Last month 35 of PeacePlayers International’s Palestinian and Israeli youth leaders traveled to the United States for a 10-day leadership and cultural learning excursion supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (SportsUnited). The trip was absolutely phenomenal and a great experience for our participants!
As one of the trip leaders, it was great to witness and to be part of so many “firsts” experiences for our participants. The list was extensive: first NBA game, first time on a plane, first time eating Shake Shack, first Broadway show and so much more! Our participants truly felt that they got a unique experience while they were in the United States. I was able to ask some of our players questions about their experience and here is their insight:
We covered a lot of ground during the trip, including three cities: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. There were many options to pick from when it came to the question of “what was your favorite experience?” For Stav, an Israeli participant from West Jerusalem, it was hands down the Broadway show. “It was my dream to go to a Broadway show! Not only that, but I got to go back stage after the show.” The back stage tour gave Stav the chance to see the mechanics, props, and the costumes up close.
Yasmine, a Palestinian player from East Jerusalem, absolutely loved meeting NBA players. “When I said hello to a Brooklyn Nets NBA player after the game, I felt famous… and so short!” During the trip, PPI participants attended two NBA games and two NBA private practices. It wasn’t just a regular game experience either. “I didn’t realize how really special our NBA experience was until I saw my friends’ reaction,” says Stav. During the Brooklyn Nets game against the Cavaliers , our players got the chance to sit in courtside seats!
One of the main goals of the trip was cultural exchange. Here is what our players thought about Americans and their experiences from interacting with them:
Keynana, a Palestinian player from East Jerusalem, thought that Americans “were open to hearing about our stories and about what life is like at home. People back home aren’t always willing to hear about what we do at PeacePlayers.” Our participants felt supported and encouraged to share their experience about living in conflict and engaging with ‘the other’. Noga, an Israeli player from West Jerusalem, used terms from our peacebuilding curriculum (based on the Arbinger Institute’s ‘Anatomy of Peace’ model) to speak about her experience with Americans. “I see people as people. Just like back home there are both good people and bad people. Generally though, the Americans I met were very friendly and all smiles.”
This trip had another important first for our participants. It was the first time that they had spent so much time with each other consecutively as a group. For Gur, an Israeli player from West Jerusalem, “the trip was like being with your best friends for two weeks. The best thing was learning about our different cultures and just joking the entire time!”
So much was accomplished on this trip. Our players bonded, learned about American culture, played and watched so much basketball, and shared with others about their PeacePlayers community. A big thank you goes out to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, for this once in a lifetime experience!