From Calvert to Haifa via Hillel

It’s hard to know where to begin this story exactly. So, I’ll start at the very, very beginning. I grew up in rural Calvert County, Maryland. For those of you who don’t know, this is church country. It’s an area that has a plethora of churches dotted along Maryland Route 4. It’s ready to cater to whatever flavor of Christianity you savor.

Calvert County is also home to exactly one mosque. The construction of which was, believe it or not, paid for by Saddam Hussein. You have to love local history. It keeps a place interesting, even a place as uninteresting as Calvert (I’m allowed to say that, as I spent the first 20ish years of my life there). Now, outside of our many churches and our one very interestingly storied mosque, I am aware of no other religious centers in Calvert. There is no synagogue. I can count on one hand the number of Jewish classmates I had from elementary school through high school. 

Making Moves

All of this being the case, you can probably imagine what a culture shock it was for me when I moved to and attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore Country (UMBC). Baltimore boasts a comparatively large Jewish population, and pockets of Jewish communities surround it on its outskirts. I mean, I was raised Jewish. I have Jewish family members (obviously), and I did attend a Hebrew school twice a week until my bat mitzvah (though that Hebrew school was not nearby). However, I had never before been in a place where I couldn’t count all the Jews around me on one hand. I had never been so confronted with the incredible diversity of what being Jewish entails prior to college. 

Alana posing on the Hof HaCarmel Beach in Israel while on her Hillel trip.

Discovering Hillel

So, naturally, that just made me want to get involved in the whole shabang! This meant going to events put on by UMBC Hillel, the UMBC branch of an international non-profit organization known as Hillel. Hillel helps to facilitate pluralistic Jewish life on college campuses across the world. Joining these events and getting involved in my Jewish community naturally led me to intern with this organization, become the president, and even work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore. 

While doing all of this, I obviously became not only more immersed in my community, but also in my own history. For instance, did you know the first documented Jew in Maryland lived in Calvert County in the 1600s? I love it when things come full circle. Also, I’m not related to them. My family came from Baltimore on my mom’s side and Allentown, PA, on my dad’s. My Jewish lineage has not been sitting in Calvert County since the 1600s. I just wanted to make that clear.

Alana sitting in the sun at Makhtesh Ramon, Israel

Learning More About My Culture Through Hillel

This also, inevitably, led to me learning about programs that take Jewish students and adults abroad to Israel. Notably, there are also some programs for the gentiles interested in living in the holy land. Some examples of this are MASA, Birthright, and WUJS. MASA is technically the umbrella organization for all of these programs, including Birthright and WUJS (both of which I did), but they also run programs like the Masa Teaching Fellowship.

A peacock at the Haifa Zoo

Birthright, also referred to as Taglit (meaning discovery), is a 10-day experience in Israel where you travel across this beautiful New Jersey-sized country. During this trip, you get a chance to see Jerusalem, swim in the Dead Sea, and climb Masada. Tip: don’t take the snake trail going down if you are clumsy like me! I almost fell off. Also on the trip, I got to sleep in a Bedouin tent, and do a bunch of other things. It was my first experience in Israel. 

Going to Israel

Now, I went on my Birthright trip through UMBC Hillel. Typically, Birthright trips are most easily accessible through colleges and college-affiliated organizations such as Hillel. However, you don’t have to be in college or be part of these organizations to go on Birthright. You do have to be Jewish — and you have to be able to prove it. Typically, you have to be under 30. However, there are many different types of Birthright experiences, and it’s accessible to Jews worldwide. The main thing is if you aren’t going through your Jewish/college community organizations, do your research and make sure to pick the best one for you. I chose to go through my school and my Hillel. I went with people I knew and trusted, which worked best for me. 

Alana and a friend in downtown Haifa, which Alana visited during her Hillel trip.

Figuring Things Out

Alright, so I went on Birthright when I was a college sophomore. Fast forward to 2018, I had recently graduated from UMBC. I still worked at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore and I had picked up two more jobs. In addition, I also acted as a basic Hebrew and Jewish education teacher at a synagogue in DC on Sundays. I taught a charming group of 2nd graders who didn’t want to be there. On top of that, I worked at a call center for a now-defunct book company in Columbia, Maryland. 

Alana in Haifa through her Hillel trip to Israel

Suffice to say, I was in my car a lot. I was putting away money and constantly on the move. If I didn’t want to drive an hour to get back to my bed at my parent’s house after work, I crashed on friends’ couches. I had been thinking about doing a master’s program in literature, so I took a Latin course at a community college in Annapolis, Maryland, as a refresher. I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. What did the next stage of my existence look like?

A Desire to Explore

Well, I started getting a few job offers working with different Jewish non-profits around this time. I enjoy non-profit and cultural work, but I had doubts. I didn’t feel sure if I wanted to only work in the Jewish community for the rest of my professional existence. Ultimately, I felt afraid of pigeon-holing myself there… so I decided to go abroad! Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Alana, if you didn’t want to get stuck only working in Jewish community-related jobs, why would you go to Israel?” That’s a great question! The simple answer is that I wanted to get abroad as fast as possible. I had not had the opportunity to do so during college, and it was something I had been itching to do for a long time. 

Alana posing in Tel Aviv

As a Jewish person, applying to a program to work and live in Israel for a period of time was one of the simplest and easiest options. I had wanted to go back and see more of Israel since I went on Birthright. It was less about what I’d be doing and where I’d be going and more about having the chance to see more of the world than I was regularly confronted with. Also, you never truly know a place until you’ve lived in it. 

Participating in the WUJS Program

I applied to the WUJS program, a five-month program in Israel where you can either live in Tel Aviv or Haifa and you get help being placed with your ideal internship. On top of this, you are also given living accommodations, a special MASA visa to work and live under the program, Hebrew courses, a set amount of money towards travel and food during your workweek, and weekend trips to different parts of Israel. Now, this program isn’t free; you do have to pay for it and/or apply for a grant to help cover it. So I applied for the program and the grant and got both. I still had to cover part of this program out of pocket, but, thankfully, the grant covered the majority of my program-related expenses, or I wouldn’t have been able to do it. 

While I had visited Tel Aviv before, the cost of living there through the program was more expensive than living in Haifa. Haifa was also new territory for me. So, for both of those reasons, I chose to go to Haifa. And, to this day, I have no regret in making that decision. I made a beautiful little community for myself whilst there, including a mix of locals, people from my program, and others who had chosen to make their home (at least temporarily) in Haifa for various reasons. I’m still in touch with many of these people to this day, though we do not all live in Haifa anymore.  

Adventure Awaits in Haifa, Israel

I can’t wait to share even more about my experiences in Haifa, Israel, with you! Look out for my second article, where I will discuss my internship and time in Israel more in-depth. Until then, keep reading!

Jiye Kang Talks About COVID and School in Israel

Jiye posing somewhere in Haifa, Israel.Life for Jiye Kang as a Korean female residing and going to school in Israel has been challenging but rewarding. In our previous interview, Jiye discussed her background and the benefits of studying abroad. While undertaking her own personal journey in Haifa, Israel, the pandemic hit. Jiye’s academic plans for her master’s degree shifted but Israel was prepared. 

While Jiye is classified as an international student, she is also registered as an Israeli citizen. Local universities encourage all Israelis to go to school after serving in the military. They offer a scholarship that pays 2500 Israeli New Shekels (around €750 or $890 at the time of writing) to any student who finishes. Navigating through the red tape in Israel’s higher education system has been challenging and certainly one of the differences a western student has to get used to. I had the pleasure of catching up with Jiye and her upcoming plans, Israel’s handling of the pandemic, and their higher education system. 

What is the current COVID-19 situation in Israel?”

The current COVID situation is relatively good in terms of vaccination rates. Masks are no longer obligatory unless you are in an enclosed space. The government is still cautious with travel abroad. However, it seems like Israel is doing well.

Have things returned to pre-pandemic times? How have things changed?”

Everything seems like it is slowly but surely going back to pre-pandemic times. It is absolutely weird to see people enjoying coffee and chatting with their friends at a cafe. However, we still need to schedule an appointment if we want to go to the bank or post office. You can no longer just walk in whenever you need or want to. 

Why do you believe Israel was so successful with the roll-out?”

I think many Israelis had a very difficult time during the first lockdown. There were various issues when people were in lockdown last year and did not know how to implement a new lifestyle at that time. I remember that the national news constantly talked about the rise of domestic violence due to the lockdown. Some religious groups were still hosting and attending big weddings and funerals in areas that quickly became red zones. So I think people were immediately open to getting a shot when the vaccine became available.

Did the majority of the population embrace the need for the vaccine?”

I am uncertain about this but as far as I understand, the vast majority of the population is vaccinated. There are some people who do not believe in vaccination for various reasons. Earlier this year there were several protests because the government issued a “green passport” if people wanted to go and sit in restaurants and whatnot. 

What if citizens did not want the vaccine? Was there an option not to get a shot?”

Having to receive the vaccine was not strictly enforced. Residents were encouraged for sure but it was more down to personal choice. I know several people who still have not gotten vaccinated. 

Ben Gurion Airport

Is Israel accepting vaccinated tourists? Can you explain a bit about this policy?”

Honestly, the policy has been changed quite a lot because the cases go up and down often. Especially Israelis who were traveling outside Israel caused issues with the COVID cases. So the government is not so keen on tourists at the moment. I am not 100% sure but Israel seems to be more open to accepting visitors from countries like Germany, South Korea, and the US. Basically, even if you were vaccinated in your home country, you still need to be quarantined for two weeks. Again, this is only allowed for people who are not from a red zone like Ukraine or Russia. 

Are there restrictions for you to travel outside the country?”

I am not aware of any restrictions unless I try to go to one of the red zone countries. But you must do the COVID test at Ben Gurion Airport 72 hours prior to your flight and of course, get tested negative. 

How is the country keeping you informed about the pandemic?”

I usually get the information through watching the news on television or reading newspaper articles. Also, it is helpful that local friends keep me updated with developments. I used to get text messages during the first breakout last year. 

As an international student, you’ve attended school in Israel and in the U.S.. How would you compare these experiences?”

First off, I love them both. They are very different. It definitely gives me unique experiences and broadens my perspectives when it comes to viewing the world, people, and culture. I would not say which one is better or worse but I do notice pros and cons. 

The pros for studying in the U.S. are openness and accessibility. It is full of various opportunities and you never know what you may become part of. Like I mentioned previously, social clubs or activities encourage students to be part of campus life and you feel that you are creating campus culture. That creativity and openness are very exciting and I truly believe that it helps students enjoy better mental health. 

The biggest con is that attending schools in the U.S. is pricey. So, I need to make sure that I do well in classes. The pro for school in Israel is that you can make it special to your experience. Israel is known for specific fields and they do well with that. So if you can take advantage of the opportunity, that will make you a stronger candidate for your future. Also, tuition is a lot cheaper! However, if you do not have certain goals and aims for studying here, it is going to be very challenging and difficult. 

How does the structure of the higher education system in the US compare with Israel? What are the considerable differences that you experience? For example, what are graduation requirements?”

The US is definitely way more structured. Things like guidelines, grad student handbooks, course requirements/descriptions, and basically what is expected from students are all expectations of the average US grad student. I would say that school in Israel is more flexible with timelines and is more lenient towards students taking their time to finish up their degrees. However, colleges that have more of an American influence seem to be more structured.  

How would you compare class sizes, student interaction, and professor involvement?”

I cannot speak for every school in Israel, but what I experienced is that it is similar to the class size for a master’s seminar course. There are usually about five to eight students enrolled. Students interact with each other differently in the US than they do in Israel for sure. I do not recall if I had any interaction with my classmates in a class setting. It seems to me that it is more closed when it comes to discussion and other activities. 

I honestly think it is tricky to answer clearly because of cultural barriers. In relation to that, professors or instructors appeared less involved. However, I am curious if I feel this because I am a foreign student. Cultural barriers played a big role between foreign students, lecturers, and the local student dynamic. 

To what extent do master’s programs in the U.S. and Israel follow a similar curriculum in your field of study?”

They are similar in terms of field school opportunities. I mean this is the most similar aspect I can think of, even though it is quite different in terms of how they operate the programs. However, there are always field school programs or excavations during the summer and winter breaks. Most students join the excavations for credits or volunteering. 

How would you compare the university environment that you are currently in to the atmosphere of U.S. schools?”

The University of Haifa is one of the major universities in Israel. There is another institution near mine so it feels like a college town. Not exactly like the bubble I would be familiar with in US schools, but there is that student town vibe. 

What is the typical duration for a master’s or doctorate in Israel versus the U.S.?”

It is pretty common for grad students to finish a master’s degree in three to four years and a Ph.D. in four to five years. It is similar to the US. 

How would you characterize those seeking advanced degrees in Israel?”

Absolutely. Israel is known for certain fields like high technology, engineering, computer science, and archaeology. So if you can find the right niche for your interests, I would recommend it! As always, there might be a concern for certain political environments as you apply for jobs around the world. You may find it difficult to land a job just because you got a degree in Israel. Some people have different political stances about the Middle East conflicts. I personally think this is not fair but this is something you must consider if you are serious about studying in Israel.

Jiye has clearly experienced ups and downs when going to school in Israel. As always, it was interesting to hear her honest account of her continuing studies. We look forward to reading more about her academic progress in our next interview. If you are thinking of studying abroad, Jiye’s story is one we would recommend you follow closely.

by Leesa Truesdell

Green Life: Meet Moshe, the Vegan Travel Expert

Vegan signMoshe, also known as The Top Ten Traveler, traveled for the first time to Paris at the age of ten. His passion has always been about travel but at that age, he wasn’t aware that he would later find another passion in life — veganism. Born in Israel, Moshe explains why his home country has become a firm favorite as a vegan travel destination. Moshe has been living a happy vegan lifestyle with his partner, another follower of a plant-based diet, in Brooklyn. 

Moshe’s fondness for vegan travel involves planning trips abroad that include choosing which plant-based restaurants are on the itinerary. He enjoys mapping out his trip according to the exciting places to eat out. Madrid’s varied vegan eateries are one of the examples he shared. In between meals, he fitted in seeing the sights of the Spanish capital. It’s a pleasure to introduce Moshe Huberman.

How old were you when you became a vegan?

I became a vegan about three-and-a-half years ago at the age of 34. 

Why did you make the switch?

All my life I was a carnist, and enjoyed eating everything and anything. Even when my partner turned vegan, I continued eating whatever I wanted. We had both vegan products and non-vegan products at home until one day I saw a short movie. This talked about how milk is so bad for our body and that was my trigger. We already had all the vegan stuff (cheese, milk, and meat alternatives) so I decided to go for it. Just like that, on one summer day, I cut out all animal products and switched to veganism.

Israel food is the best way to vegan travel

When did you become aware of veganism? 

In 2014 a vegan activist was on the Israeli Big Brother show. Tal Gilboa talked about animal cruelty and the meat/dairy industry for the first time on prime time in Israel. Eventually, she won, and that made this topic become even more popular. I was touched by that, but at that point in time, it didn’t make me change my lifestyle.

A few years later, while living in New York, we met up with old friends who had also moved to the city. When they invited us over for dinner, we realized they were new vegans and that was a major part of what we talked about that night. They raised many legitimate arguments in favor of veganism. Unfortunately, I pushed them all away, as most people do when they first engage in such conversation. A few months after I made the switch for health reasons. Nonetheless, I believe that the only reason I am still vegan today is feeling compassion for animals. 

When did you first hear about Veganuary? What role does it play in increasing the popularity of veganism?

When I turned vegan, I didn’t know that there are so many trends that promote veganism, such as Meatless Monday, Veganuary, Challenge 22, and many more. For people who struggle to make the switch, I think it is an amazing community to join. This is especially the case for community support, which is so important. During these challenges, people learn about all the vegan products that exist out in the world, how to cook vegan at home, the best vegan travel destinations, and which restaurants in their area offer vegan food. However, in order to make it last for a long time, it must come from within you, from the heart. 

Try vegan travel and grab some breakfast in Israel

Which steps would you recommend that those who switched to a plant-based diet in January follow to continue being vegan?

Find vegan communities to be part of — it can be either friends, group chats on Twitter, vegan inspiration on Instagram, vegan Facebook groups, etc. It’s really important to be surrounded by people in the same mindset, as they can support you when it feels hard, share tips, and inspire you to continue.

Then I would say, keep on trying. There are millions of recipes out there for cooking vegan. Plus, supermarkets add more and more vegan products (and prices go down) while restaurants keep updating their menus with vegan options. It does require a little bit of research at first, but after a while, it becomes your norm.

What effect has veganism had on your body and mind?

Not long after I made the switch I started feeling so much better. I felt fresh, I slept better at night, and woke up more easily in the morning. My body was lighter during the day and I was more energetic. I wasn’t expecting that, and it was amazing to feel it.

Is vegan travel different in Israel? For example, are products easier to find?

Israel is one of the best countries for vegans in the world. I wasn’t vegan when I left Israel, but I am a member of several Facebook groups of Israeli vegans. Every time I return to visit, I am thrilled to see vegan food everywhere. There’s something about the culture there that makes it easier to absorb veganism. First, for Kashrut (kosher) reasons, dairy is not mixed with meat, so many products that might contain dairy by default elsewhere, do not contain dairy in Israel (for example, cooking in oil and not in butter). Second, like in many other Mediterranean cuisines, Israeli food is prepared with lots of vegetables and legumes. 

While the vegan food scene in New York is amazing with many 100% vegan restaurants and growing options in non-vegan restaurants, in Israel it’s easier to find vegan options almost in every non-vegan restaurant and nationwide cafe. It already goes beyond the big cities and can be found everywhere. 

To what extent have family and friends followed your lead?

Amongst my family and friends (except for the close vegan circle that I mentioned before) I was the first one to go vegan, so I was “catching all the fire” about that. When my brother-in-law, who is an athlete, moved to veganism to improve his performances, nobody asked him why or criticized the move. Then, my sister became a vegetarian, and my friends started sending me pics when they cooked something with tofu instead of meat. My mom constantly searches for vegan recipes and proudly shares pictures with me when she makes them. Even if they are not fully vegans, the awareness of what they eat is constantly on their minds.

Where do you stand on lab-created meat?

I think it is the future of meat production and something that can significantly change our world. The suffering of farm animals will be over and there will be no need to artificially create animals, just for killing them later. So much land will be freed so we can grow more crops for human consumption, rather than animal consumption. It will help to feed more people on the planet. People will not be afraid to be labeled “vegan” as they continue to eat “meat”. It will be easier for the masses to adopt, unlike using meat alternatives. If the price is right, and it is easily distributed, especially in larger nations like China and India, it will help to save the lives of billions of animals.

cows grazing

And what about fast-food chains: do they have flexitarians more in mind than vegans?

Some fast-food chains add 100% vegan items to their menus while others are on the flexitarian scale. I don’t necessarily understand why they choose to sell plant-based patties with dairy cheese on them, but it doesn’t really matter to me. If someone goes to Dunkin’ or Burger King and orders their plant-based patty, it’s one less meat patty that is sold and it’s already a good thing. 

Down the road, the vegan audience is strong, and if big chains want to reach that audience and not just flexitarians, selling a plant-based patty with dairy cheese or a non-vegan bun is not enough. Businesses exist to make money, and catering to vegans will attract more people and make them more money. 

A vegan burger in Madrid

Moshe is looking forward to traveling again. He is especially excited about returning to Israel to see family when travel is not restricted. For more vegan travel top tips, be sure to catch up with the Top Ten Traveler in our upcoming resources section.

by Leesa Truesdell

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Long-Term Study Abroad

Where are you from? Who are you? What do you do? These are questions we are often asked. Their answers shine a light on our background, identity, and legacy. In my latest interview, I ask these questions and more to Jiye Kaye. We touch upon Israeli culture and how the last three and a half years have impacted her while she has been studying abroad. Jiye describes her lifestyle and identity as ever-changing since moving from South Korea to the United States and then on to Israel. When talking about her life and legacy, Jiye describes herself as growing. Jiye is living her life and is unsure of who she is at the moment. She is undertaking her own personal journey and only she will know when she reaches her destination. Jiye has plenty of relevant experience to offer when discussing study abroad advantages and disadvantages.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Long-Term Study Abroad

My rule of thumb is that nothing becomes real until it is experienced.” — Jiye Kang

To recap, Jiye mentioned five things she wished she had known before her long-term study in Israel. They were: academic environment, Israeli culture, a lack of campus culture, the standard of living, and language. In this first We Study interview, she moved on to cover history, food, and oh, so much more. Join me as I catch up with Jiye about her ongoing experiences in Israel and some of the study abroad advantages and disadvantages.

How would you compare your experience to shorter study abroad experiences like those in the United States that typically last a single semester?

I guess it’s up to personal preference, but I do enjoy long-term study. You can actually see the real side of the culture you’re in. I don’t think you can catch all the cultural nuances or subtleties in a short period of time. Well, at least this was the case for me. I had a tourist mindset during my first year in Israel. My focus was more on new things and new experiences. I feel like I started to get real about studying and living in Israel sometime later. Notably, however, long-term study abroad requires commitment. Researching what you’re getting into is very important. I think a short-term study abroad semester might give someone the taste of living abroad before they make a huge decision. 

Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel, one thing to consider when weighing the study abroad advantages and disadvantages

Since you’ve lived in Israel for so long, how has the experience with immersion into Israeli society and culture been as a whole? For example, what was a pre-COVID academic day like?

Frankly, I’ve had a rough time because the culture is completely different. It isn’t an easy culture to adapt to. Once a friend of mine taught me a Hebrew word: sabra. It’s an Israeli cactus fruit that’s thorny on the outside but sweet inside. Many Israelis describe themselves as sabras: once you get through the outer part, you’ll meet one of the warmest people in the world. Honestly, this saved me many times from misunderstanding some of my friends when we first met. Initially, I thought they weren’t nice to me at all. However, now I know that they’re one of the sweetest people I know. 

a picture of a cactus, one of the study abroad advantages and disadvantages

The other important topic in Israeli culture is understanding warfare. This is something all Israelis have been living with from generation to generation. The constant tensions in the country affect people and their thought process on a regular basis. I mean, I’m Korean and I remember my grandparents occasionally talked about the Korean war era. However, my grandparents’ generation were the ones that dealt with it. There was no need for endless national defense, unlike Israel. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand that part of Israeli culture or mentality. The mandatory army service is a big part of their conversation, which again, I don’t have, so sometimes I feel left behind. Yet I hope to understand more of Israeli culture and society. It’s very dynamic but too complicated to understand all at once. 

What has been the most memorable archeological site you have visited and why?

Sha’ar HaGolan. It’s one of my favorite sites in Israel. Sha’ar HaGolan is located near Golan Heights in the Jordan Valley area. It’s a Pottery Neolithic — approximately 6400BCE — site. Their settlement plan was well-developed with streets, rooms, communal spaces, and a courtyard. The archaeologists found water storage and other spaces for potential surplus. Their beautiful pottery shards and cultic clay figures are fascinating. It’s not a famous site like Tel Meggido or Tower of David, but it shares different aspects of regular people’s lives in early societies. Regardless, I love the area. Northern Israel is so beautiful. 

How has this impacted your studies and how you view Israel?

I always wanted to come to Israel for archaeology. This whole experience has absolutely given me more potential as an anthropologist/archaeologist. Not only have I received more hands-on experience, but I truly believe that I have learned essential social skills such as acceptance and engagement. I’m now more confident to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. Accepting that there are many ways to see and think is great. This is a crucial trait for academics because we’re supposed to be open-minded and seek knowledge from various angles. 

My views on Israel have changed a lot. I honestly didn’t know much about the country until I moved here. Holding my hands up, I misjudged the whole entity without knowing much about it. Israel is a very complicated country. In the past, I’ve used the term “Israeli” very loosely, meaning that I used to refer to Jewish people as Israelis. I now know that Israelis can be Arab Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, or none of these. The country is a mix of many layers of history, people, religions, and nationalities. My point is that we can’t judge a book by its cover, especially when we don’t have the ability to yet understand its nuances. 

The Sea of Galilee, one of the study abroad advantages and disadvantages

What’s the most interesting piece of history you have learned while living in Israel?

I found the ultra-orthodox Jewish community interesting because of their traditions and issues with the outer world. Some of those who live in Jerusalem refuse to be Israeli citizens and only speak Yiddish. They’re still waiting for the Messiah to come and be the only king of Israel. Therefore, they don’t acknowledge the state of Israel. Due to this view, they will not speak Hebrew casually. Hebrew is supposed to be the holy language, which is only for prayer and The Torah. They also refuse to serve the army, so there have been various issues between them and the government. 

What are the study abroad advantages and disadvantages in Israel? For example, do expats get to travel to places with a discount?

Travel. Travel while you study in Israel because it is much cheaper and easier compared to the States. Europe is about five hours by airplane away and the flights are way cheaper than the US. Going to Turkey takes just an hour and a half by airplane. Jordan and Egypt are right next to Israel. Travel is way more affordable. Although some countries will give you a hard time if your passport has an Israeli stamp on it, I haven’t had any problems so far. 

Western Wall in the old city

Israel gives students various benefits so that they can get the full experience and study comfortably. However, if you aren’t Jewish, those benefits go out the window. Opportunities mostly revolve around them, so it could possibly limit what you want to do. 

Which one experience will you remember for the rest of your life and why?

I will always remember the first time I witnessed conflicts between the religious Jewish community and the Muslim community. Beforehand, I only knew about Middle-Eastern conflicts theoretically. I mean, I was only getting second-hand information from the media, which I believe isn’t always unbiased. 

Long story short, my mom and I were sightseeing in the Old City in Jerusalem in 2019. I’d noticed an unusual amount of Israeli policemen and journalists there. Later I found out that it was a big day for both Jewish and Muslim people. It was the anniversary of the unification of the capital during the Six-Day War and the final day of Ramadan. The alignment of these days meant that the Jewish groups were trying to get to the Temple Mount while the other group tried to stop them. Eventually, riots broke out with both sides fighting one another. There were many alleys that were blocked for safety reasons, but nonetheless, I later heard of some incidents that happened on that day. 

A week later, we came back to Jerusalem and we were finally able to visit the Temple Mount. We saw the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque without the riots. Everyone was nice, local kids were playing with each other, and their mothers were watching them. That’s the moment it hit me. My mom and I saw different things in the same place a week ago. That was a weird moment to realize how everything’s so twisted and what we see as an outsider is very different from what actually goes on. 

If you were to prepare a to-do list for someone following in your footsteps, what would be at the top?

I would list three essential things: 

First, try real hummus. This is a very critical thing in Israel. Israelis love hummus. They always talk about it. Almost everyone knows how to make it and you’ll probably meet someone who claims to know the best recipe. This is a great dinner-table conversation with friends and honestly, I bonded with some friends over our favorite hummus places. 

Second, make local friends who can go to your favorite hummus place and argue with them about whose place is better. Having local friends is so important because they can be your family while you live in a foreign country. Living and studying abroad isn’t always fun and exciting. Having that bond and support system will make your life way better. 

Third, learn Hebrew. This is one of a few things I wish I tried harder to do in the beginning. I’m certain knowing Hebrew could have made my life a lot easier here. 

All of these reasons don’t exactly relate to my academic life in Israel, but I think they are beyond important than school. Have fun and make some mistakes while you can. From my experience, school works better when I am happy and enjoying life.

What would be at the bottom of the list?

Don’t get stuck in your comfort zone. I know this might be tricky because having that bubble is also important, especially when one culture is too different from what you’re familiar with. I’ve found my bubble in Israel which gave me enormous support and love. However, I wish I was a little more adventurous. If I knew 2020 would be such a show before it happened, I would have tried something unusual or out of my routine. 

Jiye will continue to keep us informed as she finishes her thesis and prepares for her next journey after exploring the study abroad advantages and disadvantages. Her life looks set to be filled with adventure and her next article is forthcoming. She has another incredible life journey ahead and she looks forward to sharing it with Dreams Abroad.

What I Know Now About Studying in Haifa, Israel

I remember the day I arrived at Ben Gurion airport three years ago to begin my adventures in Haifa, Israel. I thought I’d be tired after a long fourteen-hour flight, but I was wide awake. Most people at the airport wore short sleeves. Meanwhile, I dressed like a mountain bear flying from cold Newark, New Jersey. I didn’t yet feel like I’d made it to Israel until I saw the “Welcome to Israel” sign. Suddenly I noticed that I couldn’t understand a single word of what people were saying! That was when I realized my journey in Israel had just begun. Here is what I know now about studying in Haifa, Israel.

A selfie of Jiye at a dig site in Haifa, Israel.

 

1. The Academic Environment Is More Relaxed

I moved to Haifa where I started my master’s in archaeology. Haifa is in the northern part of Israel, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel. Haifa alone has close to 5,000 prehistoric sites and some historic sites nearby. There is a long, established tradition of excavations conducted by the University of Haifa. When I first heard of the university and its archaeological projects, I felt so excited. During one of these projects, the researchers found Neanderthal remains in a cave site. Another big project the University of Haifa worked on was Tel Megiddo or, as it’s known in Greece, Armageddon. The fact the university had been involved in such massive undertakings, plus its involvement in cultural material studies, inspired me to apply for a master’s program here. 

Don’t expect to get curriculums or rubrics. How do we prepare for classes? Communicate with lecturers every time you have questions. It’s way more casual in terms of deadlines for assignments, paper guidelines, or reference styles than Western schools.

A panoramic photo of Israel.

2. There Is No Campus Culture

Campus culture is quite a foreign concept for Israeli colleges. You may have to change your strategies if you plan to make some friends while studying in Israel. I had a hard time in my first year because I expected clubs or societies I could have joined to socialize. Unfortunately, it’s not a thing here. I suggest using social media to find communities. The best way to make friends is through mainly off-campus activities. For example, I’ve joined the “clean up Haifa” group. We meet up to clean up the Mediterranean Coast, or Hof Hacarmel twice a month. It’s so much fun cleaning up, and I’ve met local Israelis and people from all over the world. Some became good friends of mine.

3. Israelis are Direct

Be ready to talk about anything with strangers on the street. There are no such taboos or private space. The vast majority of people casually talk about money, politics, and religion in public settings. It can go from “where are you from?” to “how much do you pay for rent?” rapidly. Don’t take it personally. It’s all coming from curiosity towards foreigners.

4. The Cost of Living in Haifa is High

Israel is expensive. Budgeting is necessary because any financial burden could influence your studies and mental health in the long term. Don’t worry, despite the high cost, it is manageable. Local farmer’s markets are great alternatives, and you can always plan ahead for special occasions and outings. Also, finding roommates is never a problem.

A photo of Haifa, Israel from a distance.

5. Beware the Language Barrier

Learning a new language can be intimidating. It was for me, at least. I had no background in learning Semitic languages before, so I wasn’t proactive about it before arriving. But there are opportunities to learn Hebrew or Arabic. The Israeli government offers a program called “Ulpan,” a Hebrew language course. It can be pricey, but I’ve heard that you’ll be able to have small conversations with locals after one or two semesters of learning. Another alternative is to join language exchange groups on Facebook, which a friend of mine did. Her Hebrew is pretty decent.

A group photo of the dig site workers in Haifa, Israel.

A photo of an outdoor park in Haifa, Israel.

One of the mountain formations in Israel.

Wrap Up

I can’t forget the first time I excavated in Tel Esur. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to dig up a human burial, which had been encased in a well-preserved jar. I felt thrilled about it the entire time because I’ve never experienced excavating burial jars before. To make the experience even better, ancient city walls and bulky structural remains encapsulated this beautiful Middle Bronze age site. As I was digging, I tried to picture the city that existed here over 5,000 years ago and what life could have been like then. For me, it is always fascinating to see how past cultures have withstood time and how our perspectives form in human cultures. 

Above all, I truly feel blessed to get as many hands-on experiences as I have since I started studying here. I’ve participated in numerous excavations from different periods throughout human history. These opportunities are by far the biggest pro of long-term study in Israel. Anyone studying here can get the full experience throughout the year. Israel is a small country full of history, so everywhere you look, there are archaeological sites! So, the longer you stay here, the more you get to experience. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed in my first year with a long list of excavations all over Israel. I wanted to be part of every project if I could.

My rule of thumb is that nothing becomes real until it is experienced. So, go for an adventure and get out of your comfort zone by studying overseas. I used to have so many ideas and thoughts about culture, study abroad, expat life, etc. However, you’ll never know what it actually is like in the real world unless you experience it. You get to meet people with different backgrounds and understandings of the world. How amazing if we can share and exchange ideas. That’s what makes us diverse, isn’t it? Intellectual diversity! So, go beyond and see the world!