University of Haifa International School Student Blog
By Jael Espinoza, a student at the Study Abroad program at the International School.
One year ago, I packed up my belongings, boarded my first international flight, landed in Israel, and stayed.
When I first arrived, nothing seemed extremely different (except the way the bus drivers drive), but it was the subtle things that amounted to an intense cultural shock. The small details that we often address on auto-pilot in our homeland became details that required special attention, and often cultural assimilation. Adhering to the Shabbat schedule and adjusting for the transportation and store operating hours were just a few of the most noticeable changes, but even locals have issues with that, and they’ve lived here all their lives!
These past two semesters were filled with learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. I loved taking classes with students from all over the country who would together create a class atmosphere with thoughts and ideas coming from several perspectives and experiences. Even better was getting to put my historical knowledge to use to understand why students from different countries might have arrived to those opinion, as several students thought similarly for Americans.
Outside of the classroom, but still on campus, I loved the living community that the dormitories provided for me as an international student. During the summer I lived in the Federman Dormitories; a typical dorm with three rooms, each housing two individuals in a shared room, as well as a shared kitchen/common space and a bathroom. Living there allowed me to really branch out and make friends with local students. I met local students-Arabs, Jews, Russians- and several international students who all had unique stories and experiences. During the fall and spring semesters I lived in the Talia apartment complex where I had my own room and bathroom, and shared a much larger kitchen and common space. To say I was blessed with amazing roommates is an understatement, and I am so thankful to have been placed with these five other individuals. I lived with two other American international students, along with three local students, each from a different Arab city or village.
The student union as a whole frequently hosted activities in the dorms clubhouse, so that students living on campus could get together and enjoy themselves outside of the classroom. I was surprised how well these activities were organized, and how many students would show up in attendance.
Adjusting to life off campus was another journey in itself, but an enjoyable one altogether. By the second month, I learned that, while on the bus, if I was within arms’ reach of the railing, I should grab on, because the driver will begin moving soon, even if there’s still a line of passengers waiting to swipe their card or pay. I also learned how to shop and negotiate for lower prices at the market, or shuk, eventually became accustomed to doing so in both Arabic and Hebrew.
During my second semester, I participated in the internship program and really felt like I got to know the city along with deeper dynamics of Israeli society. I was working with individuals from Haifa to support individuals from other cities in Israel who found themselves in dangerous and hostile situations. Through this, I witnessed several instances of solidarity and coexistence; instances of confusion and hurt.
I’ve gotten to experience the amazing city of Haifa and land of Israel in ways that most individuals will never have the opportunity to do, and for that I am truly grateful.
Special thanks to the madrichim and staff at the University of Haifa International School who truly made Haifa feel like my home away from home!