Written and published by Jon Sender , Hebrew University Study Abroad Alumnus ’16, on his personal blog on July 5, 2016, three days before flying home from Israel.
On the shelf above my desk is a box of Q-tips I bought during my first week in Israel. Six months ago I looked at the quantity printed, 200, and thought to myself, that’s roughly the number of days I’ll be away. So by the time I’m getting ready to come back home, that box would be almost empty. With a little help from the days which I took two showers instead of one, that box is now indeed almost empty, having marked the passage of time on this monumental journey.
This past week has felt most bizarre, perhaps even more so than when I was first adjusting to life abroad. I can point to two major comparisons I’ve noticed.
First, both then and now everyone was in finals mode, but only now does that affect me as well. There seems to be this enormous pressure that I can’t compare to the one at home. Everyone has no fewer than six or seven exams, plus up to two retakes for each—I still can’t believe that’s how the system works here—that will occur between now and August. Most of them will count for no less than 100% of the final grade. My suite mates are studying endlessly, taking breaks only to eat and sleep, and claiming they have no time to do laundry, go food shopping, or help me clean the perpetual mess we live in. Though I will soon be gone and miss everyone dearly, no one has time even to meet me for dinner, and I, too, am hard-pressed as I study for my own exams and prepare to displace my life yet again into a suitcase.
Second, when I arrived I felt like I knew where I was going, but not where I was. Now it’s the opposite. While I have a pretty clear picture of where I am in the present moment, I have very little clue where I’m headed. Quite literally I’m going home, but figuratively I couldn’t tell you. I’ll be in a place where everything was once familiar, but will now seem a little off-kilter, I’m sure. I’m very conscious of the fact that while I’ve been away growing as a person, life at home [Cleveland, Ohio] has continued and kept moving forward. I expect that while everyone will behave the same, different people will be dating, and my city will feel different as a whole now that it has won a championship, undergone major renovations, and prepared to host the RNC. I anticipate I’ll undergo an initial culture shock when I first return, and then another when I head back to school. I’ll probably have to throw out a few new habits like yelling at people who cut me in line at the grocery store, and pick up a few old ones like greeting with a simple handshake rather than a hug and a kiss. I might hate America for a bit and unnecessarily romanticize Israel, even though right now, especially with July 4th having passed; I miss my country and am tired of the one I’m in.
More importantly, then I’ll have to ponder the two big questions which will undoubtedly take time to mull over:
(1) What did the trip mean? And (2) What happens now?
I won’t be able to look at the full picture until I’m off Israeli soil for quite some time because objectively understanding something necessitates that you remove yourself from it. But here’s a start at tackling those two major queries while I’m still inside the adventure:
I find it interesting how on this trip, there have been many moments when I felt myself remembering things from the past, moments that had nothing to do with what was going on in the present, like first moving into my dorm at Case, or singing with Dhamakapella. I’d find myself listening to old songs I love but haven’t played in years, and remembering people I once felt close to but haven’t seen in a long time.
The only explanation I can come up with is that just as these things are part of my identity, this trip has become part of it as well, reminding me of who I am and leading me to question who I want to be.
When you travel, it doesn’t take long to learn you can’t do everything. From far away it looks like it should be easy, but once you arrive you discover that certain buses only run at certain times, or that visas are only available in Tel Aviv. These past couples of weeks I’ve spent much energy working through my bucket list—including visiting The Technion in Haifa, attending a wrap-up event of an entrepreneur club I’ve joined, and going to Petra in Jordan—but also realizing that some other items would be unmanageable. When Tal invited me to visit his home, I was already too pressed with an exam looming ahead and needed to decline. This reinforces my belief that if you want or need to do something, you have to take the first available opportunity. But at the same time, by the end, you learn to accept that what you accomplished is what you accomplished, and any time spent regretting is a waste.
Trying to plan anything with Israelis, even a few days ahead is impossible. They prefer to go with the flow and act last-minute by nature, which is nothing but a headache for someone like me, who works off calendars and to-do lists. Whenever I waited for others, the plans always fell through, and whenever I went on my own, I missed out on a last-minute party or trip to the market. The few times when I managed to take a last-minute offer, I always had an incredible time. From this, I’ve learned that proper coordination is a fine balance that requires always having a backup but being ready to drop it in favor or something that pops up unexpectedly.
Living on my own for six months has given me a taste of the real world, and it seems odd to think I’ll be retreating from it for a year until I finish my degree. Laundry hasn’t been new, but grocery shopping, planning long weekends, and especially scheduling an ultrasound in a foreign country (with a foreign medical system, I might add) have all been major tests of my ability to make decisions, rate priorities, and decide what is best for me at the given moment. Let me tell you, living abroad with a hernia has been less than ideal, but if I can manage that, then I’m certain I can take care of myself absolutely anywhere.
Sometimes to be informed you really have to take a step back and ask yourself, what the hell is going on here? I’ve been living in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for half a year, and only now do I have a better grasp of it. Over dinner with relatives Ted and Raisie, we discussed how much of the world prays for peace without realizing that peace is not in the best interest of all parties involved, and therefore sadly does not make logical sense. On another note, I went to Jordan not only to see Petra, where they filmed Raiders of the Lost Ark but also to spend a day in an Arab country and see how it compares, after having been in Israel for so long. Aside from anything political, at first glance the country seemed less put-together, with shoddier infrastructure, displeasing aesthetics of buildings and bathrooms, and poorly paved roads. I’m left to wonder if that’s a reflection of Israeli versus Arab values, or whether I wasn’t in the country long enough to get a good sampling.
While now knowing Israel is not the right place for me to live, I’m left to wonder, what is the best way for me to support the country from abroad? By vacationing here during the summer? By incorporating “what’s best for Israel” into my vote in November? By keeping up my Hebrew, now that I’ve passed out of it at a university level? I simply don’t know…none of them are exactly spot-on. But I realize I should do something, nonetheless.
I came here with three goals, and have accomplished them all:
1. This has been a trip about Hebrew fluency, which I have achieved.
2. This has been a trip about Israeli entrepreneurship, which I better understand.
3. This has been a trip about Israeli culture, which I cannot relate to.
Additionally, I’m leaving with three main takeaways:
1. Always be thinking of your next trip. The average Israeli has seen all of Europe, plus America, India, Thailand, and South America. I promise myself, ironically, not to return to Israel until I’ve seen more of the world.
2. Be a good host, because people deserve it. You shouldn’t have to invite over strangers as the Israelis do, but offering the cable guy a glass of water would be nice.
3. Do not wait, take the opportunity and run. Israelis achieve so much because they listen to what Nike says: “Just do it.” I have concluded it’s better to act than to mull something over for too long.
What’s next? Over here I have an exam, goodbye party, packing day, a final car ride with Tal and Yotam, and a long flight back to reality. At home, ahead of me lies minor surgery, making money again, preparing for the fall semester and searching for the starting point of my career. I’ll probably even begin planning my next trip for next summer, after graduation.
This won’t be the absolute last post, but it is most certainly the last one I write from Israel. Thank you to everyone who’s had the patience to keep up with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed and perhaps gotten some perspective.
It’s been a good trip and it was an amazing experience studying in Israel, but it’s time to come home. Catch you on the mainland.
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