This is Part II of my conversation with Darion Ouliguian. If you missed Part I, you can read it HERE.
I first met Darion Ouliguian in Israel when we were serving as peer leaders for Passages in the Winter 2019-20 trip season. Now he is the Associate Director of Strategic Engagement for Passages, working with public universities and partner organizations to build connections between Jewish and Christians students and engage Passages alumni after their time in Israel. Darion has been to the Middle East numerous times, four times specifically to Israel. He graduated from UCLA with a BA in Arabic, a minor in linguistics, and a minor in Russian language, along with an impressive record of advocacy work.
MD: So you started working at Passages in April, and then things got super crazy. You started working remotely, and I haven’t even seen you in person until now! What happened between that time I met you in January to the time that you applied for the job at Passages?
DO: That’s hard, a lot happened in that short time, which is crazy! I knew that I had wanted to work at Passages before I was a Fellow. That was something I saw myself doing, and I was really intent at pursuing that route and wanted to make that a thing. So when I saw there was an application opening, I decided that I wanted to apply for it. It was also at the time we were going to D.C. for AIPAC, so I was like Sweet, here’s my shot to get myself in there, and it worked obviously because here I am! But between that time there wasn’t like a moment that changed that made me want to because I had wanted to before.
MD: So you were already alert to any opportunity that came up?
DO: Absolutely. I went to my first conference with Passages before I went on a Passages trip, which is extremely unorthodox and doesn’t happen for a lot of people. But it was because I was identified as a strategic student on a strategic campus who had already been to Israel twice. So, I had already checked off all of those things—there was just that one aspect of going on a trip that I needed to check off still.
It was at that point of time when I started to engage [with Passages] more, and it was a time in my life to be able to blend my work and my passion and do something that I thought was missionally good for the world, even if it’s just for a short period of time. I think especially that we’re working with college students, me coming fresh out of university, it was just the perfect time for me to do that.
MD: So, I know you don’t know when that timeline is going to shift for you, but whenever it does, what do you see for yourself as being the next step?
DO: Hopefully doing something still internationally-focused, again the end goal is to be somewhere within the Department of State or the foreign service. I really see that as my calling and that my eyes have always been abroad, but I’ve always had solid roots and solid footing here in America. I think it would be an honor to represent the country to other places and to be able to bring the values and the things that we see as good for the world to those places and to be able to engage with people on a different level. So whether that’s doing conflict resolution or diplomacy, just something that’s going to advance cooperation, productivity, peace, and the spread of core American values to other parts of the world is something that I want to do.
MD: I love that! So what is it like working remotely at this time? How has your Passages experience been so far?
DO: Dynamic, I think, is a good word to characterize it. It’s been changing a lot, it’s definitely improved as I moved to Chicago—reason being because when I was in L.A. for the first two months of my employment. The workday started at 9 a.m. Chicago time, which is 7 a.m. in L.A., meaning that I had to wake up at around 6 a.m. every day and do classes online after doing the eight-hour workday.
So, that was really intense…and when I finished classes and had all this time on my hands, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Just doing work, then doing class, then doing some form of exercising, and eating, that was the day, to then being like ‘Okay, my work day is done, now what’s up?’ I had to find a hobby.
MD: What did you do?
DO: Cook! A lot of cooking. And living in the era of COVID, there’s not a lot of things open. When I first came to Chicago was right when I graduated, so that was when I had time on my hands, I didn’t really know many people in the city, so it was kind of hard to go hang out with people. My roommate was never in the apartment, so we never spent much time together, and then everything was closed. Also the weather was on and off raining all the time. I was either forced inside due to the pandemic, the weather, or lack of ability to do anything with anybody. There was one constant which was food, and I love to cook, and I love food, so that’s what I [decided] to do.
Cooking and food kept me busy, and I’ve been doing that ever since. But I think the experience [working at Passages] has really exceeded what I expected it to be. The amount of flexibility that I’ve been given by my superiors is not something that I expected; it’s beyond what I expected…The way that Tiffany [Wang], my first supervisor, was able to really accommodate the fact that I was still a full-time student while being fully employed. She continued to ask me ‘is this too much on your plate?’ was awesome to hear. The amount that you’re being invested into as an individual, as a person, as a professional, as a Christian, is unlike any other organization that I know of.
You’re not just another worker, you’re a member of a family, and they want to see you succeed and do better. I also never felt as though my lack of seniority or the fact that I had just graduated from college impacted anything negatively. No one seemed to dismiss anything that I said based on those things, and I was made to feel as though everything I had to offer was extremely valuable and cherished, which is not something that a lot of my peers experience in their workforce. So, that’s definitely been a huge blessing.
MD: What is something that you’re looking forward to?
DO: Traveling again. It doesn’t even have to be internationally, like of course I would love to go back to Israel, however, even if it’s just going to a different city to have a coffee or a dinner with a student that I want to invest in. I was invested so much as a student that I want to be able to do that for somebody else. And it’s hard now because you can’t necessarily meet with everyone in person. Traveling is a lot harder, so it’s been kind of a bummer. But I do look forward to at some point being able to interact with students on a different level across the country and be able to watch them grow in their personal lives.
MD: And I imagine not being able to travel right now has probably been really hard because you have family living in Beirut, your dad being from there. What has that been like for you and your family in light of everything that’s happened there this year?
DO: It’s been rough. That day* was an extremely shocking day, I would definitely say it wasn’t super productive when it came to work because I’m in a group chat with my relatives from Beirut and I haven’t spent a whole lot of my life with them. But I had the opportunity to study abroad for two months in Beirut, and during that time I spent a lot of time with them.
I spent most of that day thanking God that none of my family was injured. None of my family lost their homes or their property. My uncle’s store was completely destroyed, but by the grace of God he was going in the back to lock up early and was protected from the blast because of that. If he had gone to lock up maybe two minutes earlier and was in his car, which was destroyed, he wouldn’t be here anymore.
It’s truly amazing to see their resilience. Seeing the aftermath of it, the support that the global community gave them was really heartwarming, the amount of college students donating their own money, all that was also extremely encouraging.
*Beirut explosion, August 4th, 2020