I am full of contradictions. I am vulnerable yet guarded. I hate change, but I am extremely adaptable. I am someone who seeks “safety,” but I opt for adventure. I always plan things ahead of time, but I also act on impulse. I may be like that by nature or by design, but I truly believe that I have the power to steer my life in the direction I want to. I take my decisions, I work for them and I go where I want to go – most recently, to Israel on my Alternative Spring Break. One question was all it took to make up my mind: “When will you ever plan a trip to Israel?” Before I knew it, I was in Israel with an amazing group of Northeastern students. The trip consisted of volunteer work at the Israeli Defense Force base, but for me, this experience was much more than the day-to-day work.

After only four days at the base, we were able to speak to and become close with the Israeli soldiers. It amazed me that even at our age – in their early 20s – they could be so mature. My friends always describe me as “the one with motherly instincts” because of my own maturity – something that is not common in my culture. But in Israel, I saw that maturity in everyone I met. All the soldiers had different goals in life. And yet they all had this passion for living their lives to the fullest. From the age of 18, they were required by law to serve for two to three years. So there they were, living away from family, working day and night for their country.

As volunteers, we were surprised at many aspects of life on base. Meals were sacred – no matter how much work there was to do, we dined together three times a day, along with the officers. Normal and happy lives were sacred – the Israelis saw value in this above anything else. Having fun was sacred as well. They knew how to make the best out of their service and had built themselves a home away from home. They understood each other’s struggles and were there to support each other.

For the Israelis, surprises came from us as well. They were surprised at the fact that we could pursue an education right after high school. Many thought of it as a privilege and some as an oddity. They were also surprised by us running around, always trying to do everything “on time.” For Israelis, there is no stress about time. “Because there will be time for everything in life,” they explained to us.

Having grown up in Panama as an Indian, I consider myself someone who loves culture. And after this trip, I have another culture to love – that of Israel. Israel is serious and lively, mature and youthful, concrete and forever evolving. Like me, it is full of contradictions.

– Mansi Vijay Lakhyani is a sophomore psychology major.