Heather LaMarre making the most of her time in Israel as Fulbright Specialist

Dr. Heather LaMarre said her time spent in Israel has been like no other experience before.

LaMarre is in the Fulbright Specialist program, a government-funded program that sends academics and established professionals to work at global host institutions. LaMarre has been working at Haifa University and will be there for six weeks before coming back to Temple University in mid-December.

“I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, and I’ve got to tell you that it’s one of the coolest,” LaMarre said.

Israel’s rich history is a big reason behind LaMarre’s enjoyment of the country, but it was not what originally drew her there.

“What drove me to come here was the research,” she said. “I’m collaborating with research partners that are at the universities here, at Haifa University and Hebrew University.”

Among LaMarre’s Fulbright duties while there are giving public talks and lectures, learning from professionals’ research and experiences, and observing cultural norms. She’s been working with scholars, elected officials, and community leaders as part of the community exchange.

“I have a couple collaborations here,” she said. “I work generally in mass communication and political communication. I have a collaboration on each side of that. Within mass communication, what we’re looking at is the power of a narrative and storytelling.”

Jonathan Cohen, who is a communication professor at Haifa University, visited Klein College last year. While he was here, he and LaMarre worked together to gather communication data in the United States to study storytelling and persuasion and how they apply politically.

They are working on the same study in Haifa, this time with the Jewish and Arab populations.

While working in Haifa has not forced LaMarre to change her curriculum drastically, the differences in the student population there compared with those in Philadelphia has changed the way the course is set up and the expectations put upon students.

“Something that is not very well-known in the U.S. about Israeli university students is that they are all post-military service,” she said. “There is a requirement for Israeli youth when they become 18 that they are required to serve three to five years in the military for men and women.”

LaMarre explained that students complete their service before going to university. The age difference means many work full-time while they are studying.

“In a way, they’re like Temple students in that a lot of them are working while in school. They are not just full-time students,” LaMarre said. “A lot of them get married in that time period, a lot of them have kids. They’re almost like, what we call in the U.S., non-traditional students.”

LaMarre said her ability to study cultural differences in communication is being put to good use while she is in Israel.

“I’m learning about their political systems, their media and communication systems, how they cover the news, and how they’re integrating podcasting and technology,” she said.

Simultaneously, her students are learning more than classroom lessons from her.

“That’s the cultural exchange piece. I am teaching a course to students, and I am doing research with faculty, but I also have this third component of really learning about the media systems in Israel, the political systems in Israel, and for them really learning about ours from me, because most of them have never really been to the U.S.”

As part of her work in the field of political communication, LaMarre has had the opportunity to connect with satirical news journalists in Israel. Many of them are something akin to the Israeli version of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” or the “Colbert Report.”

“I’m learning from them how much they draw from the U.S. examples, where they’re different, what they think the role of satire in democracy is from an Israeli perspective. That goes into my research, too,” she said.

While she doesn’t have much free time, she said she has been welcomed by locals during religious ceremonies like Shabbat, which is the Jewish Sabbath day.

“I’m not Jewish, yet every week I’ve been invited to a Shabbat dinner at someone’s home. They invite me in like family. During the week, when I am free, people have taken me on tours of the cities I’ve been in. They’ve taken days off work to drive me around and show me villages and clans,” she said.

“There’s all of these intricate differences in their culture that I wouldn’t have known without having local people really explain to me,” she added.

There are many things LaMarre said she will take from her time in Israel. Most of all, she said she will be coming home with a new sense of community.

“The good news is that I am taking from it exactly what Fulbright stands for, which is cultural exchange. The research and the teaching are wonderful, the travel is great, but ultimately, the most powerful part of the experience is being fully immersed in another culture.”

Originally published at Klein.Temple.edu

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