The beautiful city of Haifa in was the home away from home for 10 UGA grad students this summer, all taking part in a study abroad program in Israel.

The beautiful city of Haifa in was the home away from home for 10 UGA grad students this summer, all taking part in a study abroad program in Israel.

BY CAROLYN CRIST / AJT //

Nicole Nation was in Israel recently, studying health care in Haifa, all part of a special program that’s been years in the making.

Nation and nine other public health graduate students from the University of Georgia lived in Haifa for eight weeks this summer, taking part in classes, participating in a special “hands-on” internship and experiencing the city’s multicultural charm.

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It’s taken four years to get off the ground, but the program is now UGA’s first official study abroad program in Israel.

“When we were shadowing during home visits, I was amazed how many patients welcomed us and allowed us to watch them be treated,” Nation said. “Everyone I met was friendly, and I was surprised by the wide range of cultures, backgrounds, and opinions.”

The program, “Developing Leaders in Global Health Systems,” grew out of a partnership between UGA and the University of Haifa. Professors from both universities taught classes about globalized health, leadership, and health care systems to the UGA students and seven public health students from Haifa.

“Israel has a successful health care system that could be viewed as a model system that we in the U.S. could learn from,” said Richard Schuster, director of UGA’s Center for Global Health, who created the study abroad program. “With universal health care at a reasonable cost and with fewer health disparities, Israel has better health delivery outcomes than the U.S.”

As part of their internships, the public health students recorded and analyzed outcomes in different settings – hospitals, clinics, and homes. After the class visited as a group, two students studied Western Galilee Hospital and its use of social workers who help children; many were injured in Syria and dropped at the border.

“The security issues are so unique that the hospital has incorporated safety into its design and development, such as ambulances with armor plates,” said Don Rubin, director of UGA’s Center for Health & Risk Communication. “Part of the hospital’s mission is to be a safe haven in an environment where conflict is never quite out of one’s awareness, and it was iconic for this trip.”

Several group trips emphasized the multicultural aspect of Haifa and its surrounding neighborhoods, where a mixture of Muslim and Christian Arabs, Russians, and Orthodox and secular Jewish residents live.

At an Ethiopian absorption center, the students noted how Israeli workers help immigrants with language and literacy barriers, health and gender inequalities, and the culture shock of moving into a developed nation.

“It has taken a generation for many Ethiopians to feel they can participate in all levels of Israeli society, and it’s still an issue for the older immigrants who struggle with the language,” Rubin said. “There are many barriers to health care for them, and this gave another global perspective to the students.”

In addition, the group traveled to Israel’s largest Muslim city, Umm el Fahm, to experience iftar, the meal and celebration that comes at the end of each day of Ramadan. Organized by Sikkuy, an Israeli organization that promotes equality among Arab and Jewish citizens, the event encouraged the group to visit residents’ homes for a meal and then walk through the city as fireworks burst overhead.

“The students came away with the idea that people are proud of their traditions and happy to share them,” Rubin said. “Sometimes people see Israel as a mono-cultural or bi-cultural environment, but we were able to see the many ways people live and enjoy their families.”

Jackie Murtha was particularly struck by the multiculturalism – and the safety in Haifa.

“Before we went, we thought we would be intimidated by soldiers walking around and security,” she said. “But it wasn’t anything like that. I felt safer there than I do in some places in Athens.”

As Schuster continues the partnership each summer, he and University of Haifa colleagues are developing a three-semester master’s in public health in Haifa that will be featured in English.

Thanks to donations from Atlanta and Athens-area businesses and members of the Jewish community, such as Given Imaging and Merck Pharmaceuticals, the students’ costs were lower than other study-abroad opportunities. The eight-week program fee was about $3,000, which falls below many of UGA’s three-week study abroad sessions.

This was especially rewarding for Parveen Dhillon, who decided to travel to Haifa for her first study abroad experience. Other than trips to India with her parents, Dhillon hadn’t traveled out of the country much.

“I hoped it would be a growing-up experience, and it turned out to be just that,” she said. “Touring the Dead Sea and going to a waterfall – those moments were once in a lifetime. Who knows when I’ll be able to do that again?”

As the students left class each day, they were struck by the view below. Seated at the top of a hill, the University of Haifa overlooks white and cream-colored buildings, the Mediterranean Sea, and an expansive port. For Nation, it was these moments, as well as those in the historic towns Masada and Jaffa, that inspired her the most.

“These are places where people have lived for thousands of years,” she said. “They woke up, lived their daily lives, worked, and went to sleep again. The beginning of civilization developed and existed where we were standing.”

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