IF LIFE WERE A TEST, Alana Deluty would be acing it. She works remotely as a data science analyst. She’s a veteran researcher for a major Providence hospital and an Ivy League university. She volunteers all over Providence, and she gets around almost entirely by bicycle. Most eye-opening, Deluty has lived in three different countries – India, Malaysia and Israel – and traveled to more than 30. She became a Fulbright fellow in 2016 and is currently the president of Rhode Island’s Fulbright Association. All this at the age of 28.
But it wasn’t always this way. If you had told a teenage Alana Deluty that she would become a globe-trotting community-builder, she would have been skeptical.
“No one in my family had ever traveled before,” says Deluty, who grew up in Cranston. “I never knew anyone who had been to another country. It felt like something that was impossible.”
Deluty’s first foray into international travel was a month-long stay in Israel, hosted by NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. The program was geared toward high school students and heavily structured. Today, Deluty dismisses the experience as an early blip, but she says it did help her adapt to different time zones and culture shock.
When she enrolled at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, Deluty decided she would study abroad – not in a familiar place like England, as she’d once considered, but in urban India.
When Deluty arrived in Pune, India, in 2013, she tried palak paneer for the first time. The spinach-based gravy with cheese cubes was more than just her first taste of Indian cuisine – it was the first time she’d ever tasted some of the spices.
“That was a very intense experience,” Deluty recalls. “I was tasting a spicy food in a foreign country and committing to live there for four months.”
After a semester of classes and negotiating Indian life, Deluty spent a month visiting friends in Europe. She was a rookie solo backpacker and felt awkward at first.
“I didn’t know what I was doing at all, but I figured it out,” she remembers. “After that, I was really addicted to travel.”
Deluty graduated from Wooster in 2015 with a B.A. in philosophy. From there, she was awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, and spent a year in Malaysia. While teaching English to Malaysian youth, Deluty also explored nations across Southeast Asia and helped spearhead an education program about open burning, a common problem in the region.
Deluty returned to the U.S. in 2017, when her career took a different turn altogether: She entered the world of clinical research. She first worked for Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in Providence, where she helped with research in pediatric oncology. In 2019, she became a project coordinator at the Brown University School of Public Health, where she researched adult neuroscience at the Mindfulness Center.
With a steady job, Deluty was able to purchase a house in Providence. Life felt stable – until March 2020, when Brown laid her off.
As the pandemic took hold and Deluty’s prospects looked grim, she set her sights on Israel, and became a “social change fellow” through the Yahel program.
Deluty’s parents volunteered to keep an eye on her house, and Deluty packed her bags. This is
how she found herself in Lod, an unglamorous suburb of Tel Aviv with a long history of ethnic tensions.
Soon Deluty was busy with service-leaning roles; she volunteered for local organizations, taught at a high school, wrote grants, tended a community garden, helped with web design and helped plan events. She also volunteered for Na’am, an Arab women’s organization that aids victims of domestic violence and advocates for feminist policy.
“When I would tell Israelis that I lived in Lod, they would say, ‘Why on Earth are you there?’ There’s a lot of violence and a lot of crime. But it was a very interesting place …. I feel like I really got to understand Lod,” Deluty said.
Deluty found additional fulfillment in her many pastimes. She got around Lod by bicycle, navigating the city’s breakneck traffic patterns. She joined Holy Local Aliens, an intentionally inclusive hiking club that helped Jews, Arabs and any other participants find common ground in Area C, a mutually accessible part of the West Bank. She took classes at Mazat Latin Dance, where diverse people bonded on the floor.
But once again, Deluty was uprooted, this time by armed conflict. When violence rocked Israel in May 2021, riots broke out in the streets of Lod, and many residents were killed. Deluty was evacuated from the city.
When the crisis calmed down, Deluty was surprised to find her apartment undamaged. However, the fighting put a strain on her relationships.
“It definitely fueled some hard conversations,” she said.
In the end, the nine-month sojourn was shortened to eight.
Deluty returned to Rhode Island at the end of August 2021, when she started a new position as a data science analyst, working entirely from home for a California company. She likes the stability of a salaried job, which she feels strengthens her service work.
She is now settled in her house once again and has resumed volunteering at a variety of local organizations, including the local chapter of Food Not Bombs. She still gets around on one of her three bicycles.
But global connections are still an essential part of Deluty’s life. She has plans to visit Israel soon, along with Puerto Rico. As president of Rhode Island’s Fulbright Association, she organizes events for past fellows and current grantees, including lectures, mixers and even a snow-tubing event at the Yawgoo Valley Ski Area, in Exeter. Deluty likes to foster an exchange between veteran fellows and Fulbright guests from other countries as they adapt to life in the U.S.
“I was really happy to come home,” she says. “Being part of a community is really important to me. As much as I love traveling and I love adventure, it’s more important to me to be rooted someplace.
“I think I was able to do a lot [in Israel], but I also saw how useless I was, being an outsider. I know this space. I know Rhode Island. I know Providence really, really well. I’m part of the community I want to serve. I’m always going to be able to dedicate my life to helping others, but I’ll never be able to do that better than in the place I know best.”
ROBERT ISENBERG (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and a writer for Jewish Rhode Island.