What I Learned Interning in Tel Aviv After College

Interning at The Peres Center for Peace
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Tear gas clouds the streets, mixing with the angry cries of the people. With the help of some locals she met earlier in the day, Elana White and some of her fellow program students escape from the angry mobs.

What started as a fun excursion to see Petra, Jordan at night turns into an intense and terrifying experience as they witness a protest escalate into a riot.

And yet, this trip is one of the reasons Elana recommends traveling and/or interning abroad after college. As a development and external relations intern at the Peres Center for Peace and participant in the Tikkun Olam program in Tel Aviv, Israel, she was introduced to many things that have shaped the rest of her life. Now she’s a talent solutions specialist on the AfterCollege sales team and took some time to share with us what it was like interning in Tel Aviv as a recent graduate.

Elana with the former Prime Minister and President of Israel and founder of the Peres Center for Peace Shimon Peres.

Elana with the former Prime Minister and President of Israel and founder of the Peres Center for Peace, Shimon Peres.

What made you decide to intern abroad after college?

During senior year I was constantly asked, ‘What are you going to do after you graduate?’ It’s everyone’s favorite question.

I had no idea what I was going to do! I knew that I didn’t want a job right away, but I was also feeling pretty burnt out when it came to school. I just wanted a break. So I started to think about what I could do that was between working and school but that was still meaningful.

What I came up with was traveling and/or interning. This was a good option because then I would get a break, be able to travel and explore, while also getting experience through an internship.

After you decided that you wanted to intern abroad, how did you find out about the program you chose?

I knew I wanted to be in Tel Aviv because that was the “cool city.” So I Googled “internships in Tel Aviv” and after clicking around a little bit, I found the program Tikkun Olam.

I applied to the program in April of my senior year and was accepted around May or June. As for the internship, I had to find it for myself. The Tikkun Olam program was a means through which I could find the internship. On the site, it listed a bunch different organizations they were connected to, and then I reached out to those places to see if I could intern there.

I could have searched and done an internship separately from any program, but with Tikkun Olam I got housing, education, and volunteer opportunities outside of the internship.

Tikkun Olam participants playing in the desert.

Tikkun Olam participants playing in the desert.

What about other logistics like visas? How did you take care of those?

When we got there, the program helped us get our visas arranged. Israel has this thing where you can be in the country without a visa for up to three months. So I didn’t really have to worry about that until I got there. But I know how crazy that can be from my experience preparing to study abroad in Italy during college.

The program was five months long so I did need a visa. The program helped with that when I got to Israel. Also, I was doing the internship as a student and wasn’t getting paid so it was just a student visa [not a work visa].

Other than that, Tikkun Olam took care of the apartments and basically all the supplements to our day. The only thing we had to pay for was food or if we wanted to travel somewhere on our own.

What kind of education did the program provide?

We learned a lot about Israeli politics, issues, and culture. We also learned Hebrew which was really helpful—it’s a crazy alphabet. The program also took us on trips around Israel.

How did you balance all of that with your internship?

The internship was part-time. I wasn’t working a 9am–5pm schedule, five days a week. I think I worked, like, three days a week. Then the other days were spent with the program learning or volunteering.

You said that you found this program through Google. How did you make sure that it wasn’t a scam?

Basically everything in Israel is political. So the program, Tikkun Olam, was under an overarching program. I was in a program within a program within a program. The overarching program was called MASA and is a pretty famous Israeli program. Because I knew about MASA, and knew it was real, I wasn’t worried about this program being a scam.

Also, I talked a lot with the person who chose me for the program. You can’t get all of the details off of the website so it was really helpful to talk to him. That relationship helped prove its validity.

What other resources did you use to learn about what your experience would be like?

Well, in terms of the internship, I started by looking up the Peres Center. I wanted to intern at a place that worked with Israelis and Palestinians and peace. I researched the organization online and saw that it was a good one.

As for the Tikkun Olam program, I talked to people who had gone through it before. I was connected to them through the man who had selected me for it. After I was accepted, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to do it.  He put me in touch with alumni who had done the program so they could tell me a little more about it. They told me that it was legitimate and interesting and worth it.

Also, I just talked with a lot of family members about the decision to do the program or even go to Israel at all. That also helped.

What/where, exactly, was your internship?

I was the development and external relations intern at the Peres Center for Peace. That is the position they had available there. Shimon Peres, who was the Prime Minister and then the President of Israel, started the center. It does peace-making programs and works to bring people together.

I was doing the fundraising for them—reaching out to donors and organizing the information. It could be tedious at times but a good experience.

Planting "Hands for Peace" at the Peres Center for Peace.

Planting “Hands for Peace” at the Peres Center for Peace.

What were your favorite parts about the program and/or internship?

It was kind of a crazy experience because parts of it were really intense and parts of it were really fun. In terms of the educational aspect of it, we got to go to a lot of cool places. For example, I got to go to the border between Israel and the West Bank and got to talk to both Israelis and Palestinians. That was really cool, but also really intense.

Also, with my internship, I got to attend one of the peace-making events. It was a soccer thing for girls and was so cool. We experienced them meeting each other, doing mixers, and playing soccer. There were Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs all playing on the same team. Even if they couldn’t speak the same language, they were still playing all together.

After the program ended, what made you decide to come back to the States?

I actually started looking for a job in Israel, but it’s really hard to find one and my Hebrew was good but not good enough. So I decided to buy a flight back and if I didn’t find something in Tel Aviv by the time of that flight, I would just come home.

So I came back. I still wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do but that time in Israel and the internship definitely helped show what I could do. It made me a lot less shy about applying for jobs. In college I had a bunch of odds and ends jobs like ushering events, that kind of thing. It was fun but you can only do that kind of thing for so long. An internship is more long-term and made me feel like I really had something to put on my résumé. Something that would make me marketable. Having that internship made me feel like I could try for other things.

How did that internship experience actually translate to your work in the States?

Even though it didn’t necessarily help me narrow down the type of field I wanted to go into, I did talk to a lot of people while fundraising. I realize now that fundraising is the non-profit version of sales. I also got an organizational aspect from working in Excel. I constantly had to enter stuff into the database. I didn’t have any concept of CRM (customer relations management) systems at the time. CRMs are like what Salesforce is. So my internship taught me the basics of that—CRMs are basically the grown-up version of what I was doing.

What advice do you have for students interested in doing an internship abroad after college?

I think the best piece of advice that I received was not really about the internship, specifically, but the experience in general. It was “if you’re on a path, you’ll go somewhere.” You don’t necessarily have to know where the path is going, you just have to be trying and you’ll end up where you want to be. I think that was really helpful when it came to going abroad and doing an internship.

I don’t think it [the internship] has to be a 9am–5pm, every day kind of thing. A lot of learning happens while you’re exploring and as long as you can talk intelligently about what you did, you’re set.

Elana in Petra

Elana in Petra, Jordan.

Can you give an example of that?

There are a couple of experiences where I just had to go with the flow. One of them is when I was traveling outside of my program but was still with people from the program. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Petra, but it’s this ancient city built in stone in the desert and it’s gorgeous. We wanted to do this thing called Petra By Night which we heard was amazing. So we get there to go for the night and there’s a protest going on.

Apparently two travel agencies controlled all of Petra By Night and the others wanted a part. So there was this protest and long story short, it ended up turning into a riot with like tear gas and all of this stuff. So of course, that was a panic-inducing situation, but we ended up making friends with locals before this all happened. They helped us out. What I took away from this crazy story is that a lot of the time things are out of your control. There’s nothing you can do and you have to find a way to calm down. Then you realize that you can get through it and other things don’t seem so bad.

On a less intense note, when I went to the West Bank with my internship, it really taught me a lot about miscommunication and how much of the world’s problems are just misunderstandings. If you take the time to think about what the other person is saying and you do so in a way that removes you from the situation, then you can move toward a more cohesive goal. It just takes listening. And listening is a big part of my job now, so that helped a lot!

Elana and Tikkun Olam friends in Petra, Jordan

Elana and Tikkun Olam friends in Petra, Jordan.

Homework time! Interested in interning abroad after college? Start researching if there are any programs available that can help with logistics and add an educational aspect to your time in another country. See if there are any alumni at your school who have interned abroad and set up a time to talk with them. Also, make sure that you reflect on both your time at the internship as well as outside of it. Or think about other options besides interning.

Any thoughts? Have you spent time interning abroad after college? What advice do you have for students and recent grads who are interested in doing an internship in another country?

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