Nov 25, 2015  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Education,

U.S. teen finds new purpose 6,000 miles from home: 'I plan to make aliyah one day'

Noelle Chin-Vance says her six weeks studying in Israel changed her. "I am no longer afraid to walk into the world and be myself," she says.  

Noelle Chin-Vance reflects below on the life-changing experience that was her time at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Read on to find out how this American teen connected to her roots during her six weeks at the study-abroad program for high-schoolers. .

At a Save A Child's Heart Event. 
Every life is filled with unique events and experiences that shape each individual. Those who are lucky can identify a defining experience that had the most impact. I count myself among the lucky ones. Though I literally started life in a box in Dianbai, China, way back in 1998, there is at least one event that defined me even more. 

There were certainly a lot of important moments along the way, like when I was adopted in May of 2000, at the age of 2, by my loving parents. I met many influential people throughout my educational adventures at Assurant Satellite Learning Center, Arvida Middle School, and finally at Terra Environmental Research Institute. I had many formative experiences during my summers at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia. All of these experiences helped make me who I am today. 

But one life-changing experience stands out above all the rest. It began when I stepped onto a plane to Israel to join the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.

My adventure began June 16, 2015. It was early in the morning. I was holding my book bag ready to board the plane to JFK, where I would board another plane to Israel. Though I was super excited, my hands were shaking. I was about to travel more than 6,000 miles from home to a school where I would not know a single soul so that I could learn the history of Israel and Judaism. I was nervous about meeting new people, but I knew that I would be OK. The flights were long and boring, but then something happened. The plane landed in Tel Aviv. 

Eating ice cream in Tel Aviv. 
There are no words to describe the beautiful sunset as the plane descended. The once-blue sky turned to a haze of purple and orange. Being in Israel filled me with joy. I grabbed my bags and headed for the bus, and soon, I found myself in the city of Hod Hasharon, where our campus was situated. Not much happened that night, but the next six weeks were quite an extraordinary adventure. 

Throughout the semester, I hiked all over Israel, from windy Tel Gezer to holy Jerusalem, and finally to the barren Negev desert. I learned one thousand years of Jewish history and made many new friends, all of them wiggling their way into my heart. Sure, I learned dates and facts and details, but in Israel, I found something even more amazing. I found myself. With every step of a hike and with each breath I took, I became more independent – a person who can take care of myself and others. Israel became my true home, where I really belonged.

At the AMHSI banquet. 
This amazing journey changed me for the better. Because of Israel, because of the people, because of this experience, I became the person I am today. From painfully steep scorching hikes to chats on the sofa and sharing corn flakes with friends, I became confident in myself as a leader. I learned that I am brave enough to take on challenges that I once considered impossible. 

Theodore Herzl said, "If you will it, then it is no dream," meaning that if we believe in ourselves, then nothing is impossible. I am no longer afraid to walk into the world and be myself. On this trip, I proved to myself that I can adapt to new environments and find the best in everything -- even scary things like traveling 6,000 miles from home and meeting new people. 

I plan to make aliyah one day and return to the land where I found a deeper purpose. Alexander Muss High School in Israel changed my life. There in Israel, I found my true home and my true self.