Israeli Defense Force soldiers stopped Aurora Echavarria at a West Bank checkpoint and ordered her to step out of her car.
After soldiers searched Echavarria – who they thought did not match her identification – along with her car and friends, she was allowed to continue on her way.
The experience was one of her first during a July trip to Israel. Echavarria traveled on a $5,000 Luther Rice Fellowship to research how the physical geography of the Middle Eastern nation influences the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I thought it was interesting how a conflict could manifest itself in a city,” Echavarria, who is double majoring in geography and international affairs, said. “Sometimes you don’t even have to study the history of a conflict. You can just see it [while] walking around in the streets.”
Attending high school in Miami and college in D.C. has made Echavarria, a former Hatchet reporter, no stranger to metropolitan life. And after spending her childhood in Mexico City, a place notorious for its clutter and filth, Echavarria was inspired to pursue urban development and planning. While in Israel, she spent a month examining residential policies and sought to understand the thought processes behind the construction of various neighborhoods.
“I had a realization that I don’t just like politics, but that I like to see things visually, which I got from studying architecture in high school. I feel like urban planning is a good mix of architecture and international affairs,” Echavarria said.
Though Echavarria had childhood dreams of improving her hometown of Mexico City, her freshman year University Writing course inspired her to explore urban planning as a tool in international conflict.
For her final paper in the class, Voices of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Echavarria examined how the occupation of Jerusalem influenced the placement of olive trees there.
With an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a desire to travel, she decided to pursue a Luther Rice Fellowship after receiving an email in February from the geography department announcing a call for applications.
A month after the International Peace and Cooperation Center granted Echavarria an internship, she began investigating how governments use urban planning to impact communities.
“I saw a lot of how Israel uses urban planning to control the expansion of the Palestinian neighborhoods, or to control where the public spaces are,” Echavarria said of her research on the political side to urban planning and neighborhood formation.
Echavarria, now home in Miami before returning to campus to edit and finalize her research report, will continue her studies at University College in London this semester.