By Hannah Sims
Piña coladas on the beach, selfies at the Colosseum, fiestas in Buenos Aires – the daily life as a year-abroader appears to be a dreamy alternative for third years left at home in Durham, slaving away to meet dissertation deadlines and fending off the guilt of work to uphold their social status in the Shack.
However, Delia-Maria Asser’s experience in Israel sheds a new light over the year abroad fantasy.
After securing a place at Birzeit University, Palestine, Delia-Maria boarded a plane. Destination: Israel. She made it no further than passport control at Tel Aviv airport. She was pulled aside by officials, stripped of her belongings, and interrogated for more than four hours about the motives behind her entry into the country. She was roughly bundled into a van with blacked-out windows, driven to a detention centre and left in a locked cell overnight where she was denied access to drinking water and the opportunity to call home.
Delia-Maria claims she was “terrified” by the seemingly “unofficial” officers, who were not in uniform and who at no point informed her of where she was being taken. The following morning, she was put on the next flight back to London.
Immigration regulations in Israel and Palestine are often subject to change with little notice, and it appears forced departure of UK citizens is not uncommon practice. At the beginning of this year, Garry Spedding, aged 23, a member of the Alliance Party’s youth wing in Northern Ireland, was not only denied entry into Israel, but also issued with a ten-year ban from the country. The grounds for his expulsion were never formally defined.
Similarly, officials never gave the reasons as to why Delia-Maria was denied entrance into Israel. Unlike Spedding, she had no intention of involving herself in the politics of the region and says she was clearly labelled as ‘pro-Palestine’ when she told them she was to study Arabic there – information she originally withheld, knowing it would cause a stir.
Delia-Maria says she was a victim of “unfair prejudice” but that the experience will not stop her from returning to the Middle East to pursue her Arabic studies.
So when the need for that next all-nighter rears its ugly head, don’t sit there drowning in Red Bull-fuelled pity, fantasising over what might have been had you chosen to study a modern language. Instead, be thankful you are in control of your messy situation, and that your plentiful supply of Scooby Snacks will keep you going.
A year abroad isn’t always what is seems.