By Donny Fuchs, Yeshivat Nativ Aryeh ’15 Alumnus
If you’re considering venturing to the Far East, like Beijing to study abroad, you should consider stopping halfway, in the Middle East and landing in Israel. You can be in the middle of all of the world’s cultures, where East meets West, in the city of Jerusalem.
What’s that in the air – is it a bird? Is it a plane? No… it’s smog. Unfortunately, the Beijing air is saturated with this human kryptonite. Air pollution is a major issue in Beijing, so instead of feeling those golden rays of sun tickle your cheeks, you may be sensing a thick, heavyset fog.
In Israel, a world leader in renewable energy sources that nourishes the environment, you’ll be able to interact with the natural world around you – without any smoke or smog. This means that whether you’re visiting the holy sites, exploring the shuk at Machane Yehuda, shooting hoops in the park at Gan Sacher, or simply out on a night time stroll around the Old City of Jerusalem, you’ll be gazing upon the Holy Land in all of its true beauty.
Beijing is truly an incredible place to visit, with so many historical sites, landmarks, and cultural excursion right at your fingertips. You can trek across many miles of the Great Wall of China, get lost in the Forbidden City, and be awed by the Temple of Heaven. You’ll meet a bunch of fascinating locals, too. Perhaps too many. Over 15 million countrymen call Beijing their home, so the only thing that may be stopping you from getting to your destination is the mass of humanity that inhabit the city.
Jerusalem has grown steadily ever since Israel was declared the Jewish State. Today, the country boasts a population of 8.5 million residents and almost 1 million of them call Jerusalem their home. Being the glorious destination that it is, people from various countries, ethnicities, and religions are attracted to the City of Gold and you’re very likely to meet them all over the place. From coffee houses to bars to the many special venues around Jerusalem to bumping into them on the street, you’ll be entranced by their stories and backgrounds.
Beijing heavily improved and extended their subway system in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in order to accommodate the masses that would stuff the city. That being said, the subway is a really great way to get around the city. But that’s about it. As a result of its immense population, the streets of Beijing are filled with countless cars and buses. So hold your horses- and keep holding them- because you may be stuck in traffic for a while. The saving grace for Beijing’s public transportation is that it’s inexpensive, about 30 US cents for one subway ride.
All destinations in Jerusalem are comfortably within reach with the network of transportation set up across the city that includes multiple bus lines, a spanking new light rail system that snakes through the heart of the city, or an eventful cab ride (that’s mo’nit in Hebrew) that you’ll remember for the rest of your life! Israeli bus drivers are masters at exchanging money with passengers and navigating through traffic at the same time, so watch and learn.
Beijing is known as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. It has been dominant in Chinese history for centuries and it is difficult to find an iconic building that does not have some national historical significance and wonderful stories hidden within it. From the Great Wall of China, to Tiananmen Square, to the Forbidden City, Beijing has fostered countless royal dynasties throughout the years, like that of the Ming and Qing. Wars over control of the city were not uncommon, for this city carried much importance and significance for all of China’s countrymen.
Do you want a history lesson? Then simply step outside your front door in Jerusalem. With over thousands of years of history, this center hub of Israel has hosted many nations, empires, and cultures. Jerusalem was eyed by many kings, rulers, and leaders from foreign lands to make it their own. And it shows. Roman columns and pillars can be found scattered throughout the Old City of Jerusalem. Every layer of earth leads you to another ancient and enchanting period in world history.
You’re going to want to try the local food, which is known as Jing Cuisine. Popular dishes include Hot and Sour Soup, Moo Shu Pork, and Peking Duck. The locals love to snack on a little thing called Fuling Jiabing, a creation made from Fu ling, a fungus which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. By the time you leave, you’ll be catching flies with your chopsticks and have enough fortunes from fortune cookies to spew wisdom like Confucius.
In contrast to popular opinion, there are no rivers of hummus gushing through Israel. Hummus is simply a popular chick pea based spread to shmear in your falafel, shawarma, schnitzel baguette, or any other food fantasy you conjure up in your creative mind (don’t go too crazy there, bud).
However, if you traverse through the shuks that line a number of artery streets in Jerusalem, you’ll be pelted by smells, sights, and foods that will rock your taste buds! The aroma of fresh baked bread and pastries will maul you on every street corner, while the colors of the sweet, succulent fruits and vegetables sold in the popular shuk Mahane Yehuda will dazzle like fireworks. No fungus here; just fun.
Studying abroad is not all about hitting the books. It’s about experiencing and immersing yourself into a brand new culture. Jerusalem offers an abundance of cultural experiences to any student, but even more to students of life itself. With its vibrant culture, exquisite foods, and historical value to all of mankind, there’s a reason why Jerusalem should be at the top of your study abroad list.