"I say it all the time: OTI has changed my life. I’m a much more empathetic and open-minded person because of OTI. Experiential education has shaped my world perspective in such a significantly unique way. My experiences on the Turkey-Armenia trip in 2014 and Israel-Palestine in 2016 have furthered my thirst for understanding the perspectives and experiences of individuals all around the world. Wherever I go, it’s as though I engage and converse with people through an OTI lens. I try to listen to understand, not necessarily to reply." --Liza Stephanian (President of OTI Middle East SDSU)
“I came back from the trip with a newfound understanding of something that I thought I knew everything about. It has challenged my assumptions and provided me with leadership and analytical skills that I can carryover to all aspects of my life.” -Georgina Danial, UCI
OTI Alumni are the Foundation for all that we do. They keep us motivated and focused on the positive change that can be brought about by Experiential Education and helping people learn to think and move "beyond soundbites and stereotypes".
If you are an OTI Alum, please contact Kevin Pham, OTI Alumni Coordinator for updates and opportunities to connect with your fellow OTI Alumni for networking, job and internship opportunities, and, of course, for socializing and reminiscing about great OTI experiences and memories! Kevin can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carmel, UCLA, Class of 2012
Major: double majored in Global Studies and World Arts & Cultures.
I am currently a Program Assistant at the National Democratic Institute in Washington, DC, where I focus on the Institute's programs in Iraq and Syria.
“OTI has been crucial in broadening my own understanding of the different narratives that come to shape the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The backgrounds and personal stories of the other "Olives," and the various individuals I encountered during my summer trip, taught me to think critically and look past the divisive rhetoric that has historically informed this conflict. Above all, OTI has been important because it marked a period of personal growth for me. Being exposed to the undeniably human dimension of this conflict caused me to rethink my own relation to this issue both as a student and as an Israeli.”
Isaac, UC Irvine Class of 2010
Major: Political Science
Immediately after graduating from UC Irvine, I returned to the Middle East and completed an M.A. in Government. I then founded the Center for Regional Engagement in Jerusalem with a Palestinian partner. In my spare time, I travel to under-developed communities throughout Africa and create opportunities for fair trade export to developed markets.
"Without OTI, I would not have had the capacity to work with, and coalesce key players in such a polarized region, around a common issue. I would not have had the ability to communicate effectively with people who have opposing views to me. And I certainly would not have had both the humility and resilience that I am grateful to have today. It was my community and my people who gave me my identity and my ambition. But it was OTI that gave me the ability to cross difficult borders, and do something constructive with all of it."
Kate, UC Irvine Class of 2008
Major: International Studies
Kate is the founder and CEO of Social Good Strategies, LLC, a philanthropy advising practice that works with clients to build impactful philanthropic strategies.
After finishing her BA in International Studies at UCIrvine, Kate went on to earn a Masters in Public Diplomacy at USC. She has served as Deputy Head of Press, Policy and Public Affairs for the British Consulate General, Los Angeles and, as an Account Executive at RALLY, she built social cause campaigns and communications strategies for high profile clients and foundations. Kate has held events and program management positions with the US State Department’s Foreign Press Center in Washington, DC, the UCI Center for Citizen Peacebuilding and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.
Notable past projects include working with Maria Shriver on the rollout of her latest Shriver Report: A Woman Pushes Back From the Brink, coordinating the rollout of Lear's climate change film for the opening of the 2014 UN Climate Summit, and successfully managing logistics, press and non-profit partnerships for the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
“To this day, I credit my experience with OTI as being one of the most impactful experiences in my life. The planning, fundraising, organizing and traveling with classmates and counterparts taught me more than any traditional classroom experience could. I am thrilled to see the organization continue to grow. Even now, I meet new people who are OTI alumni, and I'm proud to see what they have done with their experience.”
Armaan, UC Irvine Class of 2013
Major: B.S. in Biological Sciences, Minor in Public Health, Certificate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution
After his participation in the Olive Tree Initiative trip in 2010, and then again as a returning student in 2011, Armaan received the 2011-2012 UC Irvine Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, an annual undergraduate award that recognizes intellectual distinction, service to the community, and commitment to ethics, peace and positive global relations. With project funding from the international Dalai Lama fellowship, Armaan launched an interfaith service initiative focused on hunger and homelessness entitled Leap of Faith, the core of UC Irvine's participation in the White House Interfaith and Community Service Challenge (launched in spring 2011). As a part of Leap of Faith, Armaan served as the moderator for a conversation with Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan through the Living Peace Series at UCI in May 2012.
That year, Armaan was appointed as the sole undergraduate member and UC Irvine representative on UC President Mark Yudof's Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion. The purpose of the council was to advice the UC President in addressing challenges to, and identifying promising practices for, enhancing tolerant and inclusive environments on each of the ten University of California campuses. During his service on the Council, Armaan was a member of the fact-finding team charged with the evaluation of the educational and co-curricular experiences of Muslim and Arab students, which culminated in a report and recommendations issued in July 2012.
In 2012, Armaan was also nominated for the UC President's Award for Outstanding Leadership, received the UC Irvine Alumni Association's Laud & Laurels Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student award, was accepted to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and was awarded the UC Irvine Distinguished Anteater Scholarship.
Upon graduation, Armaan was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and accepted as a research fellow to the 2013-2014 Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Jordan. He currently resides with his wife in Amman, Jordan, where he is studying Arabic and conducting research at the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation's Institute for Family Health on computer-aided diabetes risk assessment and education in a medically underserved population. The purpose of his research is to develop a convenient tool for use in research limited settings, such as among displaced populations across the Middle East. After the conclusion of his fellowship, he will begin his studies toward a combined MD-PhD in public health under the Johns Hopkins University Medical Scientist Training Program.
"With the Olive Tree Initiative, I learned more about the difficult realities that define structural violence than I have ever learned in a classroom. I was inspired by the perseverance that I witnessed in the people of the region, who face seemingly insurmountable barriers of violence and anger. Moreover, while mediating student dialogue and field study in Israel-Palestine, I witnessed the power of education to shift paradigms and connect people."
Sameera, UC Irvine Class of 2009
Major: Biological Sciences and Global Cultures.
University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law class of 2013
“OTI is important to me because it brings to light the harsh realities of the conflict that we were able to see first hand. It also forces the members who are coming from different view points to engage in dialogue to understand other perspectives, while being able to strengthen our own.”
Misha, Stanford, Class of 2016
Major: Management Science & Engineering
Stanford student. Ambitions: Management Consultant, Entrepreneur, Venture Capitalist, International economist (probably in this order)
“It is easy, and natural, for our human mind to categorize the stimulus it encounters. It enables us to make some sense of our environment and makes our worldview seem elegant and orderly. However, it would be a fallacy to believe these categorizations are, or can ever be, the truth. This fact grew ever more clear throughout my trip to Israel/Palestine, where I delved into an ocean of personal narratives, each with their own perspective and understanding. I learnt that in any situation involving multiple perspectives, such as the Israeli-Palestinian situation, simplifying the narratives into two opposing views is imperfect at best, deadly most of the time. But, imagine the chaos that would result if every individual narrative was to be considered on equal grounds! A balance between overly constricting and rigid categorizations and complete decentralization must be struck. That balance is the question I am currently pondering on.”
Omer, UC Santa Barbara, Class of 2012
Minor: Global Peace and Security
I am now at Haifa University in Haifa, Israel studying Peace &
Conflict Management working towards my Master's. I would not have had
the courage to get involved so deeply in the field of "peace and
conflict studies" if it weren't for my experience in Olive Tree
Initiative. I think my four years with the group gave me some
incredibly valuable tools with which to approach conflict.
“Being in OTI was very eye-opening, in that it really called into question not only a lot of my assumptions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also conflict resolution in general. It was, more than anything, a humbling experience, helping me realize that, for the most part, conflict resolution is a process and not an event like we're so often led to believe. It seems true to me that peace can't just arise after politicians agree to settle their differences (though that would be a welcome gesture), but conflicts also require deconstruction in public. Discussion and education seem to be a huge part of that, which my experience with OTI, particularly the group reflections, made that uncomfortably clear.”
UC Irvine Class of 2011
Major: International Studies
After graduating from UCI, I moved back to India and began a career in the news media. I worked as assistant producer for Day and Night news channel followed by a stint at CNN IBN. As of now, I pursuing my masters in Foreign Policy at JSIA and am currently in DC for a year abroad at American University. I am currently interning at a think tank called the German Marshall Fund and writing a blog for CNN IBN.
“OTI opened my eyes to a world beyond the one dimensional textbook learning that we participate in classes at universities. Our interactions with locals from both sides made me realize that despite the disparities and differences we all yearn for the same basic rights and liberties and share something irreducible. This notion of belonging to a similar creed has stuck with me and committed me to a life path that is mindful of this narrative.”
Ben, UC Santa Cruz, Class of 2012
Major: Global Economics
I participated in the OTI 4 trip in 2011. After this experience, I co-taught a related course with two other OTI members at UC Santa Cruz. As a student, I also studied abroad in China and participated in the UCDC program where I interned at the Center for American Progress. After I graduated from UC Santa Cruz, I worked for Obama for America — President Obama's reelection team — in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. I currently work at the California Department of Finance working on regulatory review.
“OTI reminds you that there are no easy answers to our complicated political questions. To make progress on these issues, you must understand them and the best way is to listen to and ask questions to people who are affected by these issues and also to people who influence these issues.This is the most important aspect that I took from OTI; they are experiences and skills that influence how I approach issues.”
UC Irvine Class of 2010
After the Olive Tree Initiative, I graduated with my bachelors while simultaneously working for a film company in LA in their online marketing department. I later traveled to different corporations until I decided to set up my own online marketing company called Levley Marketing which is geared towards affordable and honest marketing for other small to medium sized businesses. I also met the love of my life, got married, and have a very cute fluffy puppy.
“Being a part of the Olive Tree Initiative was one of the best parts of my life. Not only did I make unexpected friendships, but I learned so much about what was really going on in Israel and Palestine. I learned that there is not one answer, but many people truly believed in dialogue. I learned how to listen to people I don't agree with, that peace is achievable even though some lived through catastrophic events, that an incredible strength can come from people with nothing, that brutal and gruesome events are real and true -- seeing them was hard but impactful -- and that there is not one truth, but many truths, it is all due to perception and experiences. What I learned on the Olive Tree Initiative was priceless and I will carry those moments in my heart for the rest of my life.”
UC Irvine Class of 2010
Major: International Studies and Conflict Resolution
I graduated in August of 2012 with a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship from Hult International Business School in London and completed an internship there with a non-profit focusing on local and global social innovation. Recently, I've relocated to Seattle in pursuit of a career in international development, and also hope to get involved in interfaith projects.
“I think one of OTI's most important gifts to the academic community is promoting solution-oriented thinking by creating a space for diverse individuals that care deeply about the people affected by the conflict to come together on an intimate level. Even more important are the lasting relationships that form across community and faith lines as a result. It is for this reason that although it's been over three years since our journey to Israel and Palestine, I still feel like I'm part of the OTI family.”
Kevin, UC Irvine, Class of 2010
Major: Political Science
Immediately after OTI, I conducted research for and taught my own college course on cultural narratives at UCI in my senior year. After graduating, and having learned of the power of travel from OTI, I decided to live in Vietnam for a year teaching English, rediscovering the roots of my identity and relearning the Vietnamese language. In 2011, I was awarded the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and lived in the Netherlands for one year doing a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Governance at the University of Amsterdam. As an ambassadorial scholar, I gave presentations about the Olive Tree Initiative to Rotary Clubs throughout the Netherlands, Cairo, Egypt, Tennessee and California. I am currently doing a Ph.D in political theory and conflict resolution at UC Riverside. I am also coordinating the OTI alumni network so we can continue building relationships and capacities for long term change.
I can surely doubt I would have done any of the aforementioned things had it not been for OTI.
“The transformative power of OTI cannot be overstated. Engaging all five senses with various narratives, while crossing mental and physical borders daily, allowed concepts to be deeply felt, not merely understood. The force of such rigorous education gave me the momentum to do things afterward I would have never imagined. The most important point, however, is that I am not unique in being effected by OTI. A growing network of leaders is created from this initiative, one driven by critical thinking and the understanding that proactive and collaborative engagement is necessary to address the world’s most pressing issues.”