(24 August 2013)
After being in Israel for approximately 21 days now with the last 19 being slow enough to comprehend, I think I can now for the most part say that I have settled in. Although I do not move in to my permanent residence (on campus graduate student apartments) for another 7 days, I no longer am living out of bag. I am eating plenty of falafel , I know what is being put on it and am confident enough with my Hebrew I can convey to the chef that I am not just an American tourist who can be charged 1.5x the price for a sandwich, but I’m here for a bit longer of a haul.
Before leaving to start graduate school I had made all my arrangements and was sure I would have no problem getting to Israel except for my visa. For the months leading up to my trip the Israeli ministry of the interior was on strike, and not issuing visas. I called my university in Israel asking what they might recommend, and was told that they were given an ok from the ministry to issue student visas to incoming students during the strike after they arrived and recommended I just come to Israel. I had figured I would be safe, I knew I could get in to the country and there should be no problems getting my visa. But the strike ended up coming to a close two days before my flight left, something that worried me; I was now flying to Israel during a United States issued travel warning with a tourist visa and without return ticket. As I made my way through the US to Philadelphia I had no problem, I went through airport security no problem, I went through a second batch of security at my gate no problem, and I plead my case at customs in Israel and was issued my tourist visa with little hesitation.
Although I my travels went smooth enough, still there were many things that I did have to change to acquaint my self with the new culture. The most obvious, and probably the most un-natural was to acquaint my self with life in a city. I am living in Haifa, Israel, housing 300,000 residents making it the third largest city in a country the size of New Jersey. No longer was a car my means of transportation or even an option, and having never been a big bus rider, it was new and in a foreign language. Luckily enough I was able to learn the ways of the bus with fellow students from Los Angeles, who by nature were also unaccustomed to anything “public” especially transportation. With my small group of ~5 English speaking Americans our first stop was one of the nearby malls. The trip TO the mall can best be described by comparing it to the trip BACK from the mall; to the mall was about a 1 hour endeavor of asking people questions, looking for bus stops, google mapping, underpaying, and security bogging. Our return trip was a 15 minute bus ride back to the campus. I knew this would happen before I even left the United States and I couldn’t wait, the trip TO the mall was one of the exact things that I had been looking forward to the most, and summarizes one of the real virtues of studying abroad. There are always huge barriers when studying anywhere away from your home country, the cultures are too different and the United States is a bit of a bubble. East or West there are two large obstacles to leap before the rest of the world, they take no less than 8 hours to topple, and most likely a $50 excessive luggage fee. As a Michigan Tech undergrad I studied on exchange in Canada, there I quickly met the fellow international students once I arrived at the University, who all ended up being my best friends. I was confident this would happen in Israel and was not disappointed. While we were trying to meander our way to the mall everyone was at their “worst” so to speak. None of us knew Hebrew, no one had been to Haifa, no one even knew the name of the mall. It is the best icebreaker because everyone looks foolish, and everyone was having a great time doing it. I have found in instances like this, you learn from your mistakes, other wise it is just luck. Culminating “mistakes” in record time, we were able to urbanize and acquaint ourselves in an afternoon, and now have the bronze aged, high-tech capital of one of the most rapidly growing countries in the world, on a 24 mile sandy stretch of the eastern Mediterranean coast to explore.
On another note, this is my first time in Israel, and it is only fitting that I quickly become adjusted to the complex political situation that I am now living in. During my third week in Israel 4 rockets were fired from Lebanon in to Northern Israel, with one being intercepted mid flight and the other 3 landing about 15 miles north of Haifa, my current home. I was on the train at the time, and had no idea it had happened until I saw it on the nightly news, and when I told my parents, they had no idea at all. Having 4 rockets fired in to my home country and landing 15 miles north of my actual home I would have thought to be a big deal, something that deserved a reaction. However, this news was quickly overshadowed because the following news segment would prove to be quite a bit more lasting. That morning news had broke that the neighboring country of Syria had used chemical weapons in its most recent attack at the rebellion within the country, with major civilian casualties. Even as I write the situation has not cleared up, Obama is waiting to call upon congress to decide what to do, but the immediate impact was still something wildly foreign to any Midwestern United States citizen. As the Middle East prepared for the immanent, and “promised”, American strike on Syria, life in Israel didn’t change. Every day life continued. With the constant howl of fighter jets overhead, class went on. Students stood in up in class and before leaving, politely explained they had been called up from reserves to be stationed on the boarder and the teachers understood. I can only imagine what reaction a sonic boom overhead at Michigan Tech would cause, or 3 rockets being fired on to the nearby town of Lake Linden. With wild statements coming from almost every country in the world my thoughts were a bit unnerving, I am living off campus with a relative at the time so I feel pretty safe, and knew he would know where to go, and what to do in the event of an attack, but I don’t really expect anything to happen. Some of my fellow Americans were not as lucky and were genuinely worried and convinced that we were going to be attacked, stocking up on water and joining the lines to purchase their gas mask. After a week of this though, I had begin to grow a tolerance to the situation and came to realize the actual situation I am in. There are constant threats to the state of Israel by their neighbors, the country knows this, the people know this, and they have learned to separate reasons of concern from less likely threats. I will be here for two years and I have a feeling in another 6 months, the threats from America, and plans for Syrian strikes will be forgotten, its just a way of life, and a new perspective of global politics that I am sure I will be glad I was able to take away from the whole experience. But in the meantime its reassuring to know that I can look out over the balcony at the apartment I am temporarily living from, and know that life goes on.