I can't believe it's already the second semester of my freshman year here at Berkeley! This past semester has truly flown by, but I would not have changed a thing about it. I fell in love with the Arabic language, found a great group of friends, and dived into my photography pursuits--of course, I also developed a greater appreciation for oat milk lattes.

One of the best experiences of my winter break was going on a ten-day trip to Israel/Palestine with a group of twenty other Berkeley students. It was a trip called Perspectives; the trip was offered through Berkeley Hillel, though non-Jewish students were allowed on it as well.

Prior to the trip, many warned me that they thought the trip would be "Birthright-esque Propaganda for the Jewish State of Israel" because Hillel was the force behind the program (and they assumed, un-informedly, that Hillel was equal to Israeli propaganda), but I found that this was not the case at all. In fact, I found that this trip was extremely unbiased and exposed us to hundreds of viewpoints and brought us the stories of people all across the board. After all, the trip is called PerspectiveS, not Just One Perspective. Though no number of words could ever fully describe all the nuanced emotion and reflection I experienced on the trip, here is the program overview, just to give you an idea of some concrete events that happened:

"Perspectives is Berkeley Hillel's educational trip to Israel and Palestine. The purpose of this trip will be to educate Jewish and non-Jewish Cal undergraduates about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; shining an intentional light on the complexities and nuances, in an immersive and experiential fashion.

Some things you might see, learn, and do:

Explore the multi-ethnic, religious, and national diversity of the Old City of Jerusalem

Visit Ramallah, the current capital of the Palestinian authority, and hear from Palestinian leaders and locals.

Discover how conflict affects environmental concerns in the Dead Sea Valley.

Walk the streets of Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, for a Palestinian and Israeli perspective on this old & new city

Hear multiple narratives from a wide variety of speakers and guests, including religious, secular, Druze, Christian, Jewish-Israeli, Palestinian, and Muslim voices.

Tour the separation barrier/security wall that divides Israel and the West Bank.

Enjoy delicious cuisine, hike in the beautiful desert, and build community with a diverse group of fellow Cal students."

Not only did we do all that, we went to the border of Gaza, explored the Golan Heights, lived in a kibbutz, and more. Most importantly, I met some incredible people whose constant curiosity, tolerance, and emotion will amaze and inspire me forever.

There were so many narratives, not only by speakers that we listened to, but also by my peers who bravely contributed their opinions during discussions. I will remember these narratives forever, and I hope I can do them justice by talking about them in this series. The language, rhetoric, and perspective used by each person shaped the way they saw the world, as well as the way they showed their narrative. On a larger scale, this language and rhetoric may have had a wide effect on the people around them.

I'm ever so thankful to have gone on this trip, had the opportunities to ask questions--directed both to myself and others--that I've always wanted to ask, and learned about an area of the world that has fascinated me ever since I read the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, Mahmoud Darwish, and Naomi Shihab-Nye in my English class freshman year of high school.

I'm going to use this space--for many weeks--to reflect on my trip. I will, quite literally, retrace our footsteps and walk through everything we did, saw, heard, and felt (and ate!) on this trip. Obviously, I will tie it back to linguistics in the many ways that I noted on this trip (there was a LOT of linguistics-related topics that were mentioned in passing on the trip, but I went home and dug deeper into them, so I'll talk about those here), but I will spend some time to question and think about the humanity, resilience, love, pride, passion, and pain of the people of Israel and Palestine.

I hope y'all are as excited for the next few sections as I am. See you next week for our arrival in Tel Aviv and our first night in Jerusalem.