University of Southern California

Student Life Blog

Trojan Family Abroad

Isabella Sayyah is a Junior, double majoring in Broadcast and Digital Journalism & International Relations

By Isabella Sayyah Tuesday, June 10, 2014


My 18-day trip to Israel has just ended, and I’m back at home. As happy as I am to see my family and have the comforts of home again (yay reliably hot showers!), I’m also thinking about the family I’ve left behind in Israel.

I left for Israel with one friend and 38 strangers. Yes, 36 of us went to USC, but I barely even recognized anybody on the trip. Save for one short orientation, which was more a blur of names and faces than anything else, I had never met these people.

Last Sunday, the final day of our 10-day Taglit-Birthright trip with USC Hillel, as I stood outside the airport, saying bye to the people departing for home with the other students who were extending their trip, I no longer felt that way. Not only did I now know these peoples names, majors and hometowns, but I also had countless experiences and memories with them. We hiked up mountains together, we prayed at the Western Wall, we swam in multiple seas — the list goes on.

But most of all, we became our own kind of family unit. The 39 of us — plus the six Israeli soldiers who joined us — left Israel (or in some cases, remained there) with a new connection. We hadn’t just go on a trip, we had completed a journey of exploration, of identity and, most of all, of friendship.

Cooking with our Israeli friends in Tel Aviv

Cooking with our Israeli friends in Tel Aviv

I didn’t realize just how much this was true until this past Saturday, my last day in Israel. After a few days of traveling around Jerusalem and to Jordan to see the ancient Nabataean ruins of Petra, my friend and I were ending our trip in Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital. Some of the other Trojans from our trip and some Israeli soldiers were also in Tel Aviv, and we decided we should try to see everyone one last time before we left and tried to make dinner plans. Our Israeli friend Danielle instead insisted that we all cook together, and Jordan, a USC student who had an apartment in Tel Aviv for the summer, offered up his space.

My friend and I had originally planned on shopping for most of the day, with a quick lunch stop to cook and see everyone. When we woke up Saturday morning, however, we realized that wouldn’t be possible.  In Israel, Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is kind of a big deal. Pretty much all the shops are closed — even in high-tech, secular Tel Aviv.

With not much else to do, we met up with two friends staying at a hotel down the beach from us, and walked over to Jordan’s apartment. After a few hours of waiting (we got there early and I have yet to meet an Israeli who can be on time) and hanging out with all the other Trojans crashing at Jordan’s place for the week, our Israeli friends Danielle and Coral arrived with groceries and wine in hand and the fun began.

Our Shabbat meal together

Our Shabbat meal together

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays not because of the food but rather because of the cooking. There’s something so warm and comfortable about working with other people to make a meal, all the while blasting music and chatting away. After a couple hours filled with chopping vegetables for Israeli salad, cooking some spicy Shakshuka (an Israeli egg and tomato dish), and general merriment, the feast was ready.

As we all sat down for our Shabbat meal and said some quick Jewish prayers over the Challah and wine, I realized we had indeed truly become a family. Although most of our members were missing, the 10 of us there were making up for it by coming together and making this meal. As I looked around the table I realized the Trojan family is more than just one big community, it’s the thousands of little ones we make for ourselves within it.

So, even halfway across the world, the Trojan family, or at least my little one, was still going strong.