Third International Sports Exchange

It started a year ago. Since then, our sports teams have made three visits to Woolworth Barbour American International School in Tel Aviv. This trip was the biggest one yet.

Every time, the visit becomes so much more than just a sports tournament. Basketball coach Cameron Knight said, "There was also an amazing cultural and historical learning aspect of the trip, as we all had the opportunity to tour around Jerusalem, Nazareth and Jaffa during our time between games."

The man behind this initiative from inception has been Dean Tam Smith. So we'll let him tell the story:

"This third road trip to Israel was unique in a number of ways and also similar in a number of ways. It was unique in that it was coed: we had boys and girls, which was the first time we've done that. It changes the whole feel of the trip, I think. It was really fun and it was an amazing experience for the students.

"We had two boys from the first trip, eleven graders Christian and Mitko. Every time we go we want to build on and see what we've learned from the last trip. This time it was different because it was a much larger group. It went really smooth in that we ironed out the kinks, the wrinkles.

"Like before, we took an early, red-eye flight from Sofia Terminal 1 to Tel Aviv. Arrived early and fresh-faced and boarded a bus. We got welcomed by our hosts and tour guide, Ayelet. She is a former Israeli defense force survival trainer and a long-time tour guide for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. On the last trip with the soccer team we had her for a day, and this time we had her for three days of touring.

"That first day was interesting because we leave here at 500 meters above sea level, we fly to thousands of meters above sea level, then we land at sea level, and then we go down 400 meters below sea level to the lowest point on earth, at the Dead Sea. It was quite a day of highs and lows, literally.

"At the Dead Sea resort, we had everybody floating in the salty water, a wonderful experience for everyone. Then we left to drive to Jerusalem.

"That is always very interesting because you go in and out of Palestinian territory. It's interesting to see the security but it's always safe, very orderly.

"We got to Jerusalem, and had an amazing experience: went to the Wailing Wall, to the Temple Mount, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, all the way through the historic places of Jerusalem.

"We had traditional shawarma and after a full day of touring, on Wednesday night, we introduced the students to the host families. Our students spent their first night away from home, in a foreign country, my daughter Bailey including.

"The next morning we picked up all the students and went touring again. On Thursday we went to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the old souk, the marketplaces, the old historic port. Then we went to Woolworth Barbour American International School, and had our first game: boys and girls against our hosts.

"The boys lost a nail-biter by one point. The girls lost, though they fought real hard, but came up short for the win.

"On Friday we were picked up again and this time went up north, to Caesarea and Nazareth. It was fascinating as you go from predominantly Hebrew areas in Tel Aviv to predominantly Muslim areas in the north. It was a wonderful experience for our students to be exposed to different cultures. We had a traditional Arabic lunch, based on shawarma and falafel and humus, in an authentic Arabic restaurant. The staff and owner were amazingly welcoming, going out of their way to let us try different foods. It felt very gracious.

"Then we had our second round of games against the hosts. Again, the boys and girls lost but played very well.

"Friday night is Shabbat, holy time at sundown, so they stayed with their host families.

"On Saturday we had a whole day of basketball. It was a really amazing experience for us, because we got to play not only Israeli schools but also professional basketball teams. The boys ended up beating both of their professional opponents. So they finished with two loses and two wins, second overall.

"The girls unfortunately lost their games, but they played really well and fought all the way to the end. They played with honor and represented the college really well.

"Everywhere we went people were amazed at what great ambassadors our students were, how pleasant they were, polite and gracious. I was very proud of them, proud to be the Dean, and proud to bring our students around the world.

"That was the very idea of starting that whole international exchange, to really give our students a broader perspective on the world. To introduce them to new countries. Allow them to experience something completely different. And hopefully bring a piece of that learning back to Bulgaria. I hope that they'll look back with fondness on these trips many years from now. They will not remember the score but they will remember the interactions they had. And that's really what I want for our students."