Mike Lovett

Finding Yourself in the Places You Go

For Claire Cooper ’11, Brandeis’ global ties have opened doors to a journey of discovery and commitment

Claire Cooper arrived at Brandeis from upstate New York with an interest in health care, an open mind and not much global experience. She came, she says, "because of the principles – social justice, especially – and because it is a small school, intimate."

Her dad is a physician, her mom a physical therapist turned yoga teacher, and Cooper wasn’t sure whether she wanted a pre-med or a public health curriculum. So she chose HSSP – Health: Science, Society and Policy – and that took her to a very different place.

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"What really drew me was the global aspect," she says, nearly four years and many thousands of miles later. "We saw a film of how women were treated" when they needed care. "I don’t remember the country, what I remember is being shocked by the chasm between what we expect in our country and the reality in other countries."

Simultaneously, she was discovering in the Brandeis environment, where interest in international affairs is high, how little she knew about the Middle East and Islam. She combined her interests.

"My interest grew as my knowledge grew," Cooper says. After she got to know students from Al Quds University in East Jerusalem who visited the campus, "it took off. The way they talked, their passion for their homeland, their hospitality, made me really eager to go there, and going there made me really want to study more and do more."

Through Brandeis' partnership with Al Quds, she's traveled to Istanbul, Jerusalem and the West Bank. She studied abroad during spring semester of her junior year in Morocco, and continued her Arabic language studies in Tunisia last summer on a U.S. State Department scholarship. She's also learned a lot about how to communicate with people of strongly varying opinions on a campus where interest in the Middle East is intense.

Cooper and her colleagues are working on an Al Quds-related project even as graduation approaches. "We want to help them develop clubs," she says. "Then they can better connect with Brandeis students. They have only political clubs now."

She also is working, with funding from Brandeis' Karpf and Hahn Peace Awards, to bring basic furniture, a couple of computers and an Internet connection to the children's center of a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, hoping to "create sort of a pen-pal relationship to students at Brandeis."