Naor Bitton had no idea what awaited him when he left the balmy Middle East for the frigid Midwest. It is not easy to be a first year student at the University of Minnesota, especially moving from the Middle East to Minnesota. But Bitton, who is studying for his Master’s degree in public policy, managed not only to survive, but also to magnificently thrive.
In less than ten months in America, Bitton started interning in one the most important political offices in Minnesota as a cabinet and legislative intern in the office of MN Governor Mark Dayton. It did not take too long before the news about Bitton’s success in Minnesota traveled all the way back to the Middle East and papers back in Israel covered his success story in the land of 10,000 lakes.
Before he was awarded the Fulbright scholarship, Bitton was very involved in Israeli politics and society. In 2011, He was one of the leaders of the popular “Tents Protest” that led over 600,000 people to demonstrate against the high cost of living and rent for young Israelis. Participation in this crucial movement put the ambitious Bitton in the spotlight: just a short while later, he started a local political party that called for more transparency and public collaboration in Israeli politics.
So why would a budding political trailblazer decide to leave his country for the unknown at the U? “I knew that coming to Minnesota was the right decision,” Bitton asserts. ”It was an investment in my future as a leader. I decided that I needed the knowledge and tools that would help me to more be a more effective leader.”
He had no idea that this decision will pay off so soon. A former combat medic in the Israeli Defense Forces, Naor became one of the leaders of Students Supporting Israel at the University of Minnesota and helped turn the local organization to a national movement in seven different campuses across America.
Then, just weeks ago, Bitton received an email inviting him to spend the summer as an international relations intern for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations. His position at the Headquarters in New York will fulfill a requirement of his Master’s degree, and therefore he will also be a representative of Minnesota and the University, in one of the world’s most influential international organizations.
“I was delighted to learn about Naor’s great opportunity,” says the Dean of the Humphrey School for Public Affairs Eric Schwartz, who himself held a senior position in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. ”Having spent part of my career at the UN, I know the value of service in public international organizations.” Recently, the world renowned Humphrey School started an international student organization. Not surprisingly, Bitton was elected as the President of the new organization.
Chelsea Arbury, a fellow Humphrey student, calls Bitton a unique phenomenon. “Unlike most students, he managed to find time to also be extremely engaged in the U community while having great achievements outside of school,” Arbury says.
Yet despite all the good that Naor has found here in Minnesota, he had to make some painful sacrifices, including not seeing his family for over a year. “Our family Whatsapp group helps me feel closer to them, but it is still one of the hardest things I ever done,” he said.
He still has one more year to finish his Master degree at the U. With one year down and one remaining, Bitton looks back on a great year and hopes that the next will be even better. “If I can ask only one thing,” he says, “Please no polar vortexes next winter.”