During the first two weeks of January seven Ambrosians traveled to Israel for a study abroad experience centered on business and politics. The trip provided a sense of Israel's history, its contemporary makeup, and a window into its well-functioning economy, including the government's significant role in that economy.
During our stay, we visited several businesses ranging from software development and electric cars, to plastic manufacturing and agricultural technologies. These companies operate in a challenging environment with very limited natural resources and where political barriers prevent them from trading with neighboring countries. This, plus the spinoffs from a robust military-industrial complex, explains why Israel has more NASDAQ listed companies than any other country, besides the U.S. and Canada. The advances in technology can be witnessed not only in the major cities but in the countryside as well.
The trip began in the divided city of Jerusalem. There we stayed at Hebrew University, the preeminent institution of higher learning and had a lecture on the many strata within Israeli society. Most of us see Israel as comprised of Jews and Palestinians with each side maintaining firm control over its social identity and keeping dissent to a minimum. However, the Jews in Israel are comprised of immigrants from all over the world and they have very differing views on everything from the Sabbath to how to solve the Palestinian issue. We toured a variety of historical and religious sites nearby–including the Old City, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea–and got acquainted with the culture.
We spent three days in the Nagev desert in the south of the country and stayed in an agricultural Kibbutz. The kibbutz is the largest farm in Israel and we got an extensive tour which included picking nectarines and seeing potato planting on an industrial scale (for export to Europe). Senior Joe Bailey notes that "the entire operation was controlled and monitored by the farmers' cell phones. They have adapted to conditions that aren't ideal for agricultural development. They have improvised and incorporated revolutionary techniques to exploit their limited resources not only to meet the demands of their country but allow them to export as well."
We were hosted by Sapir College. Junior Alexandra Schnell explains that "the front of the property is facing the Gaza Strip. Students and faculty live daily in fear of being hit by missiles, but they still attend."
We had a lecture on the economy of Israel and visited Bedouin town, and ended the trip in Tel Aviv with a visit to the Better Place electric car company which is building the first nationwide battery recharging network in the world. It delivered its first fully electric cars January 29.
This unique experience not only gave students an awareness of business in this globally connected country, but also an understanding of the centrality of Israel in US foreign policy and a connection with their own religious heritage. As one attendee noted, "You can't walk down the streets of Jerusalem without seeing displays of faith–Jewish, Muslim and Christian. You have the three of them meeting right there, you can't come away from that untouched, unmoved."
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