Working and Learning Abroad: A MASA Journey

Rosh Hashanah prompts us to reflect on our triumphs and failures of the past year, and to consider our goals for the coming year. We often find that the next year is a continuation of the same set of circumstances and the same environment, so we’re likely to continue in the same familiar patterns, despite our best intentions.

One way to push yourself to grow is to invite challenge by uprooting yourself and moving somewhere new. That’s what I did when I moved halfway across the world from Canada with Masa Israel Journey for a post-undergraduate six-month research internship in Israel.

Living on my own for the first time brought a lot of changes and challenges. It also made me feel more self-reliant and accountable. I faced the reality that if I was too tired to go get groceries at Super-Sal, my pantry would simply remain empty. I enjoyed greater professional responsibility as well, managing my own research project in the diabetes research lab of Dr. Yuval Dor, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem campus.

But I was prepared for all that. One thing I wasn’t as prepared for were the differences in workplace norms and customs. I suddenly had to pick up a whole new set of unwritten rules — at the same time as I was learning a new language. It was humbling to sit in the cafeteria and understand just fragments of the conversation swirling around me. But as I struggled through the unfamiliar terrain, I discovered a resourcefulness I didn’t know I had. I learned that I can adapt, that I was adapting, and that I’d be able to do the same with any future challenges that come my way.

Feeling like a foreigner and being forced to relearn things I thought I knew made me abandon many of my preconceptions and open my mind to new viewpoints. And I came across plenty of these. In North America, it’s easy to stay within a circle of friends who think the same way you do. You can remain in your ideological echo chamber, avoiding anyone who is not like you politically, religiously, or culturally.  Because Israel is such a small country, Israelis don’t have that luxury. In my lab, I worked with folks from all walks of life — across the spectrum of Israeli culture — and they all spoke their minds. The smorgasbord of ideas was very liberating. Every person I met showed me a different perspective on each of the questions and issues I wanted to discuss that day at work.

As I discovered these more nuanced truths, I also discovered new aspects of Jewish culture. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada — a city with a relatively small and homogenous Jewish population — and attending a Reform synagogue on High Holidays, I looked through a small window into Jewish culture. In Israel, I had the opportunity to walk onto a bus each day filled with folks of every denomination, sect and country of origin, reflected in their clothing, language and even tone of voice. Interacting with the diverse sectors of Israeli life also helped to get me thinking about how I define my own relationship with Judaism – and that process isn’t finished — in fact, it’s only beginning.

I found working abroad so eye-opening and enjoyable that I decided to pursue another research opportunity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as a masters student in the International Graduate Program for the Biomedical Sciences. While in Israel, I learned that to grow, we must embrace challenges, discover the unknown, and seize new opportunities. And while the foreignness of this environment has lost its edge, I know I haven’t exhausted all I have to gain from the experience of being in Israel.

About the Author
Jamie Magrill is a scientist-scholar and world-traveler with an interest in entrepreneurship and startups, particularly in the biomedical and philanthropic fields, and a Masa Israel Journey alum.
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