by Rebecca Liu | Rice University
Passages Alum


Growing up in America, I often casually throw around the phrase “first world problems” when I encounter little inconveniences in day-to-day life. From losing my phone charger to the barista getting my order wrong, “first world problems” has become a label for most things that I find annoying. Though this phrase is often said jokingly, I find that it does, to some degree, reflect what I find problematic in my daily life as an average American citizen.

After returning from Israel, my evaluation of what I consider to be “problematic” in everyday life has led me to be concerned over how carelessly my peers and I use the phrase “first world problems.” I am not saying that Israel is lacking in modernity. In many ways, Israel is just as advanced as the US. My focus is on what Israeli youths my age consider to be their daily problems.

The fact that I make a big deal out of small inconveniences shows that I am privileged. One definition of privilege stands out to me after this trip: “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally” (David Gaider). Living on the other side of the world, I have not necessarily considered Israel’s problems as my own.

Just like most American teens, I headed off to college after graduating from high school. For Israeli teens however, imminent post-graduation plans include serving in the Israel Defense Force for two to three years. While I am worrying about my grades and GPA, my counterparts in Israel are focused on defending their country. In light of what they experience on the daily, my problems seem insignificant. It is not bad to be concerned about school or my future career, but my experience in Israel gave me a different perspective on what I consider to be “my problems.”

From talking to the Hillel students to chatting with our bus’s security guard, I caught a glimpse of what it is like to be a young adult in Israel. While some of them do wish that they could lead a “normal” life as a college student after high school, all of them agree on the value of serving in the military. Even though they are the same age as me, they have a greater sense of responsibility and are more mature. I am often blissfully ignorant about the terror happening in the world and especially in the Middle East. For me, it is something that I can turn off when the news reports come on the TV. On the contrary, terrorism and danger are the realities for the Israeli youth. From this environment, they learn to be resilient, persevering, and independent as young adults. Furthermore, they develop a deeper connection with their country and peers. They do not take safety and comfort for granted and are more grateful for the chance to pursue higher education after their military service.

What appears to be the average lifestyle of an American youth is now a clear privilege. While getting to know these Israeli youth more personally helped me to empathize with their struggles, I can never fully understand just how privileged I am to be a young adult in the US. However, it has opened my eyes to see that there is a problem when young people must serve mandatory military service to protect their country from terrorism instead of going to school. My interactions with people my age in Israel helped me to see the bigger picture of the world around me and the impact of our fallen nature. Understanding the hardships of my Israeli peers redefined privilege for me and helped me to reevaluate my casual attitude towards problems that seem, on the surface, not to pertain to me personally.