More Project Interchange Quotes from Alumni


Governor Ted Strickland (OH)- U.S.

Members of Congress Seminar to Israel and Jordan, 2004

I feel that I understand the complexity more clearly... It highlighted the importance of the relationship between our countries and the strategic significance of this relationship.

Stephanie Hillman- Turkey

—Greenpeace, Mediterranean Region, European Environmental Experts Seminar, 2007

The presentations and discussions offered a well-balanced mix of positions and background. I now have a much deeper understanding of the issues.

Nicole Jones- U.S.

Campus Editors Seminar, December 2008

I was able to see and hear the middle ground; the moderate voices which are so often lacking on college campuses, like mine.

Rachida Belliard- France

French Muslim Leaders Seminar, 2008

The trip made profound changes in my perception of the conflict.

James B. Milliken- U.S.

—President, University of Nebraska, University Presidents Seminar, June 2008

The Project Interchange seminar was the most intellectually stimulating week of my life.

Sarah Barden - England

—Associated Press Television News; The Sun Online: Sub Editor; France 2; Courrier International, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

As a journalist covering all sorts of international news stories, the seminar has given me an invaluable insight into the conflict and the history of the wider region and relationships between border countries. I now feel I’ve cemented some facts in my mind that will prove useful when working at high speed in a news room!

Peggie Nagae- U.S.

—Center for Asian Pacific American Women, MT, Asian American Leaders, December 2007

I had many thoughts and opinions but not much knowledge… I did not know that the level of safety is higher with the [security] wall… that there was no government in Hamas to deal with, that the composition of Jewish populations is not homogeneous… that the government offers absorption [centers] for [new] immigrants.

Brian Beary - Belgium

—Journalist for the Europolitics and Congressional Quarterly, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

Professionally, I learned a lot about Israel and made good contacts, which will help me in the short and medium term in my journalistic work. Personally, I was very moved by so many of the activities and I feel I really know Israel well now

Alex Dewar- U.S.

—M.Sc. Economic and Social History, Rhodes Scholars, March 2008

Relying on major media outlets and popular publications about Israel had led me to see Israel as a nation constantly under threat, with a homogeneous ethic and religious population… I have now fully disposed of those misconceptions… I was impressed with the openness and freedom of access we had… The hallmark… for me was complexity, both in a descriptive nature of Israel and in how the experience added to my understanding.

Wojciech Borodzicz Smoliński - Poland

—Assistant to the VP of the European Parliament, Dr. Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

Before the seminar, I thought to focus (graduate work) on Belarus or Russia—now I am thinking of second specialization in Middle East or Eastern Mediterranean….I hope to establish relations between my party (Polish Democratic Party) and leaders of Israeli parties.

Nicholas Shelly- U.S.

—MFE Financial Economics, M.Sc. Economic and Social History, Rhodes Scholars, March 2008

This experience will be very useful in both my military career and interactions with people on a civilian level… When I deploy to the Middle East I will have more knowledge of both Jewish and Islamic culture and will hopefully be able to forge better relationships with our partners.

Luca Di Preso - Italy

—Officials at the General Secreteriat of the European Parliament, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

I acquired valuable analytical tools which will enable me to continue to interact with information on Israeli security and politics beyond the usual black and white clichés or characterizations. I realized how Israel is so much more than just the conflict, and, at the same time, how various outstanding issues do interconnect.

Cristina Bejan- U.S.

—Wadham College, Rhodes Scholars, January 2006

My Project Interchange experience has already inspired me to further explore the issues of the region. For example, just two nights ago in my college at Oxford, Wadham, as President of the College Graduate community, I organized a joint Graduate and Faculty Research Forum focusing on the Middle East. We had speakers address Nuclear Power in Israel and Iran, youth journalism in Syria and the question of democratization in the region on the whole. It was a vibrant, dynamic evening with record-breaking attendance of students and Fellows of the college. It was tremendously exciting for me, having just returned from Israel and having seen the Jordan, Syrian and Lebanese borders, to participate in such an evening. And I owe my knowledge and understanding of the region to Project Interchange!

José Gutierrez - Spain

—Advisor for the Federal Executive Committee of the Spanish Workers Socialist Party, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

The visit to Yad Vashem made me feel the depth of the tragedy and helped me to understand the connection between past and present in a positive way. I think I will be able to introduce more arguments to the debate on Israeli-Palestinian relations and question some of the preconceived ideas of many of my contacts. I enjoyed meeting other public and private professionals…keeping in touch with them will be useful.

Sophia Magill- U.S.

—Iowa State University, Student Body Presidents Seminar, 2005

After traveling to Israel with Project Interchange, I have realized the many misconceptions that flood our minds through media. As individuals who have physically experienced a place full of so much potential, we must educate and encourage others to think critically and work to encompass the reality of Israel. The challenge now becomes to be a part of the positive path moving forward for the sake of peace; rather than part of the problem.

Dr. Susanne Kailitz - Germany

—Independent Journalist, Editor of “Das Parliament”, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

I’ve changed my opinion about things I’ve never expected. Before the trip I didn’t know how much it makes a difference if you see [the political, social and religious issues in Israel] from inside the country. But it does. You cannot understand without having been there….everything.

It’s only a few hours that I am back home from Israel – and I already miss this amazing country and its wonderful people. Thank you so much you made this experience possible. I’ve changed my point of view in so many ways like I’ve never expected before. This program gave me the best week ever and I want to thank you for this great opportunity. You have to see it with your own eyes – and to me the journey has just started.

Miles Sweet- U.S.

Rhodes Scholars Seminar, 2005

What struck me most from our tour of Israel was the matter of its size, which was made most real to me during our tour of the Nebi Samuel section of the security fence. I had no idea that the land area is so small: that Jerusalem and Ramallah are so very close; that the significant religious sites in the Old City are literally on top of each other. Those observations forced me to focus sharply my analysis about everything from security issues to the economy and brought real context to the discussions.

Stefan Liebig - Sweden

—Adviser to the Board of Management, CIPS, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

I already had a good understanding of the issues Israel faces through my studies and through my work. However, the seminar helped me to deepen this knowledge, to acquire new facts, broaden my network and get first hand experience.

Being on the ground has enabled me to advance my thinking with regard to the IsraelPalestinian conflict and this will be useful in my future endeavors. It offers the possibility of influencing opinion in Europe due to better understanding. The week was amazing and I would like to thank your team again for all your hard work that made this experience so unforgettable to me. I really hope I will be back in Israel soon, hopefully for a job.

Dr. Charles Haynes- U.S.

Washington, DC NGO Representatives, August 2008

It may sound hyperbolic when I say this trip was a transformative experience – but it was. I’ve been a supporter of Israel since childhood and have long felt a deep connection with the Jewish community, a connection which I didn’t understand fully until now.

Iuliana Leferman - Romania

—Advisor to the President on Economic Policies and European Matters, Parliament of Romania, Chamber of Deputies, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

The seminar has increased my knowledge and understanding about the current challenges that Israeli society is facing on all levels: financial/political/religious.

My participation in the seminar has definitely changed my perceptions about Israel and about the people living in this country. The info delivered during the program is of relevance from a professional point of view –good networking opportunities not only with the members of the group, but also with the speakers and other guests that joined the program. In sum, I consider the whole project to have been a very intense and enriching intellectual experience, with positive consequences for my future work, when it comes to relations with the state of Israel. Toda raba!

Winston F. Wong- U.S.

Health Care Providers & Public Health Specialists, June 2008

Prior to my experience at Project Interchange, Israel represented a nation underscored by a seemingly unending conflict with a frustrating and nearly impossible quest for peace. While the conflict in the Middle East continues to be an ever-present factor in Israel’s development, I now understand how Israel’s birth as a nation is a confluence of multiple social, political, cultural and religious factors. It is a truly unique place on earth, and through the seminar I appreciated the courage and passion of all our presenters no matter their perspectives or field of expertise. There are no simple or clear solutions to addressing the health care or security issues of Israel, but what is indisputable is the will and ultimate optimism of its citizens.

Margareet Lommerts - Netherlands

—Policy Advisor, Member of European Parliament Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

This week was extremely educational. I went to Israel without having a full picture of “the situation” in the country. The speakers were very passionate and open to our questions. The participants of the seminar were great. I am positive that I will be in touch with many of them; maybe not only in relation to Israel, but more in relation to current work field. Personally: the seminar opened my eyes and I will always take this experience with me.

Aruna Chandran- U.S.

Health Care Providers & Public Health Specialists, June 2008

I have a much better understanding of the subtleties and challenges faced by people in the region and therefore am less likely to be swayed by stereotypes or generalizing comments.

Arzu Mouchtar - Turkey

—Director of EU Affairs at PDC EU Affairs, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

Many young Muslims have the wrong understanding of the State of Israel in many cases it’s because of the influence of the media, or because they just don’t know any better. I believe this project (PI) could really help to change their minds and get to know the Israeli society and its problems better.. Toda Raba for this amazing 7 days!

Reverend Rebecca Segers- U.S.

Protestant Leaders, March 2008

The Presbyterian Church has a decidedly pro-Palestinian stance, and while I am no less committed to the rights of the Palestinian people than I was before the trip, I have a much more nuanced view of the situation in Israel, including a commitment to the rights of the Israeli people as well.

Elisabeth Salcher - Austria

—Austrian Chamber of Commerce, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

This was a very deep and amazing experience; I am definitely more open minded but also more critical of political views…it’s not as easy as I thought. The trip to Sderot touched me a lot; to be in an area where war is just next you and to see the rockets incredible. It was a very good group. We loved each other; every single person VERY special, unbelievably nice and interesting.

Vehbi Bajrami- U.S.

—owner and publisher of Illyria, American Muslim Leaders, January 2008

Meeting with local religious, social and political representatives gave the opportunity to learn from their first-hand experience with issues with which the Israeli society deals currently. These meetings offered insights which are often overlooked or missing in the usual information offered by the media.

Ania Tobur - Poland

—Assistant to Vice President of the European Parliament Marek Siwiec, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

As assistant to the Vice President of the European Parliament, I cover EU/Israeli relations. This seminar has given me more knowledge and confidence to speak about Israel and IsraeliPalestinian conflict, which will use in writing speeches and doing research work. Contacts with other participants, as well as young Israeli activists was very important, and I hope to stay in touch with them in the future.

Johnnie Giles- U.S.

Asian American Leaders, December 2007

The seminar was an intense experience that exposed the complexity of the international/regional geo-political issues and also the complex national issues that face the Israeli government and its citizens. While it seems obvious, the fact that Israel is a small country and a minority in the region completely surrounded by countries with conflicting views about its right to exist as a nation state was visually and emotionally compelling. I was also affected by the history of the Zionist movement and the fact that this was a largely a secular movement. This proved to be transformative set of facts for me. This changed my perception that middle-east peace was an issue of tolerance i.e. primarily a Jewish and Muslim conflict. I now view this as an Arab-Israeli conflict based on the historical right to live in a land that has had the most influence on world affairs since the beginning of civilization.

Linda van Renssen - Netherlands

—Policy Advisor for MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, European Parliament, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

The seminar generated a real interest in Israel and the Middle East for me. It inspired me to the extent that I will now follow developments here in the news in depth and would like to return one day. The speakers were very passionate and gave a real insight into Israeli life and the Israeli political perspective.

Elizabeth Hart- U.S.

Congressional Staff, February 2007

Professionally, I think I have a much more sophisticated understanding of the political situation and realities facing Israel which will benefit my boss as we work through national security/defense/foreign affairs issues and, personally, I really value all of the relationships I formed on the trip and think they will both last and assist me professionally. It is much easier to have deeper, more substantive conversations about the issues Israel is facing, after you have physically been there and have a new frame/point of reference.

Leo Varadkar - Ireland

—Member of Parliament – Fine Gael Party, Emerging European Leaders, June 2008

This seminar greatly enhanced my knowledge of issues facing Israel. I now have some contacts I can follow up on, and see the possibility of working with AJC as point of contact in the future…The visit to the Immigration Centre [the Kalanit Absorption Center in Ashkelon] was particularly meaningful…what an impressive way to integrate immigrants it created a greater appreciation of aliyah for me. Visiting the Golan provided greater appreciation for how hard it will be for Israel to give up (territory) without a guarantee or real lasting peace.

John Lopez- U.S.

Congressional Staff, February 2007

Professionally, I can now advise the senator on topics relating to Israel and Palestine. Personally I can say I’ve had the most amazing experience of my life.

Mariana Aylwin - Chile

—Adviser Ministry of Education and Former Minister of Education, Chilean Leaders, July 2008

This is a society that lives under very special circumstances. It has impressed me a lot. I believe this seminar allowed me to understand Israel’s decisions in terms of security.

Nicola M. Heryet- U.S.

—Senior Managing Director/Principal, Colliers ABR, Inc., Women Construction Leaders, November 2008

Whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Turks, Armenians or Bedouins, we must find our voice. PI shows us that a voice can move through loud and forceful words [of] a Major Mike or a fiercely fanatical mother… but can also be found in the quiet compelling voice of a Palestinian scholar, an Arab Israeli dean or a Bedouin woman. [W]e have come to understand more deeply and that understanding becomes the foundation upon which we can build our own… relationships with Israel.

Julio Dittborn - Chile

—Congressman representing “Union Democrata Independiente” Political Party, Chilean Leaders, July 2008

I was surprised by the solidarity of all the citizens I met, their unshakeable willingness to fight for their territory and their culture.

The international press always insinuates that Israel is the aggressor and the Arabs the victims. No doubt that this perception has been dimmed by my visit (to Israel). I now have an admiration for the Jewish people’s strength to make from this, their homeland.

Despite criticisms, the admiration of the Arabs I met towards Israel’s democracy and its institutions was very significant to me.

Christine Y. Chen- U.S.

—Senior Editor, Foreign Policy Magazine, National Media, May 2006

Before the seminar, I knew some basics about Israel, but not very many details. I feel that the seminar hugely increased my understanding about the complexity surrounding political, social and religious issues. Project Interchange did a wonderful job in offering a well-rounded program that presented diverse viewpoints of Israel opinions on the internal political situation, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and Israel’s place in the greater Middle East. I was also especially pleased that the discussions were so rigorous and open. I felt that we were able to ask any and all questions, no matter how difficult or politically incorrect, and we always received very thoughtful answers. We also got an insightful look at social and religious diversity, and how Israel, as a new state of immigrants, tries to integrate everyone into a cohesive society.

Lorna Prado Scott - Chile

—Director, Santiago College, Chilean Leaders, July 2008

I was surprised to find a safe place, a normal everyday life; patriotic people with a high desire for living in peace.

Before the seminar, my attitude towards Israel was distant and impersonal. Today I feel a close sense of empathy with its reality: a warrior country vs a country that wants peace; an introspective country vs a welcoming country; a dour country vs a joyful country; a country with a lot of culture to show vs a country with culture in its DNA that finds expression in everyday life; a selfish and selfcentered country vs a country that is just one more country on the globe.

Ambassador Stuart Beck- U.S.

UN Representatives from the Pacific Islands, 2008

I am better prepared to speak out, to reverse the constantly negative spin on the region at the United Nations.

Enrique Mujica - Chile

—General Editor, “Que Pasa” Magazine, Chilean Leaders, July 2008

(The trip) was sort of an academic degree course. There’s an incredible distance between what one knows about Israel and reality…the complexity of Israel’s situation is best appreciated on the ground.

The conflict deserves to be studied. I want to know more about it. The opportunity to learn more about this subject addressed my desire to learn the real situation…including the rough edges.

The visits to the borders were crucial; feeling the conflict 650 feet away allows you to form an honest opinion on the tension, the peace, the fear and above all, survival. This I had never experienced before.

Ishani Chowdhury- U.S.

—Director of Public Policy, Hindu American Foundation, Washington D.C. NGO Seminar, 2008

I now know that what happens in Israel is not as cut and dry as the world makes it out to be.

Jose Luis Reppening - Chile

—News Anchor, TV MEGA, Chilean Leaders, July 2008

…today I understand better the need to be firm in the face of an external threat. The wall in question (the security fence) is a desperate and comprehensive response to the frustration of seeing Israelis, of every type and class, being murdered on daily basis by suicide bombers.

In Chile there is a lack of information. As a journalist, (the visit) will allow me to better understand a lot of news coming from here, understand the peace process. Personally, I feel much more informed.

I have an excellent friendship with the Jewish Community. Maybe today I understand better their view towards Israel and their sense of community and its traditions.