Why did you decide to volunteer with OTZMA in Israel?
Lauren: I decided to volunteer with OTZMA in Israel because I always had an aching to volunteer. Before Israel I had done different volunteer things, but nothing concrete that took up the majority of my time. I always knew I wanted to set aside at least a year where I would focus all my time and energy into volunteering. I also am a huge fan of traveling, and wanted to blend my aching of helping people and the environment with international travel.
I chose to specifically go to Israel because I am in fact Jewish, and while I am not "religious," I do have a Zionist side of me that feels it is important I help the country in some way. I also wanted to have the opportunity to learn more about the country of Israel and the countries surrounding it and the conflicts internally and externally.
On OTZMA we had weekly education days where we would travel all over Israel and learn about a wide-range of topics including Israeli politics where we would speak with government officials, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict where we were taken into Palestinian settlements and had a chance to speak with Palestinians (and of course hear about the Israel side as well), Israeli minorities where we visited their homes and schools and spoke with them, the history of the land where we visited historic sites, etc.
I first knew I wanted to volunteer, then I knew I wanted it to be in Israel, and when I heard and read about OTZMA it was exactly the program I was looking for.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Lauren: My day-to-day activities as a volunteer felt like a normal full-time job. I'd wake up around 7:00 a.m., get ready for the day, and ride my bike around the towns to my different volunteer sites. At the schools I would typically spend the whole day there helping in the classrooms, dancing with the students, playing games with them, etc. I did similar things at the after-school community centers, and I'd help them with their homework. I also volunteered in a Goodwill-style clothing store and helped to build parks and paint the inside of bomb shelters. Depending on the city you lived in your volunteering was not the same. It was what that Israeli town needed the most help in. So while my friends and I were on the same program, many times our volunteer work was a lot different, but this was great because it allowed us to all learn from one another.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Lauren: The experience as a whole has changed me as a person. Personally I have become stronger, braver, and look at the world as a different place than I did before. I realized that I also want to learn all the time, and not just for a degree, but for myself. Professionally I am still looking for a job, but I majored in public relations and marketing and I know that I want to promote things I am passionate about. Part of why I chose to go to Israel was to learn more in-depth of my passions (helping others, the environment, international travel, etc.) and to be able to come home and work in the fields of them helping to promote and teach others.