Ashley Virgin
Ashley Virgin
Israel/Palestine 2016
Merhaba! My name is Ashley Virgin, and I am going to live in beautiful Bethlehem, Israel for six months. While in Bethlehem, I will work with WI’AM Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center where I will teach English and arts classes to children. I will also take part in other areas of community development in the city through WI’AM. I am excited to participate in the city and culture of Bethlehem and learn more about the nonviolent conflict resolution and social justice programs that WI’AM sponsors. Read More About Ashley →

“Preparation” for Bethlehem

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my Lumos blog and the start of my travel and internship experience in Bethlehem, Palestine working with WI’AM Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center.

My adventure will officially begin July 15th at 8:00 AM when I will board a plane to Newark, NJ and then hop on another to Tel Aviv, Israel. From Tel Aviv, I will take a shared taxi (or a sherut, as it is known in Israel) for the hour and thirty-minute drive to Jerusalem. I will go to the bus station at the Damascus Gate in the northwest quarter of the Old City and board a bus that will take me six miles south of Jerusalem to the city of Bethlehem, my new home for the next six months! There, I will be working with WI’AM, a community center that serves the residents of Bethlehem. When I arrive, my first project will be assisting in the annual summer camp for kids!

Picture of the summer camp taken from WI’AM’s website

Picture of the summer camp taken from WI’AM’s website

When I think about the word preparation, it seems too small a word to adequately encompass the months of thought, time, and energy I have directed toward my desire to work in Bethlehem. I think the preparation phase of my travels started over two years ago. I’ve been preparing in some form for this trip since the end of May 2014, after I returned from a Maymester Study Abroad trip to Turkey, Greece, and Israel. My first visit to Bethlehem left me stunned, mainly by my ignorance to the situation in the West Bank and my former indifference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an indifference shared by most Americans. My first visit left me wanting to learn more about the situation, the culture, and the people of Bethlehem.

My first round of “preparation” probably occurred as we boarded the bus to leave the city that day. Sitting down in my seat and staring out of the bus window at the cream and tan buildings in the city’s skyline, I knew that I wanted to come back. I felt a tugging, a need to stay longer in the city, to talk to more of its citizens, to amass their stories and try to make sense of the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians, the checkpoints, the separation barrier, the curfews and permits, etc. That day, we heard the stories of those in the town, how the conflict affected their lives, and what others, like WI’AM, were doing to assist their fellow citizens. But I knew that what we heard had not even scratched the surface. I was not done here. There was more to see and more to do.

My second round of preparation came when I decided to apply for the Lumos grant. This sort of preparation, of locating a project, reaching out to contacts in Bethlehem and former residents, to past Lumos travelers, and to my professors, makes up preparation in the more traditional sense of the word. I found out about WI’AM, what I would be doing, where I would be staying, what I would need, safety considerations, and how much it would all cost. This four-month stretch was exhausting, nerve-racking, but exhilarating nonetheless. I was preparing a project to go to Bethlehem, and if I got the committee to believe in me and to believe in my project, I could actually go back. Luckily for me, the committee did believe in me. I was funded. I was going to Bethlehem.

Flash forward some seven months, and I’ve finished my last semester of college, graduated with a degree in Sociology, turned 22 years old, took a few amazing trips to Florida, Chicago, and experienced my first Bonnaroo. I have barely taken a breath since graduation, and now here I am, sixteen days left until my adventure begins. The adventure I’ve talked about and longed for over the past two years is finally here. And as I round out my third and final stage of preparation for my trip, I finally realize that all of my “preparation” is not enough, would never be enough, to fully prepare me for my time in Bethlehem. One cannot prepare for an adventure of this magnitude, of the life changing experiences and encounters that will hit them, redirect them, make them grow, and irrevocably alter their worldview and view of themselves. One can only prepare physically, buying new shoes for walking, pricing plane tickets, converting US dollars to Israeli shekels, packing bags, planning out which buses to take, and saying goodbye to the US and their familiar way of life in this culture. It’s funny because I already knew this based on my first experience abroad. In the same way that I was not prepared to fall in love with Bethlehem like I did on May 9th, 2014, I know that I am not prepared for what awaits me when I get off the plane in Tel Aviv and finally make it to Bethlehem. I know I’ll take a sherut, but I don’t know what I’ll see on that drive or who I might meet in the cab. I know I’ll be working for WI’AM, but I am not prepared for what the children I work with will teach me. I know I’ll be living in Bethlehem, but there is no way I can prepare for the stretching and growth I will undertake and the things I will find within myself during my first trip abroad on my own.

I have wanted to go to Bethlehem for two years, and it is beyond surreal to say that I will do just that in two weeks. Just like the word “preparation” does not do justice to the experience I’ve had leading up to this point, the word “excitement” does not come close to my thoughts and feelings as I sit on my parents’ back deck writing this now. Maybe I will find a better word to describe this emotion after I live in Bethlehem for a while.

For now, I can only say that I am beyond grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity and for the ability to share what I will learn with you all.


Picture of the separation barrier from inside Bethlehem, taken on my first trip in May 2014.

Until next time,

XOXO Ashley

One thought on ““Preparation” for Bethlehem”

  1. I Loved reading about your experience and will be watching for the next one. Your parents must be so proud of you.
    Love you and take care.

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