Crossing Borders Cover“Peace in the Middle East!” American rappers shout this rhyme, this wish—this prayer—so casually from stages at fancy awards shows. I’ve often wondered if it truly is what everyone wants. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing since before I was born. We hear about it on television, but honestly, in the peripheral of my conscious mind, bad news becomes monotonous—especially when it’s so far from home and doesn’t seem to affect me. So yeah, I knew about the battle for the Gaza Strip and animosity between Jewish people and Arabs, but only in a general sense. Neither my Jewish-American friends nor Arab and Muslim-American friends bring the subject up much.

In June I heard from an old friend in Denmark—we’d met 17 years ago as Journalism 101 students at the University of Maryland. She asked me to work this summer as a Language Editor in a program she chaired called Crossing Borders. According to their website, they are a non-governmental agency aiming “to provide impartial dialogue space and skills training for youth and educators, with special focus on the Middle East, to fully participate in the development process of their societies.” Their ‘media skills’ course planned to bring journalists and journalism students from the Middle East to the Danish countryside to live and work on a magazine together; I told my friend that I was “just an arts reporter,” and she soothed my fears of inadequacy in saying they just needed a native English speaker who understood journalistic concepts. The three-week position included a trip to Denmark, too, so I jumped at the chance.

I didn’t say much the first few days there. As the only American and native English speaker in a group of 40 people, I suddenly felt as if I represented the entire western hemisphere, and, hoping to avoid any accidentally imperialistic action, kept to myself and my Danish friend. Plus, I was also embarrassingly ignorant of the complexities of “the conflict” they kept referring to, and wanted to learn more.

The hostility began immediately.