The Desert Dialogue: Q&A With Caterina Wang

Caterina Wang, a recent graduate of Khoury College of Computer Science, completed her studies at Northeastern while on a Dialogue of Civilizations Program held in the desert of Israel: “SUSTAINABLE LIVING IN A HARSH DESERT ENVIRONMENT”.

In this DOC, students enrolled in two courses: Desert Ecology (EEMB 3700) and Energy in the Desert Ecosystem (ENVR 3701) for a total of 8 credits.  Caterina documented her journey on TikTok – check out the videos here! – and connected with us recently for a Q&A about this immersive and one-of-a-kind learning experience.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about the dialogue itself?

A: The dialogue was led by Dr. Rebeca Rosengaus and we were hosted by the Arava Institute in the Arava Desert in Southern Israel and the Center for Creative Ecology in Kibbutz Lotan. We took two classes that focused on Desert Ecology and Renewable Energy. Our schedule was packed with lots of different activities. We spent more time outside doing interactive activities than we did sitting in a classroom, but there was still a decent amount of class time. We were able to conduct our own research projects in small groups on either desert ecology or renewable energy, which was really nice to get a bit of field experience. It was very flexible in the sense that if you showed interest in certain topics, there was opportunity to go and shadow people in the field or set up an activity involving the topic. We stayed in two different kibbutzim, at one we stayed in guest houses, and at the other we stayed in their geodesic domes.  We ate all of our meals in the communal dining hall in the kibbutzim. It was really cool to participate in the kibbutz and chat with the people living there. The first kibbutz we stayed at hosted people from colleges in Israel and some of the surrounding countries in the Middle East, which was really cool to interact with those people.

Q: What made you want to go on this DOC?

A: My computer science degree requires me to do supporting science credits. I didn’t want to sit in a classroom, I wanted to be outside. I specifically picked this one because I’ve always been interested in sustainability and am interested in renewable energy, but I have never invested a lot of time into learning about any of it. I’m really glad I ended up choosing this one because I have gained a lot of knowledge on the technology surrounding renewable energy.

Q: What gave you the idea to make TikToks documenting your experience?

A: One of the components we were graded on was a personal reflection. A lot of people wrote daily reflections, but I didn’t want to write something every day, especially if everyone else was doing it. I wanted to do something more interactive. I thought it would be fun to take videos of all the things we were doing and document them and my experience. It gives you a good sense of our day to day.

Q: Was your experience different from what you were expecting?

A: I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I was really surprised by the number of different activities we got to do while we were there. We got to go snorkeling in the Red Sea at Coral Beach, and we visited a wildlife conservation park and watched them release oryxes into the wild. We also got to visit an underwater observatory park in Eilat. It’s an aquarium, but they also built underwater infrastructure, so you walk in a tunnel in the ocean and get to see everything swimming around you. We saw some sharks and sting rays, as well as some local corals, which was so cool. I was really surprised by all our water activities because I didn’t realize how close we would be staying to the Red Sea!

Q: Has anything in particular stuck with you from this Dialogue?

A: There was one moment that I think about constantly. One of our professors said one day during class that “We don’t have the luxury of pessimism when it comes to climate change and helping the Earth.” That sentence was really thought provoking to me. I think I’m pessimistic when it comes to climate change, so when they said that it was a moment that made me realize I need to change my mindset.

Q: How did your experiences at Northeastern prepare you for this dialogue?

A: My previous experiences at Northeastern led me to be very curious and ask questions. It has made me want to gain more and ask about things I was interested in. Also, there is a big community of people at Northeastern that value sustainability, had I not found that community and made that one of my values, I definitely would not have
appreciated this experience as much as I did.

Q: Has this dialogue offered insight to what you want to pursue as a career?

A: We had a session about identifying your values and making a career out of it and pursuing things that interest you. It was really thought provoking because you want to make money because you need money to live, but if you identify your values then it helps you identify a potential path you might want to go down that adheres to your values. I definitely see myself down the line pursing something in sustainability or renewable energy. I think computer science is applicable to many different fields, as technology grows, I’m sure there will be opportunities in those areas. I would definitely like to pursue something in those fields in the future.

Q: What was your favorite part or favorite memory during your dialogue?

A: This is so hard because I loved so much of it. We had a really good group size and we got to know each other well in a short amount of time. I have a few memories of us just hanging out that I loved. We went on a hike one day around Makhtesh Ramon crater in Mizpe Ramon, except on our schedule for the day it was listed as a “nature walk.” When our professor showed us the crater we were going to hike, we were all speechless because we thought we were going on an easy walk! We ended up going on this crazy steep hike, but it was really a really funny surprise and a good experience. Another one of our activities that we did together was an Israeli Folk Dancing Class, which ended up being so much fun because everyone put their all into it regardless of if they liked dancing. Our last night at the kibbutz, we were making music around a campfire at our geodome. It was wonderful to all just hang out with each other.

Q: Do you have any advice for students considering this or any other dialogues?

A: My best advice is to be open minded and to push yourself to have new experiences and talk to new people. Having those experiences will help you understand other people and how they think. Oftentimes on these dialogues, you’re interacting with people that have so much knowledge on the things you’re learning about. Ask them questions and take advantage of the places you are in and the level of skill of the people around you. You should also take advantage of where you are and your free time to do something that you would never otherwise get to do. Another good piece of advice to consider is that when you’re abroad in an unfamiliar place, there will be experiences that will make you uncomfortable. In those moments, try to have empathy for others and where they are coming from. It’s easy to think that people think very similarly to you, and it’s easy to end up in a bubble of people that think the same as you. It’s a good reminder that different people think many different things, and having those uncomfortable conversations with people is important.


Dr. Rosengaus anticipates running this same Dialogue of Civilizations trip in Summer I, 2023. For more info about the upcoming DOC, stay tuned to the Global Experience site, here, or stop by the DOC FAIR taking place November 16 and 17, where Dr. Rosengaus will be hosting an informational table. If you are interested in Dr. Rosengaus’ “SUSTAINABLE LIVING IN A HARSH DESERT ENVIRONMENT” DOC, please contact her directly at [email protected].

College of Science
Marine and Environmental Sciences