Israeli students visit Norman
High School, students to
return the favor

By Julianna Parker Jones
Reprinted, with permission, from The Norman Transcript
Two Norman High School students will soon embark on a journey to a far-off land, but they're already discovering that the people half-way around the world are actually quite similar to themselves. "I think they're just like us," said 17-year-old Kassidy Bloss about the high school students from Israel she met Wednesday. "They're funny. We're a lot alike. They know most of the things we know."

Bloss and fellow 11th grader Maddison Bruer will spend time this week with the eight Israeli students who arrived in Norman Wednesday. Then they'll travel with them to New York, Washington D.C. and eventually Israel, where they will spend about two weeks.

Bloss and Bruer were chosen through an application process to take part in the Youth Ambassador Student Exchange sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League in conjunction with the Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE). The exchange program was started more than 30 years ago. This is the fourth year OKIE has participated in the event, choosing students from different school districts each year. This year, two students from Norman Public Schools and two from Seminole were chosen.

At a pot-luck welcome dinner for the Israeli students Wednesday in the NHS Commons, Bloss and Bruer said they were looking forward to traveling to Israel. Neither have been out of the country before."In fact, I've rarely traveled outside of the state," Bruer said. She said she never dreamt of visiting Israel, but is excited for the opportunity."I've always wanted to travel and get new experiences."

OKIE President Gary Miller said the exchange program is meant to allow students to meet people from other countries that they will know their whole life. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids, both for the Israeli kids and our Oklahoma kids, to experience one another's cultures."

The exchange program's goal is to facilitate cultural understanding between Americans and Israelis, said Ilana Trock, the Israeli students' sponsor. "The goals is very simple," she said. "The point is youth together. If we get to know each other it's the best way for the students from the States to get to know Israel." Many Americans only see Israel in the news when there is war or destruction, but this is not the day-to-day life of Israelis, Trock said. American students can be told that, but one way to bring that to complete understanding it to meet an Israeli student, she said. Then, students will see that they are more similar than they thought. "They have been dreaming the same dream, so this is the way to see they are almost the same."

She said she's been a chaperone for the exchange program for three years, and this group of students is more open than other years. It was evident in the instant bond created across cultures when the NHS and Israeli students met. "It was amazing to see them in the airport," Trock said. "In less than a minute they were ... talking like they had known each other a long time."