In 2007, Sara Lee entered U of T with a very clear purpose: to become a medical doctor. But in her third year of undergraduate work, she began to yearn for a different kind of educational experience. “I needed to understand how my studies could help me contribute to the world in some way,” she says. Lee’s search led her to the social sciences where, after just two courses, she was hooked. She soon switched from life sciences to the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the Trudeau Centre.
This past summer, eager for international experience, Lee completed a summer placement, studying conflict resolution at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It proved to be a profound experience – and learning opportunity.
While she studied the causes and meanings of conflict in the classroom, protests were taking place in the streets – some by extreme political groups, some in solidarity for peace. And with flotilla activists docked in the Mediterranean, security levels were extremely high. “It’s one thing to learn that conflict is a huge part of Israeli society, but once you’re there you realize everything is about the conflict. Wherever you go, you are constantly being searched or passing through metal detectors.”
Prior to leaving for Israel, Lee had received a grant to conduct independent research abroad, so she extended her stay to complete in-person interviews. Her research topic was the role of cuisine in the social construction of identity. In Jerusalem, even talk of falafel and hummus leads to deeply conflicting and contentious opinions. Most Israelis voiced the opinion that their national cuisine was borrowed from many different sources. But Arab Israelis were fiercely adamant that the cuisine of Israel had been appropriated from their culture. “Being surrounded by such diverse opinions forced me to be less narrow in my thinking,” she says.
Lee’s goal now is to pursue a MD-PhD, which combines medical studies with graduate research. “I want to study ways in which culture affects cognition and health, and also contribute to the world through the practice of medicine.”