Challenging a Single Story: MBA Study Tour to Israel & the West Bank

Our group in front of The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

Guest post by: Jennifer Cole, Evening MBA 2023

We might’ve brought the rain with us to Israel on our study abroad trip, but we left with a little Israeli Hutzpah that I think our tour guide, Amitai, would be very proud of. The 2023 study tour to Israel and the West Bank was one of those unique experiences that you might call once in a lifetime. I checked off some bucket list items, but more importantly, I began to understand the dangers of a single story narrative.

Before leaving on our trip, we had two pre-departure sessions with UW Professor, Tracey Seslen, and GBC Program Director, Angela Shelley. During our sessions, we learned about the geopolitical history of Israel with UW Graduate Student Jake Becker. We had some incredible speakers like the Senior Director for Foreign Policy of Israel, Avner Golov, and the diplomatic correspondent at The Jerusalem Post, Lahav Harkov. And during the Identity Abroad module, we were asked to watch and reflect on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story. On a more fun note, UW Foster MBA alumni, Raviv Feigenbaum, prepped us with all the best Israeli restaurant and snack recommendations for our trip (p.s. Bamba and Pesek Zman ROCK!).

Company meeting at Netafim

The trip itself was structured around both company and cultural visits. Israel is known for its startup culture (check out the book Start-Up Nation for more on this topic) and being Foster students certainly opened doors to companies that we would not have been able to see otherwise. We had a whisky tasting at Israel’s first whisky distillery, Milk & Honey. We nerded out over the future of both human and bee homes at startups Homez and Beewise (founded by UW Foster MBA alum, Saar Safra). Aleph Farms showed us the future of lab grown, stem cell beef steak (no, we didn’t eat it, but we wanted to!).

Three women smile at the camera in front of the Mediterranean Sea.

Foster MBA students in Akko

For our cultural visits, we toured the templar ruins in Old Akko, walking through a secret underground tunnel that felt terribly clandestine. We soaked in the dead sea and toured the ancient Masada Fortress before our day trip to Petra, the showstopping, most grammable moment of the trip. My most memorable experience, however, was the morning after we had toured the old city in Jerusalem. Several of us snuck out early one morning to catch the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before the crowds. It’s hard to describe the holy reverence, even for someone unreligious like myself, of the glinting mosaics and ancient relics in the early morning. As we arrived, the priest was preparing the sacrament and the choir’s voices were echoing from the vaulted ceiling. There was a palpable feeling of profound historical and global cultural significance.

Taking a photo at the Bahai Gardens in Haifa

Now, I’ve told so many family, friends, and peers about the trip. ‘Great’ and ‘life changing’ feel like such poor ways to describe how special this experience was. There was the excitement of seeing companies redefining their industries and thriving despite all odds. There was the thrill of exploring ancient history and the hedonism of incredible cuisine. But the thing my mind continues to return to, is the future of Israel. On the last day, we toured Yad Vashem, the world holocaust museum, and I just couldn’t shake the parallels I felt between the history of the Jewish people and the current experience of the Palestinian people. No, this certainly is no holocaust for the Palestinians, but the very real tension of safety and sovereignty was omnipresent. At the time of writing, Israel is undergoing intense political upheaval with judicial reforms. From our visit to the West Bank to this important memorial, I’m left wondering what the future of Israel will be.

Frankincense, myrrh, and spices in the Old City Market of Jerusalem

And this, I think, is why it is so important for us to travel. Israel and its many peoples were quite different than what I had expected. We experienced many narratives so unlike the western media narratives. So, it was ‘great’ and ‘life changing,’ but it was also important on a vitally human level. I never would have traveled to Israel on my own, nor would I have had the opportunity to see the places we did as a UW program. So, go pick up some hummus or halva and submit that study abroad application. This is an unforgettable experience you should definitely have.

Six women look out over Petra, Jordan

Looking out over Petra, Jordan

Jennifer Cole is a member of the UW Foster Evening MBA Class of 2023 and currently works at Aveda within the Estee Lauder Companies. She has worked at ELC for over 10 years but started her career as a hairdresser. Outside of work and school, Jennifer loves to drink tea with friends, scuba dive locally, and practice her favorite yoga pose, savasana. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient.