Alexander Muss High School in Israel is a semester school program for high school students. We featured them in our Spring edition of the Life with Teens Magazine, and interviewed a past student, Abigail Salesky. She shared her experience with us!
Why did you choose to go on a semester program?
While I love my family dearly, I’ve always been a really independent person. I love putting myself in positions where I don’t know anyone as I think that those are the times when you are able to learn the most about yourself—starting with a truly blank slate.
I had gone back and forth about whether a gap year was the right option for me, and when I heard about Alexander Muss High School in Israel, it seemed like the ideal opportunity. Having been at a three week Jewish sleep away camp when I heard about AMHSI, I knew how quickly those three weeks seemed to fly by. Eight weeks just didn’t seem like enough time for me to fully immerse myself in a country, culture, and people, and a semester program overall sounded like the right fit.
I wanted a long enough period of time that I could really get to know everything around me, and most of all get to know myself on a whole new level. In all honesty, I can’t imagine having the opportunity to experience a semester abroad and not taking advantage of it, as there truly is no other learning environment quite like it.
What stood out about AMHSI?
The first thing that stood out to me about AMHSI was the fact that it was non-denominational. Going on an unaffiliated program in a religiously affiliated country seemed like an interesting experience, especially as someone who has gone to a Jewish school my entire life. This aspect of AMHSI opened my eyes to a broader spectrum of views than if I had gone on a program where everyone had come from similar backgrounds, allowing me to look at Israel through a more objective lens.
Secondly, the AMHSI semester program takes place 20 minutes outside of Beersheba, meaning it is in the middle of the desert. Most other programs in Israel are located in more urban settings like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and while this is appealing to many, the “Negev” or “Desert” allowed me to see a different, and absolutely beautiful, side of Israel.
What did you learn studying abroad during high school?
An easier question would be, “What didn’t you learn studying abroad during high school?” to which my answer would have to be, “Nothing.”
I learned to say yes and be open minded, to be introspective and independent. I learned how to work, live, eat, and breathe with others, and how to create a home in a place I had never been before and a family out of people who were once strangers. I learned how I learn and what I’m truly passionate about learning. I used skills I was unaware I had, to overcome obstacles I hadn’t expected to face, learning more and more about myself, my culture, my religion, and the rest of the world around me each step of the way. But most importantly, I learned things that I could have never, ever found in any textbook.
What would you tell other students who are considering a semester abroad school?
One simple word: Go.
A semester abroad in high school is a growing and learning experience unlike any other, as high school is such a vulnerable and influential stage in one’s life. It’s nerve-wracking, and I understand the fear of missing out, but the experience you will have and the friends you will make in those short four months are guaranteed to have more of an impact on your life than any Winter Formal, birthday party, or sleepover.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the best decision I’ve ever made, and I can’t let anyone with the chance to do the same turn it down.
What was the most memorable experience of your time in Israel at AMHSI?
While it’s nearly impossible to name just one, there is a particular moment that sums up my experience on AMHSI pretty well. As the bus pulls to a stop, my two counselors Ori and Sarah, along with my Core teacher, Aubrey, wakes everyone up. It had been a long bus ride—about three hours—but it was dark outside so we can’t exactly tell where we are.
As we line up, they hand us a blindfold that we are told to put over our eyes so we are unable to see. They help us off the bus and direct us to walk forward holding hands. As we’re walking, they’re screaming “Duck!” or “Watch out!” as though they are leading us through a tunnel. We stop at a ledge and are told to take off our blindfolds.
Our first view of Jerusalem skyline is glowing before our eyes, as the song, “Jerusalem of Gold” plays through a boom box. Some are overcome with tears, others simply with amazement, yet as we turn around to look back at the windy tunnel we have just trekked through to get here, there is nothing.
We all burst out in laughter, as our teacher and counselors have just succeeded in making us all look like complete fools. This moment demonstrates a coexisting feeling of laughter, bliss, and awe, a feeling I felt often throughout my four months on AMHSI.
How has your study abroad experience prepared you for college?
Studying abroad has prepared me for college in so many ways. I know how to live on my own and be successful in setting priorities for myself, something many college freshman often struggle with. I am able to get along living with others my own age, even when living styles clash, and how to compromise and make everyone feel at home.
Studying abroad, I learned how to be independent and still stay connected to who I am and where I came from, creating new homes without leaving the old ones behind. College can be a daunting change for many, but my experience away for an entire semester has prepared me, and even excited me, for whatever change lies ahead.
[AMHSI was featured in Life with Teens Summer 2014. Read the entire issue here!]