The Final Post

It is now Thursday afternoon…I board a plane on Friday morning, Israel time, and land Friday afternoon, US time, where my wonderful father, who I’ve missed so much, will be waiting for me….yes, that means this is the last post of my study abroad experience, which I’ve been looking forward to since I was maybe 10 yeas old (the study abroad, not the post!).

So my adventure in Israel has come to an end. Before I get in to the deep, introspective-ness, I have made a “Rachel’s Big Adventure By the Numbers.” Enjoy!

110                 The number of days I have spent in Israel

31                     Nights spend away from Haifa

4                       Total countries visited

5                        Additional countries seen, but not actually visited

5                        Hostels slept in

3                        Nights spent camping

57                      Gallons of hummus eaten (approx)

84                     Pounds of falafel eaten (approx)

687623          Busses ridden (approx)

16                      Gifts obtained for friends and family

That’s Israel quantitatively…Israel qualitatively….no idea how I can wrap that up in words. In fact, I’ve been pondering this blog post for weeks. I’ve been mulling it over in my brain and trying to think of some grand, wise thing to say, some all-inclusive statement to summarize my time. But I can’t think of anything wise and and grand and all-inclusive…

But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it means that I don’t really think of this entire experience as something separate and defining. Maybe it has just become a part of the holistic experience that is me growing up, of me becoming me.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this semester, of that much, I am sure. I am a person who enjoys order and structure and thrive best in it. But I am also a person who is capable of independence, and don’t need someone constantly providing me with stimulus. I am a person who can fit in a group of people, but I also really enjoy my alone time and need it to decompress.

This was my first trip out of the United States, and it made me realize how much I love America. Not that I can’t get along in another place, I just don’t want to, at least not permanently. I also love my “homes” fiercely. The plural refers to my home at Elon and the place I will always call my home, southern Delaware. I’m excited to eat pretzel salad and sit in beach traffic and see more pickup trucks in an hour than some would see in a lifetime. I want to hear the subtle accents and hear gossip and watch the local news. At school, I miss having the wonderful connection that is Elon and the constant bustle of 5,000 highly involved students hurrying around campus.

I have loved my time here in Israel. I really have. It is a land with an energy that you absolutely can’t describe unless you’ve been here. I will look back at this time with nothing but fondness and I cannot express enough thanks for the incredible people I have met here and friends I have made. They have made these three months so much fun and so memorable. When I think back to this semester, I will first think of them, and I hope we can meet again in the near future.

My adventure in Israel may be ending, but the next adventure is just starting. I get one week at home in Delaware, which will include a one day jaunt down to North Carolina, before starting a 10 week stint as a features intern with the Cape Cod Times. That means a new place again, with new faces to meet and new things to learn. Then, the adventure of senior year begins, and the imminence of the real world. But for now, I’m just going to sit back and smile, completely content at how the past few months have gone, and how I will remember this time for the rest of my life.

Thank you for reading. It’s been a pleasure sharing this journey with you.

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An Israel Bucket List According to Me

Exactly one week from today, I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, headed to to the airport in Newark, New Jersey where my Daddy will be waiting to take me home to Delaware. (I wrote this on Friday night, but published Saturday morning.

Holy cow.

Yes, it has been 15 weeks since I arrived in the Holy Land, and now I’m down to the home stretch of papers and finals (well, two papers and one final, but still) and everyone’s favorites, goodbyes and packing. This weekend is going to be spent in good ol’ Haifa, with a nice group dinner tonight after a final trip to the shuk (market) today. It’s my last Shabbat in Israel and it feels like yesterday I was saying it was the first. But for my second-to-last blog post, I thought I’d give you all my “Top 10 Must-Do while in Israel” list, based exclusively on my opinion and the places I visited. It’s completely biased, but I hope you like it anyway and if you ever plan a trip here, make an effort to see a couple of the things on this list. Here they are (in no particular order).

1. JerusalemThere really isn’t anything like it in the world. Holy to three major world religions and centuries and centuries of history, you just can’t experience anything like anywhere else in the world. See the Western Wall and put your hopes and dreams and prayers on a paper and stick it in a crack with a million others like it. Wander the Old City and buy something from one of the gazillions of shops. Eat falafel on a rooftop, visit a museum (or a dozen) and make sure one of them is Yad Vashem. But above all in Jerusalem, just be there, in the moment, and feel the history all around you.

2. Tel Aviv And then there’s Tel Aviv. It’s a whole other animal compared to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv feels young and fresh where Jerusalem is learned and wise. Jerusalem is where you think about the past and Tel Aviv is where the only thing you think about is right now. Eat at the great restaurants, get a drink at the great bars, sun on the great beaches and enjoy.
3. Small city- When you’re done with the big cities, head to small one. We’ve visited a few here that I think are just adorable. They’re calm and quaint and have a tremendous amount of heart and character. Just spend a morning or an afternoon seeing what there is to see, because you never know what you may find.
4. West Bank This is a complicated place and I think it’s extremely important to get a well-rounded perspective. So go to the West Bank and meet the people and see the other side. It may seem intimidating, but once you’re there, it’s totally not, so go, go, go. You won’t regret it.
5. Tsefat This is a whole other ball game of religious identity in Israel and it was awesome. When you’re there, you can literally feel the faith radiating out of the walls and the hearts of the people. There’s color and art and history and religion and just about anything else from that sort of world you can imagine.
6. Dead Sea Weirdest feeling ever. You have to go in. You just have to. You’ll feel like a cork bobbing up and down and you’ll laugh and paddle around and maybe get covered with mud and take silly pictures and then you will always be able to say you swam in the Dead Sea.
7. Masada Is hauling your butt out of bed at 3:45 in the morning difficult? Yes. Is climbing over 5o stories worth of roughly-cut stone stairs one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life? Heck, yes. But is making it to the top of an ancient city and watching the sun rise over the mountains of Jordan totally worth it? A million times yes. So climb climb climb, don’t stop for nothing, and you’ll have a morning you’ll never forget.
8. Major holiday- I had my fair share of them here, from Purim to Passover and many more, but no matter what, try and experience one, whether it is Jewish or Israeli or a cultural hyrbid (Purim). It’s just really fun watching a good portion of the country celebrate.
9. Hike in the South Rough-cut red desert rocks and loose sand with scraggly brush sticking everywhere and wind cutting across the barren landscape? Yes please. Hike in southern Israel and you’ll really understand the whole “Wow it must have stunk to wander in the desert for 40 years” concept. But it’s a very interesting place to be and to see, especially if you’re from the eastern United States and it literally feels like Mars.
10. Hike in the North A whole other animal. Those eastern Americans I mentioned will probably feel more at home in this landscape, which is just beautiful. There are giant trees and flowing creeks and snow-capped mountains on the horizon and it’s a really really pleasant way to spend a few days.

So if you’re coming to Israel, take a gander at your itinerary and check if you’re stopping at these spots. If you’re not, think about it. This is such a diverse place and you should really try and experience every different square inch of it. Thanks for reading!

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That time I went to the West Bank

You went where???? Yes, yes, I left “regular” Israel for the week and crossed over into the West Bank…and I had a great time. So let’s take it day by day, shall we?

Friday: Haifa to Jerusalem to Ramallah

From the university, eleven of us headed south to Jerusalem, where we walked to Damscus gate and caught a bus to the city of Ramallah. In Ramallah, we had some great shwarma and wandered the city, seeing what there was to see, which included a Bedouin shop/museum. In this shop, the people proceeded to dress us up in traditional Bedouin garb and let us take pictures inside the tent they’d set up in one of the rooms. This first one is me…

This next one is me, too, with my friend Valerie, but it’s a little hard to tell who I am…

This next one is all the girls in our group in front of the main square of Ramallah. We were a pretty fun group:)

After Bedouin dress-up, wandering Ramallah, one cafe visit, a power nap, an incredible dinner at a Palestinian-Italian fusion restaurant and an hour at another cafe, we crashed for the evening.

Saturday: Ramallah to Nablus

We were supposed to go to a museum at Birzeit University but it didn’t open until 12. Instead, the university sent a representative out who took us on a tour of the campus! This was just one of an extraordinary amount of hospitality we saw over the course of our trip. It was a really neat campus, and I’m very glad we got to go.

Post-tour, we caught a bus from Ramallah to the city of Nablus, further north. Once there, we met with leaders of this organization that provides services to youth and kids in the community. Two of them then proceeded to give up their entire afternoons and mornings to show us all around the Old City of Nablus, including two candy factories, a bakery and a visit into the home of one of our tour guide’s aunts who made us all coffee! We also encountered lots of sites where there was damage or had been deaths during different phases of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We also encountered these little boys. They kept saying “Hello! What’s your name! Take our picture!” I think those are the only English phrases they actually knew. I was only to happy to oblige and snap this one of them. They insisted on looking at the picture to make sure they looked good before giving me a thumbs up and running off to play soccer again. They were, in a word, precious.

Our tour of Nablus also included an old, but newly renovated, mosque, and for the first time in the Middle East, I had to cover up my head to go in somewhere. Here’s me and Valerie again, outside the mosque.

We had dinner with our guides overlooking the city of Nablus, then went back to our hostel, which was very nice, for a very nice night’s rest.

Sidebar: Art in the West Bank

Street art has become a huge part of life in the West Bank. There is graffiti and drawings and murals everywhere, and a lot of it is very cool. The walls of the walkway leading from the street to our hostel in Nablus were no different. This one was my favorite.

Sunday: Nablus to Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Haifa

On Sunday morning, we met up with our guides from the day before again, and they took us to a soap factory, the church of Jacob’s Well and one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, where thousands of people live in one square kilometer of space, with almost no privacy and a virtually non-existent economy. It was incredibly eye-opening, and made me so thankful for the life I have here in Israel and back in the States.

After that, our group split. One went to visit family friends in Ramallah, a few headed back to the university to complete homework (yes, we do have that here), and the other six of us headed to Bethlehem. It was another instance of getting to do something I didn’t think I would, so I was pretty pleased. Bethlehem is much much more tourist-y than the other places we’d been in the West Bank. Here is a picture of the outside of the Church of the Nativity.

It was essentially built around the cave (stable) where Jesus is said to have been born. It is one of the oldest continually-operating churches in the world. Of course, we went to see the spot where it is said he lay, and here’s me standing in front of the arc-type thing that surrounds it.

Christians making a pilgrimage to the site kneel down behind me there and touch the spot, where there’s a star on the floor, or rub things on it, like handkerchiefs. I really won’t ever forget visiting this place that’s so important to so many people in my life and around the world.

After a few hours in Bethlehem, we headed back to Jerusalem (with a stop at a checkpoint at the dividing wall, where a soldier from the IDF had to check our passports), and spent a while waiting for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot  to end so we could get on a bus back to Haifa. The good part of that is that I got to spend a little more time in the Old City, taking in the bustle, got to visit the Wall one more time and got to say goodbye to Jerusalem. I’ll come back someday, I’m sure of it, but it’s Shalom for now.

Sunday was really a day of diversity: In an Arab-dominated population, I visited one of the main sites of Christianity and then watched tons of Orthodox Jews head to the Wall to thank G-d for the Torah. Talk about multi-cultural. Elon University would be proud.

Was it a long weekend? Absolutely. Hot? Tiring? Sure, but it was a great experience and real exposure to Arab culture, something I haven’t really gotten much of until this point. It was one more thing I needed to really round out my experience. It’s a good thing I did it, too, because I only have one weekend left! I go home in 11 days, so it’s the final stretch. I’ll post a few more times, summing up my experience, so if you have any requests for content, let me know, because this adventure is coming to a close.

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Up to the Golan one more time

On Sunday, after our whirlwind Dead Sea/Masada/Ein Gedi tour, we had a day trip through the International School and the Contemporary Israel course. It was a day of outdoor lectures in the slightly chilly spring wind, looking at the borders with Lebanon and Syria and the locations of major battles in the last 60-odd years. The brown hill is Lebanon just beyond this Israeli town.

Then there’s Syria….

All those buildings there in the distance are the UN compound directly on the border between Syria and Israel.

After looking at all these battlesites and whatnot, we headed to the Golan Heights Winery. The climate conditions in northern Israel are actually ideal for growing all sorts of grapes, so vineyards all over the north send their grapes to this winery. The bottles are sold all over the world. We had a tour of the facility, then a tasting, and I got a few bottles for some lucky people back in the States.

It was a trip full of bus naps but I really appreciated getting to see northern Israel (my favorite part) one more time.

Check back next week for a report on my trip to the West Bank this weekend! Thanks for reading.

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The Dead Sea, Masada and Ein Gedi

There are certain things a person has to see when they come to Israel (check back in a few weeks for my version of an Israeli bucket list). Two of those things include the Dead Sea and Masada, and through some magical planning and twists of fate, 13 friends and I were able to cross those things off our list, along with Ein Gedi, a desert oasis. So here’s the breakdown of our amazing trip:

Friday

Four friends and I piled into a rental car and headed down from Haifa, around the West Bank, through Jerusalem and out into the desert. And like any good Israeli roadtrip, there had to be a stop at a roadside falafel stand where there happened to be a man selling camel rides (or just momentary sits, in my case) to gullible tourists like myself.

When we arrived at the Dead Sea and the beach where we’d also be camping, we went floating! You can’t really call it swimming because the salt content is so high, you can barely hold yourself under. It is the oddest feeling, like being totally weightless. This is me bobbing around with my friends Emily and Ariel.

Then we found mud! The Dead Sea’s mud is famous for its cleansing properties, but you usually have to pay an arm and a leg to get some, unless you happen to find it yourself, which we did! You cover yourself up with the nearly-black goo and take goofy pictures while it dries in the hot desert sun. Then you climb back into the water and let the salty water wash it away and it leaves your skin really soft. That’s me in the center, with just my face and feet visible between James and Ariel. The boys were all about covering their faces, but we girls were less keen on sticking our faces in the salty water. Every orifice on your body burns like crazy if you get any water in it, so you have to be very careful. Safe to say, I could not stop laughing as long as we were covered in the stuff.

So after a day of driving, camel-sitting, floating, mudding and sweating our butts off in the 90+ degree heat in the desert until nearly 9 p.m., we hunkered down on the beach campground area to catch a few hours of sleep. So yes, yet again I slept outside, although this time was much harder than the first because we had 30+ mph desert winds blowing on us all night long. But it didn’t really matter since we awoke at 3:45 am to begin our next adventure.

Saturday

So in the dessert, a mile or so from the shore of the Dead Sea, on top of a little mountain is Masada. On top of the mountain (at the max, 1,300 feet high), is an ancient fortress. Legend has it that several thousand years ago, the Roman army wanted to capture the fortress of Masada where a group of about 960 Jews lived in really fancy digs. The Jews hunkered down and tried to wait out the Romans, while the Romans tried to get to the top by building a ramp to take their army up. When they finally got to the top, they found the Jews had burned their storerooms of food and all committed suicide. So how do people like me commemorate such an occasion? They get up really freaking early in the morning and climb up Masada to watch the sun rise over the desert mountains of Jordan on the other side of the Dead Sea.

My friends and I were up and at Masada, planning on climbing up the Roman ramp, a climb, but not unfathomable. To our surprise, we discovered we’d had some miscommunication and were on the wrong side for the ramp so we had to do the (insert ominous music here) Snake Path.

The Snake Path is comprised of 700 crudely cut steps over 2km long to take you up. To put that in perspective, it’s about the equivalent of climbing around 54 stories of a standard US building. The catch? You have to make it up by sunrise or all your hard work will have been wasted! And I have a confession: I almost gave up. My dear asthmatic lungs couldn’t take another step, but I had three friends who stuck with me and were struggling too and we coached each other all the way up. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the strength they gave me that early morning. But make it up we did, before the sun rose over the mountains or over the clouds above them. It was kind of awesome.

Here are three of the other girls from the group and I basking in the glow of the early morning light. It was around 6 a.m. when this was taken.

Once on top of Masada, we wandered around for an hour or so, taking in all of the ruins and sights up there and the view of the red rocky desert around us, with the salt flats and the Dead Sea to the east. Once it was 8 a.m., 11 of the 13 started the descent back down the Snake Path, but I and my new partner in knee-injury world, Aaron, opted to pay to take the cable car down.

To recap, it is about 8:15 a.m. and we college kids have already been awake for four and a half hours after sleeping outside on rocks for a few hours. We drove to the nearest town to eat breakfast and recover, then made our way to Ein Gedi, a desert oasis and nature reserve where several things happened….

  1. I swam under waterfalls for the first time in my life.
  1. We washed the salt and sand of the last two days off of our bodies and rejoiced in cool waters since the temperature was at least 90 degrees again. This is Megan, Julia, Me, Ariel and Steph.
  1. My friend Benny tried to feed a hyrax sunflower seeds and it bit him. Hard. Note to everyone in the world ever outdoors: never feed the animals. He’s fine, for the record, nothing a visit to a clinic and a shot or two couldn’t fix.

Once Benny was bandaged and we’d had our fill of sun and salt and desert, we headed back up to Haifa, completely exhausted. But here’s the thing, like nearly every other second of this entire experience, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything different. And I think that’s the best thing a person can say about any sort of adventure.

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Student Day, Rosh Ha Nikra, a Prom and Zikhron Ya’akov

What do these four phrases have in common? They all occurred during the past week of this crazy journey we call study abroad. It’s a lot, so I’ll keep it brief. As always, check Facebook for more photos!

Thursday,  May 10: The University of Haifa hosts their annual “Student Day,” a giant free outdoor concert with some of Israel’s most popular artists.

It was a lot of fun, a little crazy, and after about two hours of some Hebrew hits, I was really happy to have spent a night with friends having a good time.

Sunday, May 13: Two friends and I went to Rosh HaNikra, a rock formation on the furthest point north on the coast, right by the Lebanon border.

There are beautiful white cliffs and grottos that are partially underwater that look more pristine than the most perfect swimming pool on the planet. There’s the steepest cable car in the world to get down there and the remnants of railway tunnels that were bombed by the Israelis during the War of Independence to stop supplies from reaching the enemy.  It was beautiful and a really interesting place of history and natural beauty.

Tuesday, May 15: The International School hosted a prom for us! It was absolutely hilarious and so much fun.

There was a DJ and lights and cheesy photos and corsages and a king and queen and everything. There was also a giant slideshow of  cheesy “romantic” pictures interspersed with pictures of ourselves at our high school proms. It was the best International School activity (not trip) all semester.

Wednesday, May 16: Our little trio went to Zikhron Ya’akov for the afternoon.

It’s the town that was originally one of the first agricultural settlements established in the late 1800’s and now it’s an adorable area with a great view, filled with tree-lined boulevards with boutiques and restaurants and was yet again, a great way to spend a day exploring a new area.

So a full week. This weekend includes a trip to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, so stay tuned!

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Hiking in the North AKA My Absolute Favorite Weekend in Israel

The title says it all. Last weekend (May 4/5), the program took about 30 of us on a tour over two days in the North.

On Friday morning, we went to the city of Safed (or Zafed or Tzfat, depending on who you ask). Safed is often referred to as the home of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah. Yes, like Madonna, but not, because this is a real way of life and approaching Judaism, not just a red string around a wrist. We went to a lookout point and talked about the history of the area in relation to Zionism, then headed to the gallery of a Kabbalist artist and then to several beautiful synagogues.

I absolutely loved Safed. The whole city has this incredible inner peace and just this constant energy of total faith. It is historic and beautiful and a very admirable way of life.

After Safed, we headed for a hike a short ways away, along a creek. It was a foliage-oriented hike, as oppose to the desert hike, which was all rocks. We saw fig, walnut, pomegranate and loquat trees as well as a variety of plants, including mustard, which I did actually chew on. Here’s us crossing the creek on a little wooden bridge.

After that, we headed to a campground where we set up what can only be referred to as a hobo camp. No tents, just 30 college students plus 2 tour guides, three program leaders, 1 paramedic and 1 guard all spread out with sleeping bags and random backpacks. But this was where I had the absolute most fun. First, we played touch football with 12 or so of us and then we played a girls-only game of soccer (stupid knee be darned).

It was just a group of girls yelling and being totally supportive of each other and just completely having fun. It has been a really really long time since I’ve just played. And it was awesome. Then there was a Shabbat ritual, then dinner, then putzing around while two of our leaders played guitar and then sleeping completely under the stars for the first time in my life. When we woke up in the morning, it looked like this:

See? Hobo camp. Funnily enough, Stephanie, that girl in the red on the left had taken a photo just a moment before…

That’s me on the right, digging in my bag to pull out my camera to take my own version of this picture. I found it a very amusing coincidence.
So then we headed to the next part of our hike, with the bus taking us out of the upper Galilee and into the Golan. We were right next to the Lebanon border and did a rather treacherous hike along a creek made from snowmelt from Mt. Hebron, the only place in Israel that actually gets snow. When I say treacherous, I mean it was lots of climbing and it was super super super fun. Here’s my group on part of it (it took about three hours):
Unfortunately, one girl in our group did slip and actually broke her ankle! She is so brave though and handling it like a champ. I admire her so much. Some of the guys in our group, including our 50+ year old guide Yisrael sprang into chivalry mode and took turns carrying her out of the creekbed (at least a 30 degree angle hill) on their backs. Also admirable.
After our injured comrade was safely on her way to the hospital, we “conquered” Nimrod’s Fortress, a Moslem castle built in the early 1200’s. From here, we saw all sorts of fun architectural features and had a great view of the Golan and Lebanon (the border was sometimes less than a mile away).
After that, it was back on the bus for a short ride over to the Banyas (or Banias), which was originally “Panyas” because they are actually Green and Roman ruins of temples of the god, Pan. There are also a series of small waterfalls, gentle creeks, rapids and then a large waterfall.
So why was this my favorite trip in Israel? Because it was a perfect balance of ha chaverim shelee, ha eretz veh ha historia Israelite. That’s the terrible transliteration of “my friends, the land and Israeli history.” I loved being with great people in a beautiful setting learning about interesting people and places. It was the perfect thing to get me revved up and excited for the last month and reminded me how grateful I should be to be having this fantastic and incredibly unique study abroad experience.
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Tel Aviv!!!!

It is impossible to say the name of the city “Tel Aviv” without adding exclamation points to it. My friend and roommate Emily says her dad says, “Tel Aviv? That’s the closest city to Israel!” And it’s true. It’s another world there, a little bit. There are restaurants and bars and cafes everywhere, and people in short shorts and bikini tops headed to the beach and lots of nightlife. It’s a fun fun place to be and it’s where I met up with my friends after I got off the plane from Switzerland for four days and five nights of sun and exploring.

Wednesday and Thursday were Memorial Day and Independence Day so on Wednesday night, we picnicked in the famous Rabin Square and watched a huge performance and fireworks show. It was packed and although we couldn’t fully understand what was going on in the show, we liked watching all the young people performing.

On Thursday, we wandered and wandered and wandered some more, eating a nice lunch at a cafe and spending some time lying on the rocks on the shore by a park where families were barbecuing and flying kites and the like, just like Fourth of July in the States. We stopped for a moment outside Independence Hall to take pictures.

On Friday, we went to an art festival near the shuk in Tel Aviv after breakfast right next to it at another cafe. Then that night, we rang in Shabbat with a picnic on the beach to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean.

Saturday was a delightful Shabbat. We kept asking ourselves, “Wait, we are in Israel, right?” because almost everything was open! We walked way up to the northern tip of the city where there is a huge park and a marina-type area. I took a nap under a big shady tree and then we found another art festival! Another night out to eat completed the day…here’s me in the park.

So the themes of the weekend were good food, good friends and lots of sunshine and walking. It wasn’t a go crazy weekend in Tel Aviv. We didn’t stay up all night, we didn’t drink ourselves into a stupor, we didn’t see a million art galleries or museums. We just wandered, enjoying the energy and life of the city, which really is unique. And it was totally great.

On Sunday, it was back to Haifa for the first time in 9 days for me and a general “gearing up” for the last month of the program. As you can see, I’m about two weeks behind on blogging, but hopefully this week I’ll get all caught up. As always, thanks for reading!

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Homesickness and How to Deal

I have a secret to share….studying abroad isn’t all fun and games and adventures and photos and perfect trips. Yes, it is that 97 percent of the time, but what they don’t tell you is that 3 percent of the time, you’re kind of sad. And you get that aching feeling that has you staring at Facebook photos and emailing everyone you know and talking to your parents on the phone for long periods of time. 3 percent of the time (or more or less, depending on your personality), there is some real homesickness to deal with.

I myself was struck by this around two months into my trip. It really came to a head when I got back from Switzerland and got off the plane and found I was in Israel, not at home. I started crying like a five year old in the arrival gate with no idea why and no idea how to stop it. And that feeling persisted for a solid week and a half. But I have three tips to help you overcome your study abroad homesickness and I’m going to share them here.

  1. Don’t be ashamed. It is OK to feel homesick! Turns out many other people in my program have had the same plane experience when they’ve gone on short trips out of the country. So talk about it, because other people are feeling the same things you are. It’s OK to admit it to yourself, your friends and your family. There is nothing wrong with you and it is OK to miss home.
  2. Let yourself wallow in it a little. Skype a bunch with people from home, stare at photos, write long emails, obsess over your hometown newspaper’s website. Look at home and remember all the great things about it. Let yourself enjoy it a little and give yourself a taste of it.
  3. But know, that this too shall pass. Don’t let yourself descend into a pit of sadness. Distract yourself, plan a fun day trip, go to your favorite restaurant in your abroad city, spend time with your friends. Remind yourself that in a few weeks, you will be more disappointed if you just wallowed than if you took advantage of your surroundings.

So basically, accept it, succumb to it just a smidgen, then pick yourself up and move on. You can do it. I did. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know how I was going to get through the last chunk here and now, I’m just so excited about what the next 32 days have in store for me.

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A Brief Sojurn to Switzerland

Way back in January, before I even left the States for Israel, sitting at my desk at 60 Minutes, I got an offer I simply couldn’t turn down: travel to Geneva, Switzerland for five days in April to be a part of a team from the Imagining the Internet organization at Elon, with three faculty members and several of my peers. Our task? To document the 20th anniversary conference of the Internet Society known as Global INET.

So went I did, from the top of Mt. Carmel (armed with a prescription of amoxicillin to battle the strep I’d just been diagnosed with), down to the train station at the beach, on the train to the airport in Tel Aviv, then through a lengthy security procedure, aboard a very pleasant flight to Zurich, then a quick “puddle jumper” flight to Geneva. It was not the most pleasant experience, but I blame that entirely on the bacteria eating up the back of my throat and the fever (sorry, fellow travelers, I was definitely still contagious!) I stayed the night in a hotel by the airport and met up with the Elon team the next morning. This was our beautiful hotel:

Pause here for me to mention that this was my first time a. Traveling by myself in foreign countries for more than a bus ride and b. On a flight for more than 40 minutes by myself. I also had no cell phone and no idea how international travel or public transportation in Switzerland works so all in all, I was very proud of myself.

Geneva and Switzerland in general, are beautiful. It was green and classy and so clean! It rained pretty much the entire time we were there, but since I live in the desert, I didn’t mind one bit. It was also my first time in continental Europe and boy, did I get bit by the travel bug. It really made me think how my experience abroad would have been different if I hadn’t selected a program in oh, you know, the Middle East. It was also a nice mini-dose of the re-acclimation  culture shock I have to look forward to in June.

The conference itself was extremely interesting. If you’ve got some time to kill, you can see all my team did here. This was the group I was with:

I was so happy to get a taste of Elon, particularly because the homesick bug had really bit me in the butt the days right before. These are people who know my whole world at Elon, and they were kind enough to fill me in on every piece of news and gossip they could recall.

Also, this cheeseburger lover got to escape Kosherland for a bit and eat sandwiches with meat and cheese, including a classic McDonalds McDouble. Add that to the Magnum Blizzard (get on that, America), and I was a happy camper. The strep throat cleared up, I got to talk to good friends from home, the conference was interesting and I felt so productive and accomplished and I got to go to a new and awesome place. AKA, it rocked and was absolutely an experience I will never ever forget.

I flew back to Tel Aviv via Zurich early on a Wednesday morning, and met up with friends at a hostel where we spent the next few days. But more on that in a later post. Tonight, when I’m procrastinating from doing homework, I’ll do a mini-post about homesickness abroad and how I would recommend handling it. But for now, au revoir (as they say in Switzerland, unless of course they’re speaking German or Italian).

Categories: Friends, Photos, Travels | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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