Alumni Spotlight: Elyse Abma


Elyse is all about the cultural experience and taking nothing at face value. She's always up for another adventure and is a bit of a thrill seeker.

Why did you choose this program?

Honestly, I found it through a Facebook ad and I had always wanted to go to the Middle East. It was a bit of a panic move after I graduated from university.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program providers were great in answering all of my questions. They set me up with an OMentor (someone who had gone on the same trip) and she eased my mind about a lot of things such as which clothing I should or should not bring, etc.

I had to organize my own flight and there was a week of independent travel time that I was able to plan to do whatever I wanted.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Open-mindedness. Always, always approach something new with a mindset of it being an entirely new experience. Expectations or desires are often your own worst enemy.

Be socially responsible and just. Often travelers fall into tourist traps that are harmful to the poorer populations of countries. Know what you are supporting and promoting.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

You will cover a lot of ground and there is a lot of information thrown your way. It's super important to ask for clarification and be open with your questions (there's always someone else wondering the same thing). Lots of walking, not usually with packs. Days start early and end late (often because the group will go out in the evening). Be prepared for anything and don't get too attached to the itinerary.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I didn't have any fear honestly. I think my friends and family back home were more afraid for me than I was for myself. My views on issues definitely changed mostly because I had little information before.

The Middle East conflict is so complex that I think people really hold it at arm's length. It was priceless to be able to see and experience (limited experience, but some level of exposure nonetheless) the tension first hand.

What surprised you about this trip?

There was a lot of manual labor on this trip that I did not expect. Some of it was intense (I personally moved a countless number of huge rocks on various occasions) but even when we suffered through it as a team we had a great time laughing through our misery.

That being said, it was important for everyone to know their limits physically because some definitely overdid it (I know I did because I tend to get a little competitive) but there were also a few who did not try to push their limits either.