Penn State Law student teaches and learns in Palestine

Taimoor Choudhry knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make it past the Palestinian border, but he tried anyway. 

“I booked my flight into Jordan and then took a taxi to Palestine,” he said. The strategy was meant to make his crossing go more smoothly. Instead, he was detained. Authorities led Choudhry from room to room to endure lengthy series of questions and didn’t release him until seven hours later.  

“It was a great beginning to the summer,” he said, joking.  

Choudhry spent three months this summer at An-Najah University in Nablus, Palestine, where he taught courses and conducted research.  

The unexpected events continued after he crossed the border. Choudhry said it took a few weeks for him to adjust to the non-Western culture. He couldn’t wear shorts. He couldn’t speak with women in public. He couldn’t stand too long in the blazing sun. And, most important of all, he watched fighter jets fly above him almost every day. 

“It was one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve ever faced in my life,” he said.  

Still, Choudhry is no stranger to mental challenge. The juris doctoral candidate is pursuing a joint master’s degree in international affairs and plans to graduate in 2014. While in Palestine, he taught undergraduate courses in international public law and legal terminology. He supervised students in An-Najah’s legal clinic as they studied human rights violations and helped individuals impacted by Israeli and Palestinian policies, and he also researched the historical roots of clinical education for a professor. 

Choudhry originally made a connection to An-Najah University through his friend, a Palestinian student at Penn State Law. Since he aspires to do energy-sector and policy work in the Middle East someday, he jumped on the opportunity. Working there this summer, he fulfilled a “lifelong dream.”  

With his undergraduate students, Choudhry organized a food drive during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He and his students collected money and eventually gave a month’s worth of food to more than 10 families in need.

“I wanted to do something with my students so that they would feel empowered,” he said, emphasizing that with all of the foreign aid money flowing into Palestine, inhabitants often feel like they can’t do much themselves.  

While the food drive succeeded greatly, Ramadan was one of the more challenging periods Choudhry faced. During Ramadan, Muslims generally fast from sunrise to sundown. That meant Choudhry could not eat or drink in public — not to mention his entire schedule shifted.  

“When you’re alone out there, that takes a mental toll,” he said. 

Still, he wasn’t entirely alone. Choudhry says his favorite part of the whole summer was getting to meet and interact with Palestinians and he says jumping cultural hurdles to do so was worthwhile.

“This was an eye-opening experience for me,” he said. “I would recommend everyone take a trip abroad to the area they want to work in.”

 

 

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Last Updated September 26, 2013