Last month, I left my home in Bozeman, Montana, and headed almost 8,000 miles across the globe joining a group of about 40 other young Americans going to Israel with a group called Birthright Israel Experience. We traveled all across the country, learning about and experiencing some of the most historic places on Earth. We were accompanied by Israeli soldiers and citizens, who were able to see their country through our eyes.
"It makes me more happy and proud of who I am and where I live, that's for sure. It warms my heart to see people that are excited and appreciating things that are here," said tour guide Yoav Hermoni.
"It makes me think like wow I really have a great country, it's a beautiful country and I have to take more trips and go to more places," Israeli soldier Gili Keisar said.
After learning about Israel my entire life, I was finally able to see places first hand.
I went from Tel-Aviv to Tzfat, and Jerusalem as well, where I got to see and touch the Western Wall. The wall is considered one of the holiest spots in the world. People come from everywhere to put a prayer in the wall.
We learned of the many traditions passed down here through generations, exploring our similarities and our differences. In the United States, young Americans are free to join the military. Here all Israelis, men and women, serve at least two years in the army, starting when they turn 18.
"All my family went to the military, so I kind of had a fear from this, but I also expected it because I know its an experience I have to do and I know how much its important for my country," Moran Mandel, currently an Israeli soldier, said.
I left Israel just a few weeks before the Gaza conflict began. Unfortunately, events like this aren't uncommon for my Israeli friends.
"Israel is in a conflict with some organizations and parts of the Arab world if it's about land or religion or stuff like that. But this conflict is not a part of our life on a daily basis," said Kobi Cnaany, a former officer in the Israeli Navy.
"I mean I hear all the time about the war, the missiles, the bombs. It's sad to say but its usual here, so I guess I'm used to it," Keisar told me
Overall, Israel is a beautiful country, with something for everyone, whether you're a history lover or a tourist looking for some fun.
And believe it or not, some Israelis even know about Montana.
"Beautiful, beautiful landscape of mountains, lakes, forests. We don't have that kind of landscape in Israel," Hermoni said.