You Should Know… Sarah Hurwitz McCandless

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It’s hard to know where to start when you talk about Sarah Hurwitz McCandless. The 23-year-old Israeli moved to Washington last month, but she’s also lived in Thailand, speaks Thai and Arabic in addition to English and Hebrew, and dreams of opening domestic violence shelter.

Where do you come from in Israel?

I was born and raised in Jerusalem. I spent my childhood going back and forth between Jerusalem and the United States for summers. But [I lived] exclusively in Jerusalem until I was 18, 19.

Where did you go then?

I went to New York City. I was just kind of looking for myself in a way when I was 18. Straight after, I went back to Israel to figure things out again.

So then, I went to Atlanta and worked in one of those skincare kiosks where all the Israelis work. Then I realized I did not want to do that and I started teaching and bartending and like a million things at the same time.

How did you end up in Thailand?

I needed to give my head a rest. So, I was talking to my friend and said, “‘Hey, let’s do a Thailand trip.’” We went for a month and then we went back to Israel.

And I was frustrated and I felt like I was missing something. So two weeks later I bought a ticket back to Thailand by myself, no ticket back. And I was like, I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m going to do it now. Everybody thought I was crazy.

What did you do while you were there?

I met all these people that travel for year, years, years by themselves, and I asked them, “How do you do that?” and many them were online teachers in China. So, I said, “How do you that?”

I love kids, I love languages. I was learning Thai at the time. I was teaching English to a Thai girl, just voluntarily. I loved that but never thought about working in it.

So I got [certified] to teach English while I was there. I got my online job, and I volunteered in a refugee camp in
north Thailand.

How does the whole teaching kids online in China thing work?

It’s a one-on-one thing. I have regular students who have their days and hours. In China it’s 4 p.m. and for me, it’s 4 a.m., so I wake up, I have my coffee and I look like a monster. But I put make up on. Then, it’s about 30 minutes each one [student] after another. So it could be like six students in a workday.

It’s very theatrical. I don’t know their language, so I need to have a total physical response. [I need to] be very expressive. It’s fun. That’s when I was like, I love it! That’s why I love kids. I feel like I’m good in it. I just want to do something
that’s meaningful.

You came to Washington to teach Hebrew. How are you going about that?

I already have many parents that contacted me [through Facebook]. Apparently there is a big market for that. Of course, I wouldn’t come here before I knew that’s something that’s needed.

Is this your first time teaching Hebrew?
I taught in New York City and in Israel as well, with the Palestinian crowd. They want to try and work in Israel, so they need to improve their Hebrew. I had a job doing that for a while.

When we talked earlier, you mentioned wanting to open a domestic violence shelter.

I happened to be involved a lot in situations where I had to protect a woman from [violence], and I’m talking about totally random situations. When I knew as a kid, this is what happened to my mom and it always made me feel so bad.
When I imagine this [shelter], it’s very empowered. I want to empower women. They don’t have confidence. My feeling is, the root of it is confidence and self-appreciation.

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