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Shalom, y’all: How my childhood shaped my love of travel and international public policy

When you grow up Jewish in North Carolina, you quickly realize that there aren’t many other “Members of the Tribe” around you. From a young age, I would be excited in the rare instance that I saw the phrase “Shalom, y’all” hung up, indicating that people were welcome in both Hebrew and Southern.

My family kept many Jewish traditions despite being one of a minority in Charlotte (I was always so jealous of Jewish friends in New York and Boston who couldn’t turn a corner without seeing someone of the same religion!). We invited goyim (non-Jewish friends) over for Passover seders, purchased a round challah and apples and honey to welcome in the New Year on Rosh Hashanah, and went to shul (temple) on Yom Kippur. Oftentimes, my brother and I would have to skip school for the High Holidays as our district did not give us time off. Being one of a minority was both frustrating and illuminating at times and feeling like I had a foot in two different cultures led me down the career path to where I am today.

As I began to realize that I came from a religion and culture that had dramatically difference experiences from me elsewhere, I recognized that it would be important for me to seek out others of the Jewish faith to see how they lived differently than me throughout the world. Beyond that, I appreciated that there were MANY different types and groups of people across countries and continents, and it would be a disservice for me to not try to understand other perspectives. Just because I was a minority in one place (the South), it didn’t mean that others of different religions, ethnicities, and other self-identified groups didn’t share similar stories. Because of all of this, I developed an intense love of travel from as early as I can remember.

Getting to see new spaces and places underscored to me how my experiences could be shaped by what I learned in new settings. On one trip to Morocco, I was able to see the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world, while on another to Bulgaria, I entered a Sephardic temple (which has an altar in the middle of the sanctuary, rather than at the front). I was able to visit a Buddhist monastery in the foothills of the Himalayas in China, and a Catholic cathedral in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. On these trips, as I learned from others about their cultures and customs, I also got to share things about my background that were both similar and different than those I was meeting. On a trip to Togo, I met one friend who had never met someone Jewish before, and we talked for hours about what uniquely distinguished Judaism from Christianity. It was so empowering to get to share our perspectives and develop a deeper respect and appreciation for one another.

My background as a Southern Jew and my passion for international travel and relationships combined in a unique career passion — focusing on international public policy. The interplay between countries and cultures to achieve better outcomes for all throughout the world is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Working on projects for the Department of State at DCG has served to further ignite this love, as I am able to conduct mixed-methods research on sociopolitical and cultural beliefs around the world, constantly helping to challenge my worldview in a myriad of positive ways. As we collect data on public diplomacy, aid, and security topics, I find myself reflecting on my personal experiences, working to contextualize them in a broader worldview. I am so excited to continue to meld my personal and professional passions.

As I travel for fun and for work, I do like to carry around that same sense of openness and warmth that I hope to receive from others. I will always say, “Shalom, y’all!”

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