Bailey Nicklas hadn’t expected such an exotic trip, at least for awhile. The Chambersburg, Pennsylvania youth learned about a trip sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League, part of its Youth Ambassador Student Exchange program.
He’s thrilled that he did.
“I found out about the trip from a geography teacher,” he remembers. “I loved the idea of going.”
Everyone is different, of course, and some approach a trip like this with trepidation, simply because they haven’t traveled widely. Not Bailey!
During Bailey’s junior high, his family lived in Finland, due to his father’s engineering job.
“It was interesting, school was hard because of the language barrier, and I had one English teacher for seventh and eighth grade.” He has three brothers, which keeps his stay-at-home mom busy! Bailey’s interests include music (particularly guitar), hiking, and being with people.
His prep time for the Israel trip was brief, but exhilarating.
“The planning was really cool, I was last-minute and had a month lead-time. Not much time for anticipation, I got paperwork filled out two or three weeks before going to Israel. I had to get my passport expedited.”
Meeting the other students online and talking to them left Bailey a little nervous, but he also couldn’t wait to meet them.
Bailey felt an extra blessing being settled in the lovely Israeli community of Kfar Yona, with its gorgeous orchards and friendly locals. But like many who visit Israel the first time, he has vivid memories too of approaching Tel Aviv from the air.
“I had the middle seat and I saw we were coming over the water and I saw sand. I knew it was going to be a unique country altogether. Getting through security, the people seemed pretty nice. Once we got on the bus I thought, “Wow, I’m actually in Israel!”
Bailey’s party went straight to Jerusalem, then back to Tel Aviv for two or three nights. He remembers it clearly.
“We walked down to the beach the first night in Tel Aviv. One girl from Oklahoma City cried when she saw the ocean the first time. Sometimes I take that for granted.
“We played basketball one night, Americans and Israelis. We also visited old Jaffa…and swam in the water, which was cold!”
Jerusalem of course was a different experience altogether.
“I remember even at night seeing Jerusalem’s architecture, it was so different from anything I’d ever seen,” Bailey remembers. “We were at a youth hostel, I went downstairs and outside, thinking about how amazing it was.”
Interacting with his Israeli counterparts left Bailey quite impressed.
“We went to their schools—so different from anything I’d ever seen. We visited their schools one day and we talked a little bit. Their schools are way different than ours—uniforms, and the classrooms were small. I remember being completely impressed. And, they wanted to meet the Americans!”
Bailey’s group was also treated to a deluxe tour of the country’s amazing sites.
“The ‘usual’ sites everyone sees were really overwhelming: swimming in the Dead Sea, seeing the religious sights in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—inside of that church is beautiful. I couldn’t believe the attention to detail in the buildings themselves. I also found the markets to be so interesting.” He also described the “sea of people” at the Western Wall.
Bailey also noticed differences in Israel and other countries.
“In Finland a guy has to join the military, but in Israel it’s both male and female.” He was very impressed and moved by the commitment of Israel’s youth to their country.
He was first introduced to that Israeli independent spirit when he met the student his family hosted in the U.S.
“Our host student lived with us for a week, before we left for Tel Aviv. When we picked up our student I was wearing a flannel shirt and cowboy boots! I remember wondering what he’d be like, and just remember thinking I would do whatever I could to show him a good time, a good experience. It was crazy because once he got off the bus, we took him straight home and we were talking back and forth. It was like I’d known him for years.”
The Israel experience left Bailey very hopeful for the future. It helped solidify some plans that had been inside him for some time.
“I’m from a small town, and we saw Masada and looking out over the country I was thinking about how big the world is. Our Yad Vashem guide was talking about doing something with our lives that would impact others. I’d been thinking about ways I could impact the world, and I came across a missionary program, to New Guinea. This is sponsored by a Christian group, YWAM.
“The trip to Israel highly impacted me. I now feel more confident going new places and trying new things. I’m okay with that, meeting new people and traveling. I love to help people.
“I will never forget Israel.”