This post was written by Aimee Ascolese, a current MSW student at Rutgers University and an alum of a Yahel and Rutgers Study Abroad Partnership in Ramat Eliyahu.
This July 2019 I completed a month-long service learning study abroad trip, organized by Yahel and the Rutgers University School of Social Work. My background is a Bachelor of Science Degree in Family & Human Services from Towson University in Maryland, where I also declared a minor in Applied Disability Studies. I am currently a Master of Social Work student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where I grew up and returned home to after undergrad.
My Specialization in the MSW program is Management and Policy, and I’d like to try and focus my career on the area of Developmental Disabilities. I also have experience working with individuals with mental illness and their families. With these interests and experiences in hand, I was lucky enough to be able to be placed at Moadon Nesher, a group for adults with varying mental illnesses, and Beit Michal, a residential facility/group home for adults with Developmental (and some other) Disabilities.
Before starting these field placements in Ramat, I was very nervous about the language barrier. I had never been to Israel, or to any other country outside of the US for that long of a period of time, and I did not know any Hebrew. However, throughout my time in Israel and at my field placements, I was able to learn the true meaning and importance of body language and gestures, especially for individuals with varying disabilities.
At Moadon Nesher, I was able to see the participants’ many strengths and interests by watching them participate in various activities such as yoga and art, which did not always require conversation. Many of these individuals have trauma histories, multiple diagnoses, etc., but Nesher has been able to provide a consistent place of refuge, led by Channah, who is a sweet, caring woman who has been with Nesher for over 12 years. Channah spoke of the benefit of being with the group for so long; that she has really been able to watch the participants grow as people and improve their well-being in ways that cannot always be measured by assessments or surveys on paper.
At Beit Michal, I had the privilege of working with 2 residents who were deaf and also had intellectual disabilities. Both men were over age 50 and had not received much formal education, and thus did not learn how to read or use sign language in any language, including Hebrew. In a short time, using only gestures, an app on an iPad, and some sign language, I formed a connection with these men and was able to watch the excitement on their faces when they were able to simply communicate & interact with someone.
My time in Israel not only showed me a new place, new cultures, and new people, but it reinforced the importance of connecting in non-traditional ways and the impact that people can have on each other in such a short amount of time.