Making sense of a complicated scenario

While the students’ understanding of the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians has deepened, their informed opinions became more complex.

Joe Pitts is pursuing a bachelor's degree in civic and economic thought and leadership and another Bachelor of Science in business. For him, the readings, conversations and guided study within Israel and the West Bank helped highlight the nuances in heated tensions. 

“This experience in Israel showed me that civil discussion could still take place despite severe political and societal division. I earned that constructive dialogue is most important in times of crisis — even though it can be harder to achieve," Pitts said.

Kapur believes that the experience showed that liberal democracies are fragile, especially those across diverse cultural and geographic contexts.

“If I came to Israel with a rigid view of their history and the conflicts they face, I think I would have lost out on internalizing the different stories we heard throughout our trip. ... I gained a deeper understanding of how difficult it can be to maintain a strong liberal democracy,” he said.

“Before this experience, I was involved in campus activism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, presenting before student government and lobbying for certain protections for Jewish students," Robinson said. "Admittedly, my knowledge of the conflict was minimal, and I only received information from Jewish students. ... My perspective has changed after visiting Israel and the West Bank, especially regarding the two-state solution. My impression of the two-state solution relied on false assumptions and one I had not previously considered.”  

The most important lesson Robinson said he learned is that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nothing is as simple as it seems.

“That is one thing about Israel: We try hard to fit everything into a dichotomous narrative. The secular versus the religious, the young versus the old, Israel versus Palestine, but despite these classifications, the people we met and learned from revealed that it is much more complicated,” he said.

A new perspective on citizenship

“For Americans, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in our bubble that we forget a whole other world exists,” Robinson said. “In fact, most of us are even OK with being ignorant about the world because what does it matter what we do? There is something to be said about the fact that if we cannot even get our citizens interested in their community, why do we expect them to be the least bit interested in what is happening outside of the United States? However, being an American abroad feels like there is a responsibility, an obligation to the world.”

An important goal of the global intensive experience courses offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership is to help students develop a mature understanding of what it means to engage with citizens of other countries and cultures, to provide the type of international interaction that allows students to be conscientious, informed citizens of the U.S. and the world. It is an opportunity to become educated about different realities around the world, and to examine how Americans can relate to — and dialogue with — others.

The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s Global Intensive Experiences courses are subsidized by the school for students earning either majors or minors in civic and economic thought and leadership. The next GIE will be a leadership and service course in Delhi and Rajasthan, India, in December 2022, with applications available in September through

Marcia Paterman Brookey

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership