Seeing Through the Eyes of Others


Michael Podberezin recently graduated Georgetown University with a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he works for an African start up incubator.

This spring break I did not rest at all. Did not sleep much, lay on a beach or even read a good book. Instead I criss-crossed Israel from North to South with a group of 28 Georgetown graduate students from around the world. While this was probably my last opportunity for a real spring break, I don't regret it for a moment.

You see, 28 people decided to pay their own way to see my country. It was done independently, planned by students and executed by students. It was a diverse group of people from the US, Germany, South Korea, Colombia, Thailand, India and Japan. Some of the students came with a background of knowledge about the Middle East, others visited the region for the first time. All of them went to Georgetown to become future leaders in the government, non-profit and business sectors.

This is our second year running the trip. Hopefully, by next year, it will become a tradition. People investing in knowledge, understanding and experience is always impressive. But what the trip enabled me to do, is to see my home through the eyes of others. The questions future diplomats ask are quite different than those asked in a Jewish summer camp group.

While planning our meetings and itinerary, I made sure it wasn't one-sided. Don't get me wrong, I clearly have a horse in the race. Yet a propaganda trip would create nothing more than antagonism, and the assumption that the worst of the conflict remained unseen. So I made a deliberate effort to bring as many opinions as possible. So we met with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Ahmad Tibi was followed by Moshe Feiglin. B'tselem, by Blue and White Human rights. We visited a refugee camp, and a settlement.

What did people leave Israel with? A few Hamsas, great memories, and mostly, a feeling of complexity. But that is not a bad thing. Complexity reminds people of their own political systems. It shows that there is no black or white, and that opinions need to be nuanced. As people move on with their careers, especially the sort of careers graduates of the Master of Science in Foreign Service programme pursue, that realisation matters much more.