Tara Ryan: What Happens when a Small Town Baptist girl finds herself studying at Hebrew University?


Tara Ryan How did this small town girl from Oklahoma end up studying for her master’s degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem? I am quite befuddled myself. Being raised in the pews of a small Baptist church, my world did not expand much beyond the comforts of American suburbia. It wasn’t until my years at Oklahoma Baptist University, that my eyes were opened to the world around me. I studied International Relations and Anthropology. I sat in classes learning about cultures, languages, and all the different religions of the world. It didn’t make sense for me to simply sit and hear about all of these magnificent regions, I had to go and experience them for myself.

My travels started in Africa. I was fascinated with the culture and I wanted to learn about third-world development. Thus, I applied to a study abroad program in Uganda and after four months of studying and living with the Ugandan people, my world was turned upside down. Then my sights turned toward the Middle East. For a second time, I packed up and headed to Cairo, Egypt with a group of American students. Once again my life was flipped upside down, this time with a Middle Eastern twist!

How does Israel enter into my story?  After I graduated university I had planned to go back to Cairo, but the Arab Spring was in progress, and it was no longer safe to study there.  Having spent two weeks in Israel during my stay in Cairo, I was fascinated by the Kibbutz system.  Instead of going to Cairo, I opted to spend six months living on an Israeli moshav, which opened up a whole new chapter in my life.  One can imagine that after some time invested in the Arab world, people had not always give me the best impression of the tiny Jewish country located on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.  So I spent time sitting and listening to the stories of my Israeli friends to understand the picture more fully. I couldn’t stop learning after my time as a volunteer, which is why I now find myself studying at the Hebrew University.

People have asked me many times why did I choose Israel? To this day, I am still trying to fully understand that myself. I could say it was the Israeli/Arab conflict that fascinated me or I could claim it was my desire to offer help to those in need, but I can also say that many things resonated deeply within me. Oftentimes, for many young people, these explorations serve to help one find out who they are and what they believe. For me, it was no different, except I got hooked!

Stay tuned to read more about Tara’s experiences at HU and in Israel

Tara Ryan hails from a small town in Oklahoma. She has travelled extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East  and is currently studying for her masters’ in non-profit management at the Hebrew University. Her blog documents her unusual journey to Israel and how her studies here have shaped her perspectives on the Middle East and her life goals.