If you have an interest in political science, history, the Middle East, and traveling, there is no reason not to apply to the Mandel Palagye Program (due February 19th). This summer abroad option is 5 weeks long and gives students an in-depth look at the Israeli-Arab conflict. Being a part of this program was without a doubt the most impactful experience I have had at Tulane, as I have never learned so much in such a short period of time.
What Is It?
Deets: There are two weeks of classes on Tulane’s campus and 3 weeks of classes and hands-on learning in Israel and Jordan. 15 students are selected for the program each year and upon completion, those students earn 6 college credits (2 in Jewish studies, 2 in political science, and 2 in history). The trip is lead by Professor Kiel, Professor Akin, and Professor Horowitz.
Who can go?: Anyone can apply, regardless of year or major. The main requirement is to show interest in the Middle East through prior coursework. I asked Professor Kiel the ideal type of student they are looking for, and she said “someone who is serious academically, but also really curious, because in order to keep your interest for five weeks, you have to really want to know a lot about the issue.”
FREE. That’s right. No catch. You get 6 credits, a flight to Israel, housing, and a plethora of activities provided at no cost, due to a very generous donation. While at Tulane, you are provided with on campus housing and a meal voucher (treat yo’self to as much avocado toast at Rimon as you want). In Israel/Jordan, you are provided with breakfast and often other meals as well, though you should plan to spend at least around $400 on dinner, travel, and other activities you may want to do in your free time.
Some recs: go to Tel Aviv for at least a weekend! You can rent an airbnb or stay at this fun hostel right on the beach https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Tel-Aviv-Beachfront-Hostel/Tel-Aviv/51675. Buses from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv run pretty frequently and only take about 1 hour.
Markets: Get your fam souvenirs at Mahane Yehuda market (a giant open market also referred to as The Shuk). Make sure to go there at least one Thursday night, where the whole market turns into a really fun scene with lots of bars and dancing.
What Do You Do On It?
The first two weeks of the program are held on Tulane’s campus at the end of May (giving you time to go home and breathe for a minute after finals before coming back). Classes were 4.5 hours per day (3 classes for 1.5 hours each).
In Israel, you attend daily lectures at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace and have site visits as well. We met with incredibly influential people, from academics to government officials and politicians. Some key speakers included the former head of the Mossad, a delegate from the PLO, and different party members in the Knesset. We also got to talk periodically with graduate students at the University, which was really cool, because it gave us an understanding of the experiences of people our own age.
Site visit to the Knesset
These in depth discussions were unlike anything I have ever experienced in a classroom setting. We were encouraged to “push the envelope” and challenge the speakers by asking them ANYTHING we wanted to know, no matter how controversial. How often in life do you get the chance to do that with such prominent experts and leaders? A fellow student on my trip, James Buchsbaum, noted that these day-to-day discussions were his favorite part of the trip because of “the countless opportunities to meet with individuals who experienced the conflict daily, and brought unique perspectives about the situation that forced me to reconsider my perspective.”
Advice and Things to Consider:
It can be hard mentally and emotionally. The Israeli-Arab conflict is a sensitive one, and everything you think you know about it will be challenged. As a Jewish student who had already been to Israel several times before, this program gave me a completely new viewpoint that I was never exposed to before. Kiel notes that, “you’re not going to go home feeling like you did something and have the answers – you’re going to have more questions coming out of the program than you did coming in.” It was not uncommon for students to shed tears out of frustration, helplessness, or confusion after hearing a speaker, as the conversations we had were not easy, but that was what made the program so impactful.
It’s hard academically. Those 6 credits are not just handed to you – you are going to have several hours of reading each night, especially during those two weeks at Tulane. However, if you’re interested in this topic, the work will be really insightful and helpful, and will definitely enhance your understanding once you’re in the Middle East.
You are also required to write several essays after returning from Israel. The deadlines will come up pretty fast, so make sure you understand that there is still more work to do even after you hop off the plane and go home.
Holidays. Hebrew University is located in Jerusalem, where much of the city shuts down Friday evening through Saturday for Shabbat. Make sure to plan for this before stores and transportation close, in case you want to travel to another city that weekend or stock up on food you can cook in your apartment if you’re staying in Jerusalem.
You will also be in Jerusalem and Jordan while Ramadan is occurring, which is from May 15-June 14 this year. Make sure to be respectful, as fasting during long, hot summer days is surely difficult, and drinking/eating in front of people who celebrate the holiday definitely doesn’t make it easier for them! Also note that many Muslim vendors/owners will close their shops before sundown in order to go home and celebrate each night.
If the opportunity to explore one of the most challenging and deep-rooted conflicts gets you excited, this trip will be right up your alley. Funding for the Mandel-Palagye program for next year is not guaranteed, so now is really the time to apply.