Israeli life

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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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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Healthy Eating Abroad

It isn’t easy to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle while studying abroad. There’s a lot of new and interesting food and restaurants to try and it can be hard to find a good time or facility to work out. So, in lieu of a post about my adventures, today I’m going to share my gems of wisdom about fitness and food (on a budget) while living in another country.

  • You can’t eat what you don’t buy. If you live in a dorm or apartment, you’re most likely shopping for yourself. So don’t buy things that you know you’ll snack on incessantly or won’t be able to stop eating. This has been a big challenge for me to overcome with pita and dried fruit. The dried fruit here is simply unreal, it’s so good, and it’s very easy to eat tons of it without stopping, never mind the excessive amount of sugar it contains. Pita is also fluffy and delicious, but pretty much devoid of any real nutritional value. So, I’ve stopped buying these items, because I know I have a hard time controlling how much of them I eat. I don’t have any real “snack foods” either, just lots of fruit and veggies.
  • Make a list and stick to it. Plan your meals and shop accordingly. It helps you ration what you buy and prevents that “What the heck should I make for (insert meal here)?” Try and make balanced meals and take advantage of local produce. For example, as I’ve said, vegetables are dirt-cheap here (pardon the pun) and unbelievably fresh, colorful and delicious. Yesterday, I managed to eat eight servings of fruits and veggies without even trying.
  • Eat slowly. Sip water between bites, cut as you go instead of all at once, don’t eat while watching television or something on your computer. Do whatever you need to do to get your body to slowwww downnnnn because it takes a while for that full feeling to set in.
  • The “I don’t have any food” feeling is as much mental as it is physical. If you find yourself starving at odd hours of the day (despite having eaten a balanced diet the rest of the day), distract yourself with something else physical. Do some crunches or pushups, sit in a few yoga poses, walk around your building or something else to just get your mind off the hunger that might not even be actual hunger, but boredom or another emotion like it.
  • For exercise, take advantage of what you have near you. In my case, we have the national park across the street, so I go walk/jogging there and I also do some short exercise videos from YouTube. But make time for it to happen. Make it a part of your routine, however you have to.
  • While traveling, walk as much as you can. It’s a fun way to explore the area and it’s good for you.
  • Treat yourself! This sounds contradictory given everything I’ve just said. But every now and again, it’s totally fine to splurge at a restaurant. Get a big steak or bowl of creamy pasta and order dessert, too. You deserve it. And try to eat something you don’t normally eat in your everyday life, because it will be more satisfying that way.

So those are my pearls of wisdom, garnered over six weeks abroad, living in a dorm, feeding myself and trying to save money and stay healthy. Check back next week when I get back from Greece and Cyprus for an update on the wonder that is Spring Break 2012!

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First Trip to the Movies and an Anniversary

On March 23, one of my favorite books (which honestly isn’t saying a lot because I have a lot of favorite books), came out in movie form. However, in Israel, it came out on March 22, so of course, I had to go see it. My friend and roomie Brittany came with me. The movie, you ask?

A few words about seeing an English movie in Israel…

  • No, it was not in Hebrew. It was fully in English, with Hebrew subtitles
  • I should have known it was beyond a large group of Israelis capability to remain silent for two full hours. There was lots of chatter, which bothered me a bit, but maybe that was just because of the excitement of the movie and isn’t typical. But only maybe.
  • The Hunger Games rocked. No matter where I was seeing it. Go. See. It. (But read the book first! Then go see the movie, then read the other two books.)

The other major event of the weekend was on Friday, which was David and my 4-year anniversary. Yes, that’s right, we’ve been dating a full FOUR years, which is unbelievable. I spent the day out in the sunshine hiking down the mountain to the beach for a little sun exposure, then g-chatting and Skyping with David. I’m so lucky to have him in my life and I’m very proud of how we’ve handled this separation. Coincidentally, Friday night at midnight was the exact halfway point between us saying good-bye on January 2 and being reunited on June 15. So yay us.

Saturday was a lazy day with a visit to the park to do homework and enjoy more sunshine and today, I went on a study tour to some different points in the North. It was a very hazy day with lots of on-the-bus-off-the-bus-ness but I’m still glad I went because I’m sure I saw things I would never see on my own.

And now, I head into my last week of March (can you believe it?) and the last week before our exceptionally long spring break (17 days). Thank goodness. I need a break. We work really hard here. (Totally kidding. Next semester will be a rude awakening back at normal school). I’m really looking forward to April, which will contain trips to another continent, three (maybe four) different countries, a cruise, an international Internet policy conference, a very exciting visit with some fellow Elon-ers and oh, yeah, more life in Israel. So stay tuned. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

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Haifa, Purim, Jerusalem and Rockets Far Far Away

Sorry for the length of time since my last post, but it was a busy week combined with a very busy weekend. We only had three days of classes last week because it was Purim. It is an actual religious holiday, but to an outsider, it can basically be described as a multi-day celebration with costumes and street festivals and general frivolity.

Emily, Eva, Brittany and I all bought super cheap animal ears and party hats and were “party animals.” Oh the ingenuity that comes with thriftiness. It was a good time that lasted from Wednesday night through Friday and spanned both Haifa and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, since the holiday meant no class on Thursday, three of us walked down the entire mountain to the beach, which you can see from everywhere on campus. It only took us around two and a half hours, although we’re pretty confident we can get it down to two since we really know what we’re doing. It was a really nice walk and I am eager to do it again when the weather is nice. We of course, took the bus back up.

So on Friday, we went to Jerusalem! We stayed in a hostel, which was an experience. It was right next to the Damascus Gate into the Old City and only a ten minute walk from Ben Yehuda Street, but was um…a hostel. So, you get what you get when you only pay 25 bucks a night. But we had a good time wandering through a Purim street festival on Friday afternoon, then heading to the Western Wall for the start of Shabbat. Seeing so many people doing the same prayers was really very moving.

Saturday was full of wandering wandering wandering through the Old City because most of the museums and such that we would have gone to were closed because it was Shabbat. That’s something that’s not as noticeable in Haifa, but definitely is in Jerusalem.

One museum that was open was the Tower of David museum, which is a really old fortress that is now a museum about the history of the city. It was a rather nice way to spend several hours. The weather was also absolutely gorgeous. It was just warm enough that we all got some sun, but not so warm that we were sweaty. And, as always, we practiced the cardinal rule of exploring an unknown land…when in doubt, or when lost or sad or confused or just breathing, eat! Fallafel, shwarma, dried fruit, weirdly awesome honey balls, just eat! I also had my first haggling experience where I got an embroidered tapestry (the one thing I really really really wanted from Israel) from one of the shops in Jerusalem. His initial ask was 400 NIS and I paid 200 NIS, and it is the one souvenir I will probably buy myself the whole time I’m here (besides food). It is now proudly hanging up in my dorm room.

On Sunday, we went to Yad Vashem, where I was awed and overwhelmed by the beautiful and touching simplicity of every square inch. For those who don’t know, Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Museum on Mt. Herzel, and is a must-see for anyone who has any sort of reverence for the tragedy that consumed so many lives so needlessly.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as long as I wanted there or take it in as much as I really would have liked to because Mother Nature decided to kick my butt and make me very sick very fast. The past few days have been a string of feverishness, blowing my nose and lots of coughing but I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and a date with some Nyquil another International School student has tonight.

Wow, that was a long one, but kudos if you read all the way through. Another post will follow this week before our hike.

Oh and the rockets? What rockets? All of that is far far away, I promise and by the way, it’s not really news here. It’s just life. So never fear. All is well.

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Cultural Sundays

With the cancellation of our weekend hike, my friends and I decided to do something cultural here in Haifa on Sunday: head down the mountain the the Haifa City Museum. An hour and a half and two bus rides later, we find out the museum is closed because of a changing exhibit. So what are a group of Americans who paid 6.6 shekels to do in the beautiful German colony of Haifa? Go to a restaurant, of course! We went to Fatoush, a really cool Arabic place where we loaded up on cider, tea, lamb, cheese, vegetables and hummus for a pretty low price (around 12 dollars apiece). It was eclectic and authentic and I would definitely go back. That was our cultural Sunday. This however, is a picture from Saturday night, when we went to an Irish restaurant for a delicious Israeli salad.

There’s a whole list of foods I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eat in the States now that I’ve had them here. A quick list…

  • Hummus. I eat it every day on everything. There are whole sections in grocery stores here devoted to the delicious stuff.
  • Feta cheese. Often called Bulgarian cheese here, it is sweet and salty and creamy and good on pretty much everything.
  • Produce! It’s Farmers Market fresh all the time because most of it is grown here in Israel. I can eat pints of fresh strawberries, apples, peppers and more without ever wanting anything else. It’s also far less expensive here than back home.
  • Pita. Again, I eat it every day. Even in the mini-market here on campus, it’s baked fresh and only stays good for a few days. Oh darn, guess it has to be consumed!

That’s all for now, but be sure to check back in a few days to hear all about the Purim festivities that will take place over the next few days!

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Israeli Thursdays and why studying abroad is great

In Israel, the weekend is Friday and Saturday, because of Shabbat from Friday night to Saturday night. Here at the International School, we also don’t have class on Sundays, so every weekend is a three-day weekend. It, in a word, is awesome. So Thursdays are our Fridays here, and the past two have been great. Last week was my birthday and this week was my roommate Brittany’s, so we went out to eat again and then went to the same club as last week. And we had a really great time.

A few words about Israelis: they are loud. Very loud. They also smoke like fiends all the time, especially in most bars and clubs, so that is something that’s been a little hard to get used to. But they are really nice. Several random people have told us “Welcome to Israel! Enjoy your time!” on the bus, at the market, etc. Even the bus drivers will pretend to be grumpy but will still answer every question you ask them.

Here’s the thing about studying abroad with a bunch of other students in a similar place in life as you: You become instant best friends because you do everything together. Even more than say, freshman year in college, you instantly live together, study together, eat together and most importantly, discover together. It’s wonderful. When you study abroad, you’re already a person with a life to go back to, so there’s no pressure to find a group and fit in, because you already know you can. And everyone is just so happy to be together that social drama doesn’t seem to matter at all to anyone. I’ve found a great group of people but everyone is nice to everyone so there’s always someone to talk to.

So maybe you’re thinking right now, “Hey, weren’t you supposed to be on a hike this weekend?” Yes, yes we were. However, for the past three days it has been pouring here in Israel. It’s hard to complain about rain in a country in an eternal state of drought, but somehow, we International Schoolers who wanted warmth and sunshine have found a way to whine about it anyway. Our hike was supposed to be in some craters in the desert which have been turned into rivers, so unless we wanted to make it a canoe trip, it would not be safe for us to hike and camp. So, it’s been postponed.

But we had a great Shabbat tonight and are still bonding and having a super time. Now if only it would get a little warmer…

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My first post!

For all my talk about being a writer, it sure did take me a while to start a blog recapping my big adventure abroad. But here it is! And here, in this post, I’ll recap the last eight days in Israel…

Sunday, February 19- Monday, February 20

After a very long flight from Newark to Tel Aviv (thankfully it was direct), my friend Emily and I arrived around 9 a.m. and joined up with James, another student in our program here at the International School of the University of Haifa. We took a shuttle (sherut) up the coast to the school, checked in, settled into our room (Emily and I are roomies) and by 1 in the afternoon (4 a.m. East Coast time), I was barely coherent. We took a nap, then wandered around, then met up with the rest of the International School kids, where we continued getting oriented for the next day, including a tour of Haifa, a tour of the campus and lots of “getting to know you” stuff.

Tuesday, February 21 – Wednesday, February 22

Classes started. I got placed in Hebrew 2! Hooray! Adventures also ensued to the mall (Israelis love malls). Etc, etc, etc….

Thursday, February 21

I turned 21!!!! It was my birthday and my wonderful new friends helped me celebrate. We went to an Asian restaurant, then an Irish pub then a dance club. It was really really great. I made sure I knew how to say “Hayom yom hooledet shelee!” That means “Today is my birthday.”

Friday, February 24 – Saturday, February 25

Friday and Saturday can be pretty lazy around here since it’s the Israeli weekend and everything really shuts down from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon for Shabbat. There was a trip to the grocery store and back to the mall on Saturday night, but that’s really all. It was very relaxing.

Sunday, February 26

On the first of many study tours run by the program, we went to Jerusalem! It was a very long but very informative day and it just made us all want to go back and learn more. The streets we were walking on have been there for literally hundreds and hundreds of years. That’s something you just can’t get in the States. This is a picture of the Western Wall. There are millions of hopes, wishes and prayers shoved in the cracks between the giant stones from people of every walk of life. Even if you don’t believe in a higher being, you can still believe in the power of that much faith crammed into one tiny space. It makes you feel so small.

Monday, February 27 and Today!

With a full week under our belts now, Week Two of classes has begun. It’s much less stressful here than in the States, and I have lots of free time. I’m also well-rested, which is quite a feat. I’ll post again later this week before a trip this weekend to the desert to hike and the resort town of Eilat. Until then…

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