complex society. and to overcome stereotypes and ignorance of other people.

Appreciating and understanding human cultures is a step in extending my perceptions to campus in order to to spread the importance of diversity, and appreciation of human connections for all cultures, perspectives, values, and traditions in our globally connected world. I have a passion for a diverse world understanding that complements my craving for multiculturalism.

Rather than misinterpret what we do not know, we can find ways to acknowledge and learn from other cultures. Everyone has the opportunity to join the development of the cultural mosaic and can break stereotypes. To be citizens of the world, we must be aware of the community’s relationship to the larger world, and the CHP attempts to develop honors students by encouraging us to bring our world encounters back to Rocky Top.

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