Andrew Goldsmith Page

What an amazing experience!  The Lions Club Youth Exchange was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  The ability to share your journey with people you have never met before that come from all over the world is incredible and I made so many friends that I am still keeping in touch with and hope to reunite with in the future.

I am so glad that I got the opportunity to visit Israel because it is a country like no other.  The diversity is not limited to religion – the difference between the four corners of the country is astonishing.  The people were very friendly and outgoing and wanted to know all about my culture as well as tell me about their own!

I was in Israel for three weeks.  For the first ten days we toured the country with tour-guides in a small minibus staying in Youth Hostels along the way!  First, we visited Jerusalem spending two days looking around the many religious buildings and sites such as the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the City of David.  In the evenings we saw the city come alive with street performers and market stalls – Ramadan had just ended when we were in Jerusalem so there was a big rush of people carrying food around at sunset.  Before we left we went on an excursion to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity and to try some Palestinian food.  The next stop on our tour was the Dead Sea – it reached at least 44°C whilst we were there and the sand burnt your feet!  The sea itself was warm and, being the lowest point on Earth, was extremely salty which allowed you to float around.  Our residence for that night was a youth hostel in Masada.  The view out of our window was extraordinary:  we could see the desert, the Dead Sea and Jordanian mountains, all in the distance.  The next morning we woke up at 4am to take an hour’s hike up the steep mountain to watch the sunrise.  This was my highlight of the trip because it was so beautiful and was worth the long, exhausting walk to see it!  Our next stop was the Negev Desert, in the southern point of Israel, where we got the chance to ride camels which was really exciting because you got to see the desert from a very different point of view!  We then experienced a traditional day in the Bedouin camp including tea and coffee, a campfire, food and sleeping in a traditional, communal tent.  Whilst in the south we visited a massive natural canyon called Mitzpe Ramon that you could look across and see for miles all the way to the Egyptian border.  Then came a three-hour journey to the north-west of Israel and the ancient city of Acre, the port often referred to as the first stop in an invasion attempt of the country.  A quick tour of the cliffs by the Lebanese border was next in the itinerary followed by an eastward drive along the fence-line to the autonomous region of the Golan Heights.  There we visited a Syrian market to buy some fruit and honey and saw the most northerly place in the country, the border with Syria.  Whilst we were there we met a lady who resides in the region.  She explained the situation where the land is officially Israel but everyone who lives there class themselves as Syrian – politics was not a new discussion to the group because we had been told all about Israel’s background and controversy throughout the trip.  Heading back into the heart of Israel, we arrived in Nazareth for the final day of our tour.  This day was spent sightseeing the religious sites in Nazareth such as the Churches of Mary & Joseph, and afterwards we viewed the town from the top of a hill showing us incredible panoramic landscape.

We arrived back at our host families, who we had briefly stayed with for the first two nights in Israel, on the Wednesday of week two, halfway through our stay.  In most countries, the exchange is split in two:  a stay with a host family, and a camp section with the other youths.  However, Israel was always a camp that stuck together!  We did every activity as one international group of friends.  The activities, after the ten-day tour, included:  helping out in a park with disabled children; going to the beach and swimming pools; travelling by train to Be’er Sheva for the day; showing a presentation about your home country; experiencing Shabbat (Friday night dinner in the Jewish culture before the Sabbath); and saying goodbye to everyone with a closing ceremony.

My overall experience of the Lions Club International Youth Exchange has been life-changing.  The people I have met, the places I have seen, the things I have done have all been unbelievable.  The friends I have made have all been in touch with me since the trip and we are already planning to visit one-another in the future.  The historical, religious, geographical and general information I have learned from Israel is unique and will stay with me for the rest of my life.  There was never a time that I felt unsafe or lost – the Lions were always helpful and gave you guidance on their home country.  I would completely recommend this experience to anybody who loves to travel to places that the everyday person would not normally go to.  Also, if you are interested by new cultures this is the best way to learn about them – the mix of many nations represented by one person leads to fascinating conversations.  If there is one tip I could give someone going on the exchange it would be to expect the unexpected!

Andrew Goldsmith

 Andrrew Goldsmith 

Andrew and friends