Interview with Dan Berenholtz

Reflections on an international student career at ILR and abroad in Israel
Interview with Dan Berenholtz
Thursday, July 30, 2009

BL: Tell me a little bit about yourself?

DB: I was born and raised in Queens, New York, but my family is originally from Israel.  My parents and older siblings were all born there, but I was born here in New York after my parents immigrated. My older sister lives in Hod Hasharon and I have other family that lives in Tel Aviv. At home I speak Hebrew and have always felt that I have a strong connection to Israel. Although I had often visited while growing up, I never really had the opportunity to live there until I came to college and did a year abroad.


BL: Where did you study abroad and how was that experience?

DB: I really wanted to take a year abroad and submerse myself in Israeli culture, so I spent two semesters studying at Tel Aviv University.  It is one thing to learn about another culture through books and pictures, but it is quite a different experience to live amongst the culture. Keeping this in mind, I knew studying abroad was going to be a great learning experience.

The first semester I was there, I was placed in an English speaking program with other study abroad students. This was a great experience, as it allowed me to easily meet other students with similar interests. We went out on weekdays, traveled all around Israel, and even skipped class once in a while to go to the beach (Israel's beaches are beautiful!).

Although I was having a blast, I decided to challenge myself once the second semester came around. Instead of taking all of my classes in English with study abroad students, I decided to take all of my classes in Hebrew with Israeli students. This not only allowed me to challenge myself linguistically, but also to immerse myself culturally. By interacting with Israeli students daily, I was better able to understand the lives of Israelis and I gained a fuller appreciation of the cultural differences that exist between Israel and the US.

Overall, I had a great experience. I explored Israel through the eyes of a tourist the first semester, and through the eyes of a local the second semester.

BL: What was most notable about your study abroad experience?

DB: Well I guess what was the most atypical about my study abroad experience was something that had nothing to do with my studies at all. In between my first and second semester there, I had the option of coming back to the States or staying in Israel. I decided to stay in Israel and volunteer for Magen David Adom, Israel's National Ambulance Service.

In order to volunteer, I was required to do a one-week intensive First Responder course which taught me all of the basics- how to perform CPR, how to deal with mass casualty situations, etc. For two months straight, I was riding in an ambulance five days a week during day and night helping out Israeli citizens.

This experience was a very rewarding one. I was able to give back to the Israeli community, and to learn more about daily life in Israel.

BL: What was interesting to you culturally about Israel as a whole?

DB: In Israel people are much more blunt about things they say and what they think. If people in America were to interact with them it might come off as rude, but you just have to understand that it’s a different culture and it is a different mode of interaction over there.

BL: How did you perceive Israeli society coming from an ILR perspective?

DB: Living in a different culture such as in Israel helped me realize how much my ILR studies are relative across borders.  It is interesting to see how some of the same things we deal with in American labor relations are also there in Israel.

But what was the most interesting was to see how in Israel, workers were not the only ones able to strike. It is actually common for Students to strike as well. In 2007 they went on strike because tuition was too high, so they refused to go to class. The faculty even often supports the students. You would think that the students and faculty would have divergent interests, but in Israel most universities are publicly funded. So in 2007 the students and faculty actually teamed up to demand that the government keep tuition from rising. This type of strike would be unthinkable at Cornell, but as a cultural comparison it is really interesting when thinking about it from a labor relations perspective. Students were actually demanding the government to pay for more of their training.

BL: Were there any classes at ILR that you found particularly helpful in examining the issues you came across in Israel?

DB: Professor Turner's class on the Politics of the Global North helped me understand what I saw in Israel a lot better. I took the class after I had returned from Israel, but our discussions on the socialist systems of Europe and Scandinavia were extremely relevant to my experience abroad. In taking this class I was able to apply what I learned to the Israeli circumstance. It allowed me to analyze Israel in comparison to the Scandinavian counties and it shed light on a lot of the things I had experienced in Israel. I would recommend this class for any current student.

BL: What have your international experiences in college given you and do you have any international plans for the future?

DB: I definitely decided that I want to travel the world.  My experiences being immersed in Israeli culture have taught me that in order to truly understand another way of life, you have to get involved and interact in it rather than just to just walk through it as a common tourist. So I hope not just to be "that tourist," but I really want to interact with the people and place I am visiting. I want to be able to make that cross cultural connection and the international experiences I got while at ILR will certainly help me do that.