Hills of Jerusalem to Capitol Hill

College of Liberal Arts offers students the chance to explore their world

Out of the blue, I received an email: “Congratulations! You have been awarded the Merit Scholarship covering full tuition for the M.A. in Nonprofit Management and Leadership at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

My heart was practically beating out of my chest as I read the email over and over. The Hebrew University is one of the most prestigious universities in Israel. I had not only been admitted into this master’s program but was now staring at the opportunity to attend on a full-ride scholarship.

I took a deep breath and glanced out the fourth-floor window of Kirksey Old Main, where I had dutifully completed scholarship hours for my studies at MTSU over the past four years. Watching the students below as they strolled to class made me reflect on my first months at MTSU and wonder how I had reached a point of endless opportunities—which, unbeknownst to me in that moment, would take me from the hills of Tennessee to the Judean hills of Jerusalem and then on to Capitol Hill.

When I graduated high school, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do, so I spent my first two years “taste-testing” different fields of study. After two years of trial and error, I decided on dual degrees from the College of Liberal Arts—a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Language with a Spanish concentration and a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Communication. This combination of majors from the College of Liberal Arts cultivated many useful skills in me, including leadership, creative thinking, problem-solving, communication, and a global perspective.

One of the most salient aspects of my liberal arts education, which helped to foster these skills, was my decision to study abroad. In Summer 2013, I participated in the first-ever MTSU trip to Israel with now CLA Interim Dean Karen Petersen and University Provost Mark Byrnes.

An interdisciplinary course on political science, religion, and history, this trip was my first time out of the country. We traveled around the tiny nation of Israel for 10 days, riding on buses, boats, and camels. We learned thousands of years’ worth of history; the nuances of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and the crucial context for current events in the Middle East. Observing the geographic lay of the land gave me a greater understanding of both biblical and current events. This life-changing trip was the catalyst for exploring opportunities to study in Israel.

Living in Israel Engaged My Mind

There I sat, eyes glued to the computer screen, re-reading the email yet again. The opportunity to live in Israel for an entire year and earn a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management was right before me. And now I didn’t even have to worry about tuition. It may as well have been served to me on a silver platter.

So off I went to Israel.

The experience of studying and living abroad added to the person I am and stretched me in many ways. It built gratitude and greater appreciation for my home country. It created a new appreciation in me for other cultures and nations. It laid a foundation for being able to connect with people of diverse backgrounds. It engaged my mind in ways I never thought were possible.

Each day brought a new challenge and required my best mental effort. For three days out of the week, I went to Hebrew class, which was comingled among my Nonprofit Management courses. I lived and attended school on Mt. Scopus, a mountain on the eastern side of Jerusalem. On my walk to class, I could see the entire city of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount with its shiny golden Dome of the Rock. Once I made it to class, I could look off the opposite side of Mt. Scopus and see the dusty neighborhoods of the West Bank. On a clear day, I could gaze into the east and see all the way to Jordan.

Despite the “wow” factor of living in this magnificent, ancient city, I still had to go about normal life such as running errands. I visited the grocery store nearby or, if I felt like bracing the crowds, I went to the outdoor marketplace, called the shuk. I often stopped for some fresh fruit juice or iced coffee with ice cream from the Israeli fast-food chain Aroma. Occasionally, I had to visit the post office, where, like many public places in Israel, your bags had to be searched before going in. Better safe than sorry.

I interned at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in downtown Jerusalem one day each week. On these days, I experienced what it’s like to be an Israeli citizen: the morning commute on the packed light rail, the lunch breaks of shwarma and falafel, and the odd sensation of working on a Sunday (considered the first day of the week in Israel).

On one such day, I was traveling on the light rail train to downtown Jerusalem, and the train door closed on the skirt of an Orthodox Jewish woman. A handful of people on the train, including an Arab man and an Orthodox Christian priest rushed to help the woman yank her skirt out from the door and called the light rail driver to halt the train. The woman was free in a short time, and all her helpers went on their respective ways. In this one instance I gleaned a global perspective that I never would have received by watching the news at home in America.

One thing each week was certain—Shabbat. From sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, public transportation does not run, and most restaurants and businesses are closed on Shabbat. The whole nation of Israel observes the Jewish day of Sabbath, although some cities such as Tel Aviv are less strict about what closes. In Jerusalem, however, Shabbat is an obvious break in routine and a great time to rest or meet up with a new group of people for dinner. Participating in this cultural phenomenon rejuvenated my mind and gave me new ideas about how to incorporate rest into my American lifestyle.

Every couple of weeks, I tried to take a weekend trip to a different part of the country. Tel Aviv was only an hour-long bus ride away. The Dead Sea was about the same distance in the opposite direction. I also had the opportunity to spend a few weekends near the Sea of Galilee and in the Negev Desert.

My global perspective expanded through daily life in Israel as well as in the classroom. Israel truly is a diverse, open, and modern society. Members of Jewish communities from all over the world immigrate to Israel (this immigration is called aliyah). Mix that with the Arab population and other international visitors (such as myself), and the result is daily exposure to different languages, religions, attires, and customs. The Muslim call to prayer frequently wafted through the classroom windows during class, and on public transportation I would see Jews and Muslims sitting side-by-side, staring at their smartphones with equal concentration. I was able to easily navigate these daily encounters because I learned how to communicate effectively with people of various backgrounds in my Spanish language studies and courses in interpersonal communication at MTSU.

The communication, leadership, and global perspective I gained from my studies in MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts aided me not only in my studies at Hebrew University but in my daily life in Jerusalem.

Applying My Liberal Arts Skills in D.C.

As sad as it was leaving Jerusalem, the United States was in the throes of a presidential election, and I knew that I was returning to a key moment in America’s history. In Fall 2016, one week before the election, I accepted an internship with the Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. Little did I know that I was going to be positioned to spend the “First 100 Days” of a historic presidency in our nation’s capital. (Whether you view Trump’s presidency as a positive or a negative, we can certainly conclude that it was as historic as it was surprising).

For me, living in D.C. was a stark contrast to living in Jerusalem. For example, each day in Jerusalem, I made sure to stay alert and keep an eye out for terrorist activities as I navigated the city. In D.C., however, my daily concern was often outfit-related, like making sure the newly-acquired run in my hose was not visible. It’s fascinating how, when there are potential threats to our lives, we are more apt to see with clarity what is truly important. Despite such a difference, I adapted to the fast pace of D.C.Through the internship, I gained real work experience and heard from conservative policy experts, as well as various government officials including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Most importantly, I was able to apply my liberal arts education in the development (fundraising) department of the nonprofit. All of the skills I had cultivated back in my College of Liberal Arts days— communication, creative thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and a global perspective—were put to use immediately. Some of my projects required creative thinking, while others needed problem-solving. Solid communication was important at all times, whether speaking on the phone with a donor, drafting a quick email to a colleague, or framing a question for a policy expert.

Leadership also came into play in many ways. Leadership is not always being in charge of a group of people; sometimes it can be in the small things, such as taking initiative, coming up with new ideas, and being proactive and resourceful in your position instead of waiting for direction for every little task.

Liberal arts education effectively instills and encourages students to blend disciplines. Based on my own experiences, I’ve noticed that there are often many elements to a job, and in this internship, many of the fields I am interested in were combined: nonprofit operations, American history, and current events in Israel.

This internship engaged my mind constantly. I learned how to function in a high-energy, news-driven environment that was much different from the slower pace I was accustomed to. Everything that I gleaned from my education in the College of Liberal Arts proved invaluable with this experience and provided a solid foundation for me to continue to grow and develop these transferable skills further. This internship also launched me into my new job in another conservative nonprofit. I’m grateful that my liberal arts education gave me the skills and foundation needed to engage in meaningful work.


By Cheyenne Plott, A 2015 MTSU graduate with a double-major in Foreign Language (Spanish) and Organizational Communication

Featured Photo by David Rodrigo


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