Nate Hovee is currently studying at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, Turkey, as part of a WKU international exchange program. Nate will graduate from the Honors College this spring with majors in theater and broadcasting. This is his fourth study abroad program. Please find a collection of his fantastic photos & video from Istanbul here.
For an overview of the many great study abroad opportunities at the Honors College and WKU, please click here.
He just returned from a recent trip to Israel. Please find his great series of photos and reflections below. Enjoy!
Last week during one of the holidays from my WKU exchange program at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, my flatmate and I planned a spontaneous trip to Israel. Because of my religious background, the historical, cultural, and political significance of the country, and numerous recommendations from my dad (who had studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem years ago), I knew this would be a very meaningful and interesting learning experience. Despite recent military conflicts and political tensions in the region, I wanted to make the most of this opportunity and not let fear nor media-influenced presumptions prevent me from taking part in this unique “Holy Land” adventure.
My flatmate and I started our trip in Tel Aviv, which is situated on the west coast of Israel. We were immediately impressed with the modern look and feel of the city, as well as the integration of the beautiful waterfront and ancient neighborhoods (Old Jaffa). We walked through several famous markets and shopping districts, enjoyed delicious Israeli pizza at a small restaurant in the financial district, and went for a brief swim in the Mediterranean as the late November sun started setting beyond the sea. That night, we sat down with other travelers, shared our stories and adventures, and simply chilled with great company for hours on the terrace of our youth hostel in the artsy Florentine neighborhood. Meeting many diverse, open-minded, and adventurous people from all walks of life is one of my favorite parts of traveling.
Our next stop was Jerusalem, which is only a forty-five-minute bus ride from Tel Aviv. Surprisingly, this historic city also touted a 21st century look outside the walls of the famous “Old City.” I had booked several nights in one of Jerusalem’s best hostels called “Abraham Hostel.” This extremely modern facility offered much more than a bed. From free city tours and travel lectures to game nights and cooking demonstrations, this hostel made our stay in Jerusalem one of the highlights of the trip. At the beginning of Shabbat (the religious day of rest) on Friday evening, I worked with the hostel chef and helped prepare a massive feast for nearly 150 guests–did I mention I’m normally a terrible cook?.. not this time, thanks to a lot of help in the kitchen! Cooking authentic Israeli dishes and eating with fellow travelers was such a rewarding experience (not to mention delicious!). Outside of the hostel, I walked around with new friends and visited so many historically rich locations around the city including The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David, the Western Wall (“Wailing Wall”) near the Dome of the Rock, Mary’s Tomb, the Room of Jesus’ Last Supper, Mt. Zion, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Mount of Olives. It was quite surreal to actually walk around and touch these ancient sites I had only read and heard about for years when I was a child. One aspect of the Old City that I found quite interesting was the combination of four different religious and ethnic groups (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian) in this one confined area of Jerusalem. For me, this peaceful cohabitation revealed the level of historical and cultural importance of the “Holy Land.” Walking among these various neighborhoods in the Old City was one of my favorite activities each day.
Before leaving Israel, I decided to visit Bethlehem, which is actually located about fifteen kilometers from Jerusalem in Palestine (near the border with Israel). From the moment I crossed into Palestine, it was clear that things were very different in this Arab-dominated region. Buildings and shops appeared old and worn down. Local people were very polite and helpful, but they were obviously curious about my presence; I clearly stuck out as an “outsider.” After walking through the Church of the Nativity (birthplace of Jesus), I ate lunch at a nice family-owned restaurant, strolled through the bustling Bethlehem market, and looked out over the valley to the west, where I could see a giant thirty-foot steel wall stretching out over the land, separating Palestine from the rest of Israel. Leaving politics and historical tensions aside, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for many of these Palestinians who could not afford to leave (since a special permit is required to cross the border). On the bus ride back to Jerusalem, I recognized my freedom to travel and take part in such amazing international adventures was something I should never take for granted.
Overall, my entire experience in Israel was amazing! Contradictory to what many of my friends thought before I left, not once did I feel unsafe or at risk of being harmed while exploring sites in the country. I met many great Israeli’s and foreigners along the way, and I observed a variety of beliefs, cultures, and lifestyles different from my own in the “Holy Land.” I witnessed a part of the Middle East that is saturated with diversity and history, which is still playing out in the present day. I hope to return for a more in-depth discovery of Israel and Palestine very soon. Of course, I say this about every new country I visit, but… why not keep learning, living, and experiencing my Worldtopper adventures to the fullest?!