Shockingly, it was not as easy as I thought it would be – walking into a new group of young people in a country halfway across the world who chat away familiarly in what seem to me foreign languages. They hug, laugh, cheer, dance, and perform intimately created handshakes as I watch silently from afar, hoping that it’s the sun turning my face red rather than my apparent awkwardness. Occasionally, I exchange shallow conversation with those I met in years past on their Friendship Tour to America.
I spend the day following herds of people between orientation meetings and tours and meals – masses of new information and responsibilities making my head spin. Even when we finally step onto the field at the end of the day – what I thought would be my comfort among all the craziness – I am overwhelmed. I didn’t anticipate the day I would step on the field along Hall-of-Famers and current Ultimate legends. Eventually, after more playing, dancing, and singing, the lights on the field finally shut off, and that’s the end of day one.
It’s the second day of orientation now, and again my head spins as I try to connect names to vaguely familiar faces from yesterday. In most cases, I fail.
“Make an effort to connect with Middle Eastern LITs.” The request from the lead LITs echoes in my head. I walk over to a table of Middle Easterners, proud of myself for making the effort.
Then, I experience 20 minutes of silence as my tablemates chatter in rapid Hebrew. I pick at my plate and half smile, just to feel included, each time a joke is made and the table bursts into laughter. Finally, the quiet boy next to me takes the initiative. “My name is Faris,” he says. “What is yours?” He is almost instantly a friend, and in that moment of connections I suddenly get it: The magic I’d been hearing about from past LITs and staff who had dedicated summer after summer to UP.
Within hours, my friendship with Faris had expanded to Adi and Amit and Noa and Mika – and the list goes on and on. Soon, I’m hugging and laughing and cheering and dancing and making up handshakes too.
The first glance was from the outside looking in. The second? From the center of the crowd.