Many college graduates look to internships as a way to bridge the gap between study and work. “Get some life experience” is a popular mantra. Josh Zuckerman did exactly that, but in his case it meant leaving the country for nine months to become a change-maker in India and Israel.
When the Michigan resident graduated from Southern Illinois University, where he studied international politics and economics, he was looking to gain international work experience, broaden his horizons and explore his roots. So he joined LIFE (Leadership and International Fellowship Experience), an international social-sector leadership development program whose participants spend four months in India and five in Israel.
Participation in the program costs approximately $15,000.
In India, Zuckerman interned at the Byrraju Foundation, which delivers clean drinking water to 3 million people in poor rural areas of Andhra Pradesh. The foundation has won several international prizes for producing quality drinking water. It is now working to increase the number of people who use the water in each village.
“There are priceless lessons to be learned about social justice, tikkun olam [repairing the world], varied Jewish topics, environment, water allocation, human rights, community organizing, social entrepreneurship and the business management needed in the social sector today,” Zuckerman said. “It doesn’t matter what you studied or where you have worked, LIFE encompasses a holistic vision to which everyone can contribute and help advance social justice and tikkun olam.”
In Israel, LIFE placed Zuckerman with the three-month-old sustainability unit in the Jerusalem deputy mayor’s office. He identified policies in other cities around the world to advance sustainable urban living and in the end produced an informational handbook — with policy recommendations and international examples — to help staff become familiar with this emerging field and policy direction.
“As I would walk around and meet people, initially no one would really know who I was, what sustainability meant or what it could offer the city,” Zuckerman said. “By the time I finished, I had been invited to present my report to several forums, and the guide was starting to be widely used.”
Zuckerman believes the experience and skills he acquired in India and Israel put him ahead of his fellow-graduate competitors applying for the same jobs. “I think I was lucky, because I left right as the economic crisis hit the U.S., so while I was sadly listening to my friends back home saying that they lost their jobs or couldn’t find any, I was making a difference in India working for a world-class NGO and in Jerusalem getting experience in the deputy mayor’s office.”
“This is what we are offering Jewish graduates ages 21-30 from all over the world,” said Yonatan Glaser, LIFE director. “We do our very best to tailor the work the graduate will do in Israel and in India to his or her areas of expertise and interest. ”
Among the projects LIFE participants have worked on in Israel are the establishment of a Doctors Without Borders–style initiative, now active in Haiti; a national policy initiative to improve the status of women in the workplace; and the introduction of alternative healing methods to an NGO working with people post-trauma. In India, participants created an interactive arts program for children in 200 villages; increased access of women, children and disadvantaged populations to health care in thousands of rural villages; and recommended improvements in the implementation of a law against child labor.
The next LIFE program starts Oct. 12, 2010. Information: www.lifeprogram.org.