By Samson Bajakian, Contributing Writer (‘24)

The beginning of anything new reminds us of how difficult the slightest changes in our schedules can be. Everybody is used to their typical morning routine. Every step of every day is calculated and usually follows the pattern of the previous day. No one knows this better than Jasmin Kojjeh. Jasmin immigrated from Jerusalem to New Jersey on September 9, 2021, and has grown accustomed to the change in pace. She is attending Indian Hills as a sophomore in an exchange program. Jasmin is scheduled to return home to her parents and younger siblings on June 11, 2022. 

Jasmin has a home in Jerusalem, as well as one in Bethlehem. She has grown up considering many currently Israel-dominated territories to be rightfully Palestine’s. Jasmin is ethnically half Palestinian (father) and half Mongolian (mother). She speaks five languages: Arabic, English, Mongolian, Hebrew, and Russian. Jasmin considers Mongolian the most challenging to learn. To commute from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for her international school, she had to pass through tedious checkpoints set up and armed by Israeli military units. As an American, this is something most of us can never imagine facing. The United States has toll booths, sure, but the concept of having your vehicle ransacked by armed individuals is inconceivable. According to Kojjeh, most thorough searches are conducted upon individuals wearing traditional Islamic clothing. She says, “If your mom […] wears a hijab, [Israeli military personnel] would likely stop and check the car”.

Kojjeh says she dreams of living in a version of Palestine that doesn’t have to participate in the current violence. The tension between Israel and Palestine began slightly after Hitler’s reign over Europe came to a close and has lasted ever since. The way she understands the conflict to have unfolded is like this: Israelis didn’t have much territory after the conclusion of World War II, so they put their labels on another land, what Palestinians know to be Palestine’s land. Everybody has a slightly nuanced view of how this vividly complicated conflict came to be. Truthfully, it’s hard to find a historically correct answer on the internet. Israel and Palestine’s quarrel is difficult to comprehend wholly. 

Jasmin says Americans seem to be misinformed about this long-endured battle. “People tend to ignore that Israelis have a lot of power,” she says, “while Palestinians don’t have anything except rocks and protesting. Which we can’t even do; if you do it, you’ll end up in prison for more than a year.” Around June 2021, awareness about Palestine’s defense began receiving vivid social media coverage. It’s fair to consider these posts the greatest extent to which most American teenagers like ourselves were familiarized with the conflict. International current conflicts like this one aren’t typically covered in your average history class, though an elective such as current events might touch on it. 

Another nuance within the American public school curriculum is the choice students get for electives, courses, and extracurricular activities offered outside of regular school time. Jasmin told me that every student–regardless of capabilities or skill–is placed in the same classes at her international school back home. Their system is only based on age. For example, every person in 9th grade/14-15 years old would attend the exact same level of geometry class. “If you want to do an activity or something,” she said, “it’s all outside of school.” This can come as a major inconvenience, especially for students who find their set curriculum to be either too challenging or too easy. 

More than most factors, she says meeting other foreign exchange students within her program has widened her perspective massively. Through other international students coming from places like Africa, she’s grown in knowledge about varying ways of life. From a foreign perspective, she finds it funny how often Americans wear pajamas. Nobody wears them to school as we do; or to the grocery store, mall, or restaurants. I’m sure, however, that if one of us exchanged in school in Palestine, we’d find clothing habits to be different compared to our norm here. That considered, the first few days of spirit week came as a culture shock for her. While being a fun way to express school spirit, seeing such abnormal ensembles throughout those five days was unexpected. It’s all a part of the experience, and Jasmin Kojjeh loves it all.  

Coming from a region impacted by a lack of peace compared to suburban New Jersey has helped Jasmin realize that education is the ultimate power to coexistence. Jasmin admires how, as a country, America is capable of existing in a state of overall coexistence. She likes that you can have the same job as someone seemingly “opposite” to you, and nobody thinks about it differently. Someone perhaps of different ethnicity, gender, or religious belief. The mingling of various cultures is an aspect of our country she believes makes it unique and special; the cocktail of heritages forms a way of life with so many diverse aspects. However, “Students don’t know much about other geography and cultures […] America has a lot of people who come from different cultures and live together and speak one language, but they still tend to not know about other cultures,” says Kojjeh. 

Overall, she says that her biggest takeaway from this experience was that she has “developed myself more, become more independent, gained confidence, and most importantly, gained knowledge about other societies and cultures.”