UCLA undergraduate Marisol Fernandez is of two minds at all times. It is a feat she manages to pull off seamlessly in her particular field of study, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Currently majoring in both Middle Eastern Studies, and Semitics, she’s a strong believer in on the ground research, and has been back to Israel twice in order to increase her knowledge of both the people, and language of the area.
Read Marisol’s story, told by her below, and you’ll be inspired to go the extra mile to increase your knowledge of the world via the Humanities. Her travel experience alone will convince you that there are no substitutes when it comes to being there.
“In my freshman year of high school I read a book called Guns, Germs and Steel by UCLA professor Jared Diamond. That is the book that really got me interested in the ancient Middle East, but I never thought I would pursue a college degree, or a career in it. And in my first year at UCLA I was a Political Science major, but I changed my mind at the end of my freshman year. I’m now a Departmental Scholar, which is a UCLA concurrent enrollment program where, when I graduate next spring, I’ll have earned a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies, and a Masters in Semitics. Looking back, I know I made the right decision.
I’ve studied abroad twice now. The first time was in Jerusalem, at Hebrew University. This was done through UCLA’s UCEAP program. Going to Jerusalem was very eye-opening to me. I lived in dormitories in East Jerusalem, where the school I attended, Hebrew University, was. There was a lot of interaction with cultures in East Jerusalem because the neighborhoods are so close together. I focus on identity dynamics for my degree in Middle Eastern Studies, which can be difficult to explain. Within the actual Israeli-Palestinian conflict there are smaller conflicts, which has to do with the different statuses of Arabs that live in certain areas. I focus on the discrimination of Palestinian-Israeli citizens. It’s important for people outside of the conflict it to bring something fresh to it. Studying here at UCLA, and at the conflict areas, allows me to maintain an open mind about the world, and its people.
My family is my motivation, and they’ve prompted me to become a success. My mom worries when I travel abroad. She’s been a single mother since I was three. Growing up in southern California, I learned how to adapt to new places because we moved a lot. I attended twelve elementary schools, and several secondary schools, though I don’t feel it had a negative impact on my education. I see my mom every two weeks, because she now lives east of Los Angeles.
I commute by bus to campus, which takes two and a half hours both ways. I do this four days a week. I also have a paid internship, with UCLA’s Y&S Nazarian Center for Israeli Studies. Being so busy, my coping mechanism is, “I’m going to make it.” I don’t want to become a statistic.
This past summer I went back to Israel to focus on areas of peaceful interaction – mall, cinemas, parks, and markets – from both the Palestinian, and Israeli perspective. This was independent research, in Haifa, which is a city north of Jerusalem. It’s a good area to study, as there is peaceful interaction between ethnic groups. While I was there in Haifa I did Arabic immersion, which is continuation of the Arabic I’ve already learned here at UCLA. The program was at the University of Haifa.
Language is culture. The way people speak, they way they conduct themselves says a lot about where they come from, and their political and cultural stance. Being at UCLA has helped me be more open-minded about the cultures I study through the Arabic and Hebraic languages. UCLA has allowed me to experience new ideas and places that I wouldn’t have got to experience anywhere else.”