University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Reflections of Israel
Last weekend, I was sitting in a café across from my boyfriend discussing my final preparations before leaving Israel and he asks me “so in one word, how would you describe your time in Israel?”
My answer: An Experience
Going abroad has it ups and its downs, as well as times you feel extremely successful, and other times when you feel scared or lost. I constantly go between all of these emotions. For this reason, my best description is that studying abroad, especially in Israel, is an experience; an experience worth having.
I first stepped foot into Israel in May 2015 and stayed for two weeks on an unrelated program. Fast-forward two months and I was back to Israel in July to embark on my study abroad journey. Now, in January 2016, I am preparing to go home. It is the weirdest feeling knowing I can make plans with friends back home for THIS WEEKEND. That I am already planning where to take my mom to lunch to catch up when I get back… THIS WEEKEND.
The weird, almost indescribable feeling I feel as I am about to go home after learning and growing so much here is so bittersweet. Pondering this has allowed me the time to really think about the things that I’ve stopped and told myself “enjoy this for you will miss it when you leave.”
While Israel in general is absolutely gorgeous, the campus of Haifa itself looks like an image for a postcard EVERY SINGLE DAY. I think this view here (a panorama taken from my phone) is enough of a selling point for me to study here. Regardless of the type of day I was having, seeing the beautiful landscape from on top of Mount Carmel is a very humbling, and calming sight. I have had the pleasure of seeing this sight every single day for almost half a year now.
I know I do not speak on behalf of all international students on this one, but the city where I come from we just don’t have pastry shops. We have maybe three bakeries in the town and they are overpriced and often times not worth it. The pastries here in Israel are so tasty, cheap, and you can find them virtually everything. There is the power of memory in food. I know after being here every time I pick up another pastry I will be reminded of tasting experiences I have had with Israeli sweets. So far my favorites are the chocolate filled croissants and kunafeh. I’ve been spoiling myself my last two weeks getting sweets whenever I please because I know I won’t have them when I go home.
There is something special about living in a tourist country. After living here for a few months it does feel cool to live like a local knowing that I can pass by stands selling religious ornaments (like the one pictured) and not even notice it. On the other hand, because there are so many tourist sites to see, I know that every weekend there is a new adventure waiting. There will always be a new place to see, a new thing to learn, or even a new thing to buy. It still feels crazy to me to this day to say I frequent places like Jerusalem and Nazareth that you’ve heard about in religious stories all your life and here you are living it. It’s even crazier when you associate pubs and soccer games with going to Jerusalem, not visiting churches and synagogues (again, the cool part about being a local). I will never stop being grateful that I have visited, toured, studied, and lived in a country that people dream about going to for their whole lives.
To say the state of Israel is diverse is practically known by now. For this reason, I am turning my attention to the diversity within the classroom. The International School here at the University of Haifa is truly international. I have learned so much about other countries and cultures just by listening to and talking to my classmates. Being that majority of us are studying politics, I have found the most interesting part to discuss current politics with my classmates. It is true that not everyone thinks the same way, and yes, countries do have their own stereotypes that end up being kind of true. Americans, for instance, are stereotyped for being excessive patriotic…well that is so true (Go USA!), but I think the diversity is so important for part of the growing process, especially since we are all future leaders of our countries. I have gained knowledge within the classroom that is beyond the book. This type of learning experience is absolutely priceless.
The coffee here is super cheap and super good. I will admit that while I came to Israel a coffee fan, I am leaving a coffee addict. Here, coffee is part of the culture as it is a symbol of hospitality and a conversation starter. I have learned it is impossible to enter an Israeli home and NOT be offered a drink, usully starting with the offer of coffee. I have also learned that Israelis will not take no for answer, so just say yes when they offer it! Coffee will now forever be linked to good conversations for me thanks to Israel. Here people don’t judge whom you become friends with. I look forward every week to chatting with the International School marketing director, Michal, because meeting with her (like many of the people I have met here) is not superficial. Yes, we are supposed to meet about marketing (and we do), but we also talk about our lives, our opinions, and everything in between. People are real and want to talk about the real stuff. Part of the experience is getting to know the locals.
While getting used to new spices and foods can tricky, once you get the hang of it you can really appreciate the freshness of everything here in Israel. Where I live back home all fruits, vegetables, and spices are bought within the grocery store. The fruits and vegetables specifically are usually more expensive and not all vibrant and flavorful as what I have experienced here. While in the USA we have more variety of foods, Israel has taught me to appreciate the freshness of the local foods that are in season. I remember one of the first time I prepared a salad here I was amazed by the vibrancy of color in the peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It is a very humbling experience to be able to appreciate something as small as vibrant fruits. I wish I could bring home some of the goodness, but I can’t (and believe me I tried, but TSA would let me bring in my Israeli apples). But things like fresh watermelon in the summer in Israel are so close to heaven and worth coming back for.
I originally intended to not include people in this, at least not directly, because the fact that I will miss the people that I have formed friendships with here is an obvious one. I had to include my boyfriend, because if it weren’t for me coming to Israel I would have never met him. I know that my experience here would have been 100% different if I had not been with him, and I am so glad that he was and continues to be a part of my life. Being that he is a dual citizen (thankfully!) he can easily visit me and I can visit him, but because I met him here, Israel will always have a special place in my heart. Of course, I had to save the best part for last.
Overall the best piece of advice I can give future students is to take the plunge and just DO IT!! This is especially directed at students that like the idea of studying abroad but are too scared or are worried that might not be able to afford it. I was both of these things and here I am. Look early and apply early. This is true for scholarships as well as study abroad programs themselves. I was able to fund majority of my study abroad experience through scholarships, if there is a will and a passion then there will always be a way. The more research you do on the programs themselves the better you know what you are looking for as well as what the universities have to offer. The University of Haifa was great with emails when I was in my home country. They always replied quickly and gave me lots of stuff to read about that really got me pumped to come here. I was also very nervous before going, especially to a place like Israel that is always in the news and not always in a good way. I can honestly say the hardest part is the fear of leaving your own comfort zone. When it comes down to real, physical safety it is the campus’s job to make sure you are secure. That will never be a problem. Everything after that is up to you. Be willing to leave your comfort zone because the result is so rewarding. Looking back to the person I was when I came here to the person I am leaving as now are two completely different people. I have grown in so many ways from studying abroad. I will never stop encouraging students to take the opportunity to go abroad while they can still do it.
Living and studying in Israel has exceeded my expectations in ways I didn’t even think possible. Academics aside, everyone needs to try it to expand his or her horizons. I promise that you won’t regret it!
Arabic and Peace and Conflict Studies Programs
Summer and Fall 2015
University of Haifa
From University of North Carolina at Charlotte