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Classes & Health

Time November 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As awful a smell as it is, I’m glad that the hospital smell is a globally recognized smell.

So, I sprained my foot. It’s funny, because when I went in to have it checked out (which was an experience in itself! Riding the buses by myself with little idea of where exactly I was going—it’s turning me into an expert at asking for help!) the doctor looked a little confused when I said it wasn’t a repeat injury, that I didn’t play sports—I literally sprained my foot from simply walking to school. A very dumb injury. I wasn’t given very exact directions on how to treat it that first time, but when I went back I was told more about how to take care of it.

The scary thing was, however, that they wanted me to have an x-ray to make sure it wasn’t broken. I’m so, so thankful that Monica Wasserbach from the IFSA team lives here, because when I called her to tell her I was having everything checked out, she and her daughter took the time to make sure I got to where I needed to be, calling the doctors and paying for taxi rides and everything—I would have been so lost and freaked out if I’d had to do this alone, and she was honestly a saint for helping me do all these fairly overwhelming Adult Things. The x-ray was fine, I haven’t been called back about it, so clearly the results weren’t shocking, but still: going through that on my own would’ve been awful!

Unfortunately, it’s kept me from travelling these past two weeks as I’ve diligently rested for the last two Fridays and Saturdays. Which is a huge bummer: I’ve hardly traveled since I’ve been here, and it’s awful.

But good news from Sunday: I’ve got an internship now! I’ll be helping the Oral Division of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry of Hebrew University digitize and organize their written interviews and testimonies. I start next week! The interview was the least stressful experience I’ve ever had, and I’m hoping that every interview will go as smoothly as it did!

As far as classes go, I’ve begun researching for a paper for my Holocaust course, and once I’ve worked my way through that, I’ll start making headway on my paper for Issues in Israeli Society. My Holocaust paper is, tentatively, going to examine how women “performed” their gender within the concentration camps, namely Auschwitz-Birkenau and probably Ravensbruck as well (by “perform” I mean, how did they show their gender? I’ve read a few testimonies that describe women making the effort to personalize their prison uniforms in order to make them, if not more comfortable, then more feminine and individual—that’s the sort of information I’m looking for).  For Issues in Israeli Society, I’m going to examine the role that Holocaust survivors played in developing Israeli society: what were the immigration numbers, what sort of jobs did they hold, was there any controversy surrounding their positions in society, did they play any role in the actual formation of the state, etc. Continuity and Change in Modern Jewish History is getting easier because we’re covering things I know less about; also, we’re currently going over American Jewish history, and my concentration is in American history, so I’ve been finding this section particularly fascinating! We’ll be watching “The Jazz Singer” this or next week, and I’m very excited for it.

But other than the foot thing, everything’s been fairly normal! Classes are getting easier and better—they’ve created a slower Aleph-level Hebrew class for those who have been struggling with it, and I’m so relieved because I’ve been very stressed out about how poorly I’ve been doing in the lessons, so taking a class that won’t be going at a breakneck speed is a huge relief!

Will write again next week! Hopefully I’ll do something exciting over the weekend, now that my foot will be properly cared for.

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Classes (finally!)

Time October 29th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So it’s been a while since my last post, but that wasn’t because I forgot—classes started this month and I wanted to make sure I knew what my opinion on them was before I solidified them in print!

So, Hebrew is still difficult. The first week, especially, was awful, because they kept changing our room around and we had a different professor each day, until we realized that our class does have two professors. That’s a system I like, though—I like that, if I don’t understand the way one professor teaches an aspect of grammar, I have time to ask the other to explain it further.

HOWEVER! The rest of my classes are pretty all right!

Issues in the Study of the Holocaust was a very interesting experience on that first day: I walked in to find my professor, Dr. Silberklang, sitting casually in front of the class, waiting for us all to walk in. I’m not used to that kind of relaxed behavior, at least not on the first day, from professors. He looked very intense—he has very focused, deep-set eyes and a narrow face with a mouth that doesn’t look like it smiles very often. My very first thought was, “This really looks like a man who studies genocide for a living.” Not to say that Dr. Silberklang is completely without humor, but for the first few classes I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He’s extremely knowledgeable, of course, and I very much enjoy being in his class. Our first lecture raised the question, “Who do we define as victims of the Holocaust?” By the end of the lesson we hadn’t formed our opinion as a class, so at the end of the next class I asked how we define it. He smiled (vaguely terrifying!) and said that I’d have my answer by the end of the semester. Which frustrated me, a little, as a history major: terms should be defined early on so that we understand the context in which we use the terms, and while I completely understand the importance of coming to our own decision on how this mass atrocity can be defined, it also frustrated me that, well, “Holocaust” is in the name of the course, we should have a settled definition.

Issues in Israeli Society and I did not get off on the right foot right away. I go to a small liberal arts college where the class size in gen eds is about 30, 35 people while the more specific classes go down to 15 or so people. Holocaust had about 10, and I was very comfortable walking into that room. However, Israeli Society is taught in a lecture hall to over 50 students—I nearly walked in and walked right back out, I was overwhelmed! The big downside of the class is that some Freshman are required to take it, so the atmosphere is not of people choosing to learn what the class has to offer but instead of people forced into a room for 2 hours in the evening when they’d rather be doing anything else. However, the information taught in the class is great, and I’m enjoying what I’m getting out of it. A bonus, the professor is Canadian and has a sense of humor I’m familiar with and comfortable around.

Now, Continuity and Change in Modern Jewish History is the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Unfortunately, I know a lot about what we’re studying right now—we’ve been covering the history of antisemitism in Europe, and not only did I study that a bit at SU but we also went over it in Holocaust to build up into the Third Reich. And while that’s forgivable—going over information I already know, because we’ll eventually get to a part in time I don’t know about, which is a very exciting prospect and the reason I’m taking the course—I’m just not hitting it off with my professor. She’s almost a mixture of everything I disliked about high school teachers: mainly, it doesn’t feel like there’s any trust between professor and student. Generally, professors understand that you are responsible for yourself, and there’s nothing they can do if you’ve decided to be irresponsible. It’s almost the opposite with my Jewish History professor, and it’s hard to explain. It feels like she treats us as children, is, I suppose, the easiest way to put it. She scolds us if someone hasn’t done the reading, and she’s very quick to call us out if we’ve made a little mistake or have done something slightly disruptive in class—I’m so used to professors generally ignoring the class while lecturing, and leaving us to our own devices. It’s very strange and very uncomfortable to have a professor who watches us like a hawk and if we aren’t doing things to her standards, we’re yelled at for it. It’s difficult to explain because it’s generally an atmospheric thing in that room. It’s not a positive feeling. And while I’m learning and getting a lot out of the material of this class, I absolutely do not enjoy the actual lectures. It doesn’t help that my professor feels like the epitome of a person without a sense of humor—I’d never understood that description until coming here, unfortunately.

But overall, things are fine, generally! I’m applying for an internship with the Institute for Contemporary Jewry and will hopefully be interviewed for it tomorrow or the day after—that’s incredibly exciting for me! Will write again next week to make up for the weeks I’ve made up!

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The past month-ish in summary

Time October 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Every time I come on the internet, I think, “Hm, I should update my blog!” And then I never do. And so much has happened since my last post!

Sukkot break was generally pretty relaxing. Right after Ulpan, friends and took a bus out to Tel Aviv and stayed in a relatively decent hostel that was very close the beach (then again, no matter where you are in Tel Aviv, you’re never far from the coastline). We mostly spent our time on the beach (I got a pretty bad sunburn on my back, but it was worth it to swim in the Mediterranean again), but we also had time to see a little bit of Jaffa and we visited the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which was incredible because I’ve never been to a proper art museum, and to see Degas and Van Gogh and Seurat (my favorite artist of that time period) and Monet in the same room was indescribable. They also had a portrait by Gustav Klimt, who is another one of my favorites—generally, my entire experience at that museum was amazing and I’m definitely going to go back the first time I can! In Tel Aviv I also got to try my first Israeli McDonald’s out of pure American curiosity, and was a little relieved to discover that it’s much different (the meat is dryer and they only put ketchup and the suggestion of onions on their regular hamburgers) than American McDonald’s, so I won’t have to worry about having that particular craving again!

The rest of the vacation was spent figuring my way around the Old City. I visited the Kotel and Church of the Holy Sepulcher  again, as well as walked a chunk of the Rampart’s Walk. Just outside the Old City, I visited Dormition Abbey, the Chamber of the Holocaust (which was the first museum erected in Israel for the victims of the Shoah), and finally found Oskar Schindler’s grave on Mt. Zion! I was also able to make a short visit to the Israel Museum, which was rather overwhelming. There is so much to see there, and the rooms do not follow a strict chronological order, so in fifteen minutes one can go rather seamlessly from 200 year old menorahs to Impressionist art to Dadaism to a replica of an 18th c French salon to a Botticelli to modern Israeli art. It was really cool.

I rather crashed and burned at the end of Ulpan, which was my own fault—I didn’t keep up with the lessons, so for the rest of the fall semester I’ll be in an intermediate level, which will be more suited to my learning pace, I hope.

This past break has been spent with Chris Harrison and Monica Wasserbach from the IFSA-Butler staff! At first it was a little boring, because the first two days were spent going over orientation information that had already been told to us through Rothberg, but after that, the pace picked up, and I’ve really had a blast the past few days. We went on a great guided tour of the Old City, which was fantastic because now I really know what I’m looking at when I’m there! On Wednesday we toured the City of David, which is an archaeological site of an ancient city that used to be in the valley at the base of Mt. Zion. On the tour, we went through an extremely narrow cave-like path that was beneath where the city walls had been—it was easily the most Indiana Jones thing I’ve ever done, all I needed was a torch! There was a second path available, one that was in complete darkness with water up to your knees, and I know I have to take some friends back there and do that second path, because it sounded incredible! On Thursday we visited the town of Ein Karem and toured the alleged sites where Mary visited Elizabeth and where John the Baptist was born. It was a gorgeous town that really looked and felt like the Mediterranean. From there we took a guided tour of Yad Vashem, and while that was the 5th time I’ve visited the museum since I’ve been in Israel, I still learned a lot from it, and enjoyed the tour very much. At the end, the tour guide had noticed/had been told that I knew a lot about the subject, and after I confirmed that I studied the Holocaust, he gave me his email in case I had any questions! That was really wild, and I’ve already emailed him about suggestions for books.

Yesterday a friend and I made a really poor Israeli brand of mac and cheese for Shabbat; today I’ve been reading and relaxing, and getting ready for classes to start next week! I have a meeting about my Hebrew class and about potential internships tomorrow, and then Monday I will have Issues in the Study of the Holocaust and Issues in Israeli Society! I’m so excited, I can’t wait for school to finally start!

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Courses and Yad Vashem

Time September 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Since my last blog entry, I’ve seen the Mount of Olives, registered for classes, and visited Yad Vashem twice. It’s been a rather productive two weeks, I must say.

The day after seeing the Western Wall, friends and I took a cab to see the Church of the Pater Noster, a Roman Catholic Church, and then the Mount of Olives. It is the most beautiful view from the Mount: you can see the Old City perfectly, and it’s astounding to see grave after grave as they trickle down the mountain. We weren’t allowed in some of the other churches in the area because of the way we were dressed, so we’re planning on making a return whenever we can.

During the week, registration for classes through the Rothberg International School started. Originally, I’d intended on taking an Independent Study course to research how women redefined femininity in the context of the Holocaust, but because I haven’t taken a formal course on the Holocaust, it was suggested that I instead take the offered Holocaust course because there would be a choose-your-own-topic term paper assigned within the class anyway. I jumped at the chance, and now I’ll be taking Issues in the Study of the Holocaust: Perspectives on Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders; Continuity and Change in Modern Jewish History: The Past 200 Years; and Issues in Israeli Society. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited!

And lastly, this past Thursday a friend and I went out to Mount Hertzl to see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel. The only other Holocaust museum I’ve visited has been the Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and Yad Vashem and the Memorial Museum are extremely different in mission statement and in presentation, so seeing it was a little bit of a shock. Yad Vashem isextremely powerful, as its purpose is to bear witness to the event of the Holocaust, and it strives to record every name and, as well as it can, every personal story of every victim. Because of this, the majority of what one sees in the museum are very personal items that belonged to victims and survivors either before or during the Holocaust. What made this so effective and so very intense is that every single item was identified and had a backstory, which was written on a plaque beside the display—and every single plaque in the first room of the museum finished with, “She/he was killed at [name of camp, date when known].” Most named camps were Auschwitz. It took about 20 minutes for me to walk through that first room, and after twenty minutes of reading that same last sentence over, and over, and over again without fail—I almost started screaming. Sometimes I forget how many people six million people actually are—and Yad Vashem is very effective at reminding you the weight of all those lives lost.

The friend I went with is British, and on our way home (we were just about kicked out: they started closing the museum once we stepped inside the 3rd of 7 or 8 rooms) she asked me what I might feel if I had been German and had just visited the museum. I simply answered, “I don’t know,” but I think I do—I think a German citizen would’ve reacted the same way I reacted as an American. The Holocaust was a global event—it rests so heavily on all of our shoulders. Each world citizen has a responsibility to remember and to honor the victims. While I may not have relatives who were directly involved, I still feel a sense of guilt and mostly responsibility for what happened—also, America played a role in the Holocaust when it refused to accept thousands of Jewish refugees throughout the war. The Holocaust wasn’t a German crime, although most of the perpetrators were Germans: it was a crime committed by humans against other humans and we all hold responsibility for it, responsibility for the murders and responsibility for making sure that nothing like it ever happens again.

I spent the following Friday and Saturday emotionally recovering from that visit, and today after Ulpan I went back to walk through the garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, as well as look in on the current exhibit (which is an audio/visual experience centered around those Righteous and the people they saved) and the permanent art gallery. The Children’s Memorial was the most moving part of my visit.

So today I know I can ride the light rail by myself, and I know my way around Yad Vashem a bit more, which will probably come in handy during my course. For Sukkot, friends and I are hoping to make a return to Masada, as well as make a visit to Haifa! Fingers crossed!

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The women are the strong ones, truly.

Time September 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

In early spring 2012, my aunt died. Outside of my parents, she was the relative I was closest with. I saw my dad’s family the most, but in my grandparent’s eyes I had stopped growing once I reached twelve; my mom’s side was always busy, and there were so many nieces and nephews that there was never time for individual attention on my end. But my Aunt Linda, who didn’t get married until I was eight years old and thus most of my childhood was spent with her, always found time to hang out with me, even with her crowded nurse’s schedule. I started really coming into my own when her cancer was diagnosed; her illness seemed to flip a switch in her, and for the last year I had with her she was the only adult relative I had who truly treated me like an adult, and who also made specific time to be with me, even when her illness grew worse. When she died I was completely lost, because it felt like I had lost the most important woman in my life.

At this same time, I was taking a class at Susquehanna called “Jewish Philosophy and Ethics.” My family is not Jewish but my parents are Christian, and throughout my childhood they spoke a lot about the Jewish people and their history in relation to the New Testament. For years I was so interested in a heritage and culture I did not belong to, and college seemed like the perfect place to learn about it. I signed up for the class and loved it instantly: my professor was a rabbi who was hilarious, intelligent, and kind, and the way she taught us about the tenants of Judaism, and philosophies about God and God’s role in our lives, and our responsibilities as humans, connected strongly with the beliefs I had developed in the past few years.

When my aunt died and it felt like the bottom had dropped out of my world, it was extremely comforting to return to a class about religion, especially a religion and culture that answered questions I had at the time, about my place in the world, about a purpose for living. Sometime that spring I decided I wanted to go to Israel, and talk to God—it didn’t feel like God was approachable in my daily life in Pennsylvania, but if I studied abroad and traveled to the Kotel, touched that ancient wall, maybe, somehow, the clouds would part and God would appear to me through the clouds and explain what had happened to me that spring and summer (my only grandmother, who I was also extremely close to, passed away that June).

Finally, over Rosh Hashanah break, my chance came! Friends and I planned to visit the Old City! I was ecstatic:  it had been over a year since my decision and now I was going to complete the action I had been so desperate to perform 18 months before. We figured out the bus and light rail system, and walked through the Christian quarter into the Jewish quarter. After several stairways, we were there.

And I was speechless. But not for the reason I’d so anticipated—not because I could feel God in that place.

It was because of the women.

I went in knowing that women’s and men’s spots had been separated, but I hadn’t really imagined what that looked like in reality. Here, it meant ten or fifteen men praying on the men’s side, but tons of women on the other. Women crammed shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, speaking many languages and dressed in a variety of ways, observing as many traditions and practices towards that holy site. I waited for a gap to appear and made my move when a woman left; tentatively, I touched the wall.

God did not appear in the sky, or as a Voice in my head.

But there was a woman on my left, murmuring words I didn’t understand. A woman on my right prayed with her iPhone in her hand, against the wall. I watched another woman struggle to press a prayer into an already-crammed crevice; I saw papers dried into the wall, as much a part of it as the stones themselves.

It was watching the women that I had my own religious experience.

I thought about the restrictions Orthodox Judaism has against women. I thought about the restrictions other religions have against women. And I watched these women pray, and I felt very small, and I felt like part of a legacy stretching before and after my own self. I loved these women, in that moment. I loved being a woman, in that moment. I loved that, because of the luck of my birth and chosen gender identity, I was connected, in a small way, to these women who came out in the hot desert sun to worship their God. It made me feel significant.

A few days earlier I had decided that I wanted to do an Independent Study at Rothberg on women’s experiences with the Holocaust: how they retained and reconstructed their gender identity even in the face of adversity—in the face of ghettos, of work and death camps, and of the hardships after liberation. Sitting and watching these women pray reinforced that idea, and my desire to lean everything I could about women and their strength.

 

 

Tomorrow I’ll write a more general update post, but I wanted this own recollection to have a place of its own.

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Masada & Orientation

Time September 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My first weekend in Israel was spent at Masada and the Dead Sea: about a week before the flight, I got an email that an event-filled weekend trip was available and I snatched it up. Which was both a great and a terrible idea (but mostly great, of course). We woke up extremely early to board the buses that would take us everywhere that weekend, and really, that ride itself was almost worth what I had to pay for the weekend.

I’m from the Appalachian area of Pennsylvania: there are trees and (American) mountains everywhere; it’s hard to find a place where you can’t see a mountain ridge faintly in the distance. And it’s very, very green. I don’t know what I expected out of the Israeli desert, but it wasn’t what I ended up getting.

Almost immediately after we left Jerusalem, the ground leveled out and became extremely beige. I’ve never seen an American desert to begin with, so seeing terrain so “dead” and tan was a bit of a culture shock, I suppose. The farther we drove, though, the more ridges we could see of upcoming mountains. Soon, the Dead Sea was visible on our left, and it was incredible. Jordan was visible on the other side. There was not even a suggestion of a cloud.

Before we went to Masada, though, we stopped at Ein Gedi, which is a beautiful oasis and national park. I could only compare the views to photos I had seen of the American west: it was a rough, earthy beauty, and the springs were stunning and refreshing. Unfortunately, it was a difficult hike up to the top and I had to turn around and head back to the visitor’s center halfway through: my balance is poor and they were experience a heat wave at the time, so I didn’t want to take the risk of somehow tripping and passing out over a cliff face. It was nice to sit and look over on the Dead Sea, though.

Later that afternoon we arrived at the Dead Sea! The beach was strange because I’m so used to sand that collapses under your feet as you walk: this “beach” was solid and did not give under you, which made it interesting to walk on. It was terrifically hot and the water was, disgustingly, about the same temperature as the air. I have a bit of fear of water because I don’t know how to swim and fear drowning, so it took me quite a few minutes to let myself relax and float, but when I did—oh my word! I was so amazed by how different it felt from a pool or the ocean: when you lay back on any other kind of water, you have to do part of the word to keep yourself afloat. But here, when you let yourself go, the water holds you up—it was incredible.

Until the salt started to seep through my band aids and I had to rinse out the really harsh sting from a blister. That was not delightful, to say the least.

By the time the sun was setting we made it to our hostel in Masada, which was gorgeous and had a view to die for. Dinner was great (I’m pleased by how much I like Israeli food!) and we were given time to walk around and hang out in the pool—which was refreshing and glorious.

The next day we had the option of hiking up the nearby mountain at 5AM to see the sunrise, but I declined, as my body was still aching from the bit of Ein Gedi I had climbed. So after I had breakfast, I went with a second group to the nearby museum, which had items of the original settlement and the surrounding Roman camps. It was incredibly fascinating and enlightening: as a history major I much prefer contemporary times to ancient times, because I’ve never felt emotionally connected to ancient times. But in this museum, there were make-up containers, sandals, and even a braid that had survived the years in the desert sand and sun. Seeing such personal items—personal feminine items—really connected me to the past in a way I’d never felt before. It’s been five days and I still can’t stop thinking about them.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around the pool and playing get-to-know-each-other games, while the temperature outside remained exactly the same, no matter the hour. It was awful.

We got back into Jerusalem around 10 or 10:30 at night, as we couldn’t leave before Shabbat ended. And early the next morning I got ready for my second ever Hebrew class!

On Monday we had orientation, where we were told things specifically about how the classes would work at Rothberg International. I’m hoping to take a class on Hasidism and the current political climate on Israel; my overall goal is to take do an independent study on women’s experiences in the Holocaust and research how they redefined their femininity within that context: in the ghettos, the camps themselves, and afterwards.  If I don’t get that, I might take the class on the Holocaust or a class on the past 200 years of Jewish history. I’m also hoping to get an internship while I’m here.

Today friends and I travelled into the Old City; that’ll have its own post soon!

Shanah Tovah!

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First week

Time September 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Phew, this week has been a whirlwind!  The flight to Israel was fine, although the bag check process was much more interesting. I was flagged down and told my luggage would be searched, as well as my carry-on. For two grueling hours, I waited outside a small room near the boarding zone while my backpack was searched, as well as the carry-ons of five other classmates, which made it the strangest get-to-know-you experience I’ve ever had! We were finally allowed to go just before the plane took off, and the flight itself was nice if excruciatingly long. We got into Tel Aviv in the morning and the drive to campus was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever experienced—the 16+ hours I’d been awake definitely made the whole “Oh my God I’m finally here!” aspect much more intense.

I’m in a single room in a suite-style apartment. Two other flat mates are here and we’re not sure if the other two rooms will be filled. I’m still working on decorating and unpacking, as my room was rather bland with white walls, a large wooden cupboard attached to the far wall, a window overlooking another building, a narrow wardrobe, a long desk, and a bed that is very low to the ground.

We were given some down time then, and I used it to call my folks at 5AM their time (Rothberg required that we purchase a phone plan, which was brilliant). They were, regardless of physical or mental state at the moment of waking, very relieved to hear from me! I also took the time to shop at the nearby market, which was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I was, I suppose, more surprised than I had a right to be by how little I understood—nearly everything was in Hebrew, and there were very few American or British products I recognized. The coolest culture shock, to be sure! Luckily a lot of bags and boxes include illustrations so I treated myself to some tiramisu biscuits.

At 3pm, we went on a tour of the campus—which is 10 minutes uphill from the Student Village in the desert sun. The campus is much larger than my home campus and that in itself was an interesting experience. Happily, the Rothberg building is easy to get to and easy to figure out.

Then there was an orientation meeting and after that an optional bus trip to a mall for some much-needed shopping. There were several necessities I didn’t pack, so I was relieved to have the chance to get them. I did panic a bit during the trip, however: sleep, food, and water deprivation + an inability to read or understand the written/spoken language of a country = total disaster. I bought everything I needed, though, and after I calmed down a flat-mate and I got some pizza and ice cream (but, man, am I dying for some pepperoni right now….).

Today was the first day of Hebrew classes, and it was also an interesting experience. Other than English, I’ve only ever learned French, which follows the same alphabet and is easy enough to figure out once you understand the basics; Hebrew, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. Trying to learn what shapes make what sound is definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do—I didn’t realize how used to the Latin alphabet I was, but looking at the lines I drew and trying to figure out what sound they made was difficult to remember, difficult to keep track of. I enjoyed that they gave us two breaks throughout the day, though: a 15 minute break and then a half-hour for lunch made the lesson go by much faster.

After getting lost around campus, my legs are killing me, I’m starting to tan up (read: burn), and I think I’m pretty used to the Israeli time zone by now! Tomorrow is the trip to Masada and the Dead Sea, which I’ve been looking forward to for the past few weeks; I can’t wait.

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A nicer pre-departure post.

Time August 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The prospect of having that last negative pre-departure blog post being my only pre-departure blog post left something of a sour taste in my mouth, so I’ve decided to have another go.

And I especially thought I’d have another go because I just packed my suitcase for the first time! (I say first because I know my mom will have me unpack it when we wake up; it’s inevitable, really.) It’s 2:30 AM here on the East Coast in Central Pennsylvania and my suitcase is literally sitting packed in my living room. And it feels really good, deliciously peaceful after the last few stressful days. I think packing this time around has generally been easier than the last times I went to Europe—when you’re only travelling for two weeks, it feels like you really need to have everything because you won’t have time to shop if you’ve forgotten something, but because I’ll be living in Israel for over 4 months, my mom and I have agreed on the things I should bring over and the things I should just buy there, and that’s made this entire process so much easier as a whole. It’s nice having a lot of things I don’t need to stress over because I know I’ll be able to purchase them when I’m living there.

I’ve got a lot of basics packed: the three shorts I wear the most, a pair of jeans, and six plain shirts, as well as a Hogwarts shirt I couldn’t pass up, and I’ll be wearing a Susquehanna shirt and sweatpants on the plane. Two flats are on the bottom of my suitcase, as well as shower shoes/beach shoes and my bathing suit (!!!). A few dresses and cardigans are squeezed in, too, with my Susquehanna sweatshirt front and center. I’ve probably got three lifetime supplies of underwear and socks crammed in the corners as well.

I remember when I went to the first Accepted Students orientation at Susquehanna University. They gave us a free shirt (a sign of things to come: I’ve gotten three more since I’ve been a student) and on the front was the name of the university; on the back it said “Ready to GO?” as our university requires that every student spend a period of time abroad, and the program that organizes the trips is called Global Opportunities. I remember reading the back of that shirt with pride, excitement, and a dash of fear.

I’m ready to answer that question now.

Yes, Susquehanna. I’m so ready to go!

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Pre-departure is not my friend.

Time August 15th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As terrifically as I’d like to say otherwise, this entire pre-departure process has been a living nightmare, and I am eagerly, emotionally, and almost literally, counting down the days until I finally board the plane and leave.

Sadly, my experience with the American branch of the Rothberg Institute has been headache-inducing, which is partially my own family’s fault but partially the Institute’s fault. Earlier this month, they held a required meeting/Q&A session for students in their New York City office. There was an option to phone in. I’m from Central Pennsylvania, which is not too far from NYC, so while I told my parents I’d like to just phone in and avoid the hassle, my parents thought a trip to New York would be nice. Except we managed to cram about 6 crucially bad mistakes in a 4 hour time slot and wound up late and soaking wet to the meeting. By the time we arrived, we had missed a good chunk of the meeting. But it was nice to put names to faces, and we got to ask a few questions that we’d been chewing on (My Question: will there be much interaction between Israeli students and international students? Answer: not really. My mom then needed clarification on what was meant when it was stated that the school would shut down for holidays—she thought that included dorms, too). All in all, the informational section of the meeting took about an hour, even though they’d told us it would last around two. We then were given some light Israeli food and time to chit chat with the other people there.

The food was delicious, hummus and falafel and pita with plenty of dips, but there were, outside of myself, five other students at the meeting. I’d been so excited to meet some of the people I’d be with—but only met so few! They were all so nice, but it felt as though they were on an entirely different level than myself: much more sure, much more dedicated. We’d nearly gotten lost in New York to listen to information that was later emailed to us, and to chat with a few people I didn’t connect with! It was a nightmare.

Now, a few days later, I’m looking over the email they sent us as well as the documents, and I can see that part of the meeting we missed discussed how to obtain a visa. This intrigued me, as I’d emailed a few people in early June asking when I should start my application; the response was, “We’ll go over that later.” And now, I find out that the instructions they’ve given me are really just, “go and get your visa”! Incredible—I’ve got 12 days until my flight out, and I have to somehow figure out a way to get to the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia, the closest one to my hometown. I’m not sure how long it takes to get a visa, but I imagine it has to be longer than 12 days. And I could have finished this two months ago!

I’m also feeling very overwhelmed, as not only do I have to cram in more official paperwork in the next week and a half, but it’s also starting to hit me how much money I’ll be spending when I’m abroad. As there is no food plan included in tuition costs, I know that much of my savings will go to that—the kicker is that, while I’ll probably be living in a suite-style apartment, it won’t come stocked with cooking utensils! There’s more money I have to fret over! Plus, the costs of a phone plan, bedding, travelling within the country and shopping for toiletries as well as other necessities—I have such a headache and I’m not even close to being done with everything!

Overall, I’m extremely disappointed with this process and the way most of it has turned out—that much of the actual planning and doing is only coming down to crunch time, when much of this could have been announced throughout the summer. Part of me feels that if I’d known it would be this intense, this complicated, I would’ve chosen another program—but I never would have known about this stress if I hadn’t chosen this program, anyway. On a brighter side, my desire to study in Israel is much stronger and deeper than this superficial stress and paperwork—my desire to see a new country, to experience a completely different way of life, will definitely shine through the second I take my seat on the plane. I have my three classes picked out (Continuity and Change in Modern Jewish History: The Last 200 Years; Hasidism: From Mystic Fraternity to Reactionary Movement; and Issues in Israeli Society) although I won’t officially know what I’m taking until I get there. I’ve got a general idea of the clothes I’m going to pack and the clothes I still need to buy. And I’ve just about seen all the people from I wanted to see before I leave.

So, I’m still excited. But, overwhelmingly, I’m disappointed and aggravated at what this process has been like. Pre-departure has not been my friend.

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