Chaperone, Haifa Municipal Council (2009 – present)
For the past five years, Miki Ojalvo has been helping coordinate YASE trips from her home in Haifa. It is a mission and calling she finds most fulfilling, as she watches Israeli and American students grow in their understanding of themselves and the world.
“It is a mission,” Miki says enthusiastically, “to participate and to learn. I think one of the most important things is to host non-Jewish groups. It’s a great opportunity for Israeli kids to see other countries and experience other cultures. The parents are very enthusiastic about the program.”
“Aurian, a 2011 youth ambassador from Heritage Hall, Oklahoma, bonded with me and visited with my family earlier this year. The relationships we form are not short-term. To me this is the value of YASE…it’s not over at the end of the tour.”
A specialty of Miki’s, which pays dividends for all involved with the program, is her ability to help students adjust and be comfortable throughout YASE which begins before they even get to their host country.
“It’s friendly from the beginning. Education groups in Israel start with singing and dancing.”
“I’ve worked with youth most of my life, so when they become a part of my youth ambassador delegation, I want them to know immediately that everyone is ‘okay’. American youth ambassadors are exposed to the best of Israeli life. We have hosted students from states such as Oklahoma, Michigan and New York.”
American and Israeli students are remarkably similar, bright and talented. The youth ambassadors reflect the best of their respective cultures. Still, there is one thing that stands out about Israeli students, that Americans marvel at, remarks Miki:
“There is a lot of similarity between the students from their different cultures: they love to laugh. But a major difference, of course, is that the Israeli youth must join the army. A fact of Israeli life is that we are surrounded by nations that are not friendly toward Israel, but we would like to make friends. American students see this and are impressed.”
The youth ambassadors – “her kids” – invariably enjoy a well-rounded and even dramatic experience:
“They are all very open-minded and have said it was life-changing.”
Frankly, it’s fun for coordinators like Miki to observe in a myriad ways how the students relax and enjoy being part of another culture. She laughs easily when recalling one specific instance of Israeli students feeling at home in America:
“When our students visit America, they see the similarities. At Halloween, our kids say ‘This is our Purim!’ That type of connection is important and you hear all the YASE participants say, we are all really the same.”
“We host about 10 kids during each exchange, and we know that family is important. Host families gather and instantly make everyone feel welcomed. I feel so lucky to be a part of this YASE!”
There is much to admire about the friendship between Israel and America. Miki is especially happy to see how host families respond to American students thousands of miles away from home.
“It’s the little things,” says Miki, “that make me proud of our host families in the U.S. and Haifa.” She recalls, “A girl from Michigan brought her host sibling home, and the family put a welcome magnet of Israel to greet her. In Israel, a host mother gave two youth ambassadors her bedroom.”
American students experience firsthand, how much affection Israel has from her long-time ally, and vice-versa.