ASU students explore culture, politics in Israel through Caravan for Democracy

Sophia Godinez pictured smiling with arms and one leg raised in front of a dirt path surrounded by trees.

Sophia Godinez, an ASU sophomore from San Antonio, Texas, majoring in disability studies and minoring in mathematics, expects to learn about Israeli culture on the 10-day trip to the country. Photo courtesy Sophia Godinez


For several Arizona State University students, winter break this year entails something more than putting up sparkly decorations, hanging out with family and sharing traditional meals.

Ten students have been selected to participate in the Caravan for Democracy Student Mission to Israel, a student leadership program sponsored by the Jewish National Fund-USA with support from the Boruchin Center. They are travelling for 10 days — Dec. 27–Jan. 6 — in Israel, where they will explore the Jewish and democratic country through meetings with political, cultural and community leaders from diverse backgrounds and faiths.

The Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement, housed in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, served as a liaison with the Jewish National Fund-USA to help identify program candidates and assist them in the application process.

The students who were selected through this initiative include Rishon Dev Netala, Sophia Godinez, Jackson Reese, Ava Steckel and Acacia Wastchak. Additionally, Barrett students Josephine Deignan and Caroline Pernat were accepted independently, as were ASU students Adelaide Randall and Justin Skinner, bringing the grand total of ASU students selected for the 2024 cohort to 10.

“Barrett was invited by the Jewish National Fund-USA to nominate several students for this program,” said Kyle Mox, associate dean for national scholarships and director of the Office of National Scholarships Advisement. “This new initiative was set into motion through the generosity of donors, who value the program and stepped in to subsidize a number of awards to help support the personal development of Barrett students.”

Participants were selected through a competitive application and interview process. The Jewish National Fund-USA covers roundtrip transportation from New York to Israel, accommodations, most meals and all excursions.

“These sorts of cultural immersion programs are incredibly valuable, in terms of personal development,” Mox said. “This program is designed for students who have little previous experience with Israel, or international travel at all, and it should be a transformative experience for them.”

Before they embarked on the trip, students shared their thoughts about being selected for the program.

Godinez, a sophomore from San Antonio, Texas, majoring in disability studies and minoring in mathematics, said she planned to approach the trip with an open mind and an eye toward learning more about Israeli culture.

“As a young Mexican-American woman, I value the program’s mission of cross-cultural learning and interactions because I have experienced the frustration of people assuming they know a culture without actually experiencing the culture. I am looking forward to experiencing Israeli culture and the social, economic and political atmosphere in order to be more cognizant of the world around me,” she said.

Godinez also hopes to add to her knowledge in the disability studies sphere.

“My dream is to be an occupational therapist for children or adults with disabilities. During the application process, I discovered that President Isaac Herzog of Israel hosted the first Global Accessibility and Inclusion Leaders’ Conference in Israel. This struck me and I continued to research disability in Israel, which led me to realize that I could learn much about what accessibility looks like in another country with different social norms and cultural practices,” she said.

Photo of

Ava Steckel

Steckel, is a second-year student from Boise, Idaho, working on a bachelor’s degree in innovation in society with a minor in Spanish linguistics and a certificate in cross-sector leadership. 

This will be the third study abroad experience for Steckel, who, as a high school student, spent six weeks in Okinawa, Japan, and seven months in Seville, Spain. She also worked in Italy last summer.

She said the Caravan for Democracy program will give her more valuable international exposure.

“I hope to get firsthand knowledge about the dynamics and conflicts in Israel, and engage in critical and meaningful discussions. I hope to get more experience talking about hard topics, and gain diplomacy skills for the future. And, I want to learn more about Israeli culture,” Steckel said.

She added, “I hope to either work in an international nonprofit, or as a Foreign Service Officer through the Department of State. Wherever I end up, more international experience will help me succeed, and Caravan for Democracy will give me valuable perspectives and exposure that I may not get otherwise.

"I believe that you can't make a difference for people you don't know, so I am eager to learn more about my role in global changemaking through this program."

Photo of

Acacia Wastchak

Wastchak, a Phoenix native, is a third-year majoring in international trade with a minor in French. She plays alto saxophone in the Sun Devil Marching Band and, in addition to English, speaks Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese. She is also learning German.

“I'm very interested in foreign relations and policy and have always wanted to go to the Middle East, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I also look for any opportunity to travel since it's my absolute favorite thing to do,” she said, adding that she hopes to learn about Israel from political, personal and business perspectives.

“I would like to either join the U.S. Foreign Service to eventually become a U.S. ambassador or work as a regional manager in Europe for an international company, probably something targeted towards women (fashion, cosmetics, etc.). Participating in Caravan for Democracy will help me to gain a new perspective on Israel as a place to do business and a country with which the U.S. maintains relations, as well as the Middle East as a region.

"I anticipate gaining a comfortability there that may lead to a desire to work in Israel in the future,” she said.   

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