The following interview of Danah Kirsh was conducted by Elan Karoll.

Elan: What were your expectations going into your Israel study abroad program?

Danah: Honestly, I did not know what to think. I had never traveled to Israel before, or even been away from home for an extended period of time. I was just feeling extremely overwhelmed by the idea of being away in a foreign country for such a long period of time. That emotion was mixed with nervousness and excitement for traveling around this new country and meeting a whole group of 70 new friends to make memories with.

What was most surprising to you when you got to Israel?

What most surprised me was how Americanized the big Israeli cities truly are! You definitely feel like you are not in America, but there is so much resemblance with the stores, the restaurants, and more. The cities have hints of home. For example, McDonald’s everywhere, along with many big chain American clothing stores. This was comforting in many ways during those first few weeks of adjustment. What also surprised me was how extremely not Americanized the smaller cities were. For example take Ramat Beit Shemesh. The first time I went there – about three weeks into my nine month trip – was the first time I truly stopped and said: “Wow, I am in Israel.”

How did the experience of being in Israel change you?

One of the coolest nights was when a bunch of my friends and I were hanging out on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem and we met an Arab man who was living in Jerusalem and was proud to call himself an Arab but loved Jews and loved Jerusalem. On the news and in our day-to-day lives we see these two sides of the story as so divided, but this man proved that there is much more to it and that there are many people who are Arab living in Jerusalem just like him who just want peace. Meeting this man was definitely a very interesting and eye opening experience. I think its great being able to see for yourself what Israel is really like, and what is truly going on there. Things are so different from what you see on the news.

Did experiences like that change your thoughts about the country?

Yes. Meeting other people who share such deep concern for Israel truly allowed me to put myself in their shoes and understand so much more. I was able to do so much more than just be a tourist. I lived the life of an Israeli and experienced every type of culture the country has to offer.

What would you tell someone considering studying abroad versus staying on campus?

I think studying abroad is something everyone should do – it allows you to experience a new culture, meet new people from all walks of life, step outside of your comfort zone, and grow in a way that staying on campus will not allow. It allows you to make memories of a lifetime that are so different from the other over years on the college campus; ones that cannot be described unless you actually live it. I think that the pros of studying abroad far outweigh the cons.

So do you recommend studying abroad in Israel to other students?

Yes! I highly recommend Israel as a study abroad option for other students. I think Israel is a country combined with lots of old and new culture, tradition, history, food, and more. Exploring Israel is very easy since the entire country is the size of New Jersey and you can just hop on a bus and be in a completely new city in a matter of hours. The people living there are so welcoming and have so much to share with tourists, each with such different backgrounds and stories to learn from. Israel is a country filled with people from all different walks of life; from all different religions, cultures, and portray people with all different types of ideas. It also offers great spots to have fun and play at the beach, hike for days, and so much more. You really are able to learn, grow, and explore so much in this small but mighty country. I would go back in a heart beat and recommend it to anyone interested in having the time of their life!

Read more study abroad stories here!