This summer I studied abroad for six weeks in Tel Aviv, Israel. I lived and took two 3 credit hour classes, “Arab Uprisings and Transitions” and “History and Memory in Tel Aviv-Jaffa”, at Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv. By living in and attending the university I was also able to travel throughout Israel in my free time.
My time is Israel was incredibly profound and transformative. I was not expecting to learn so much about myself and my relationship with the world around me in during my six weeks in Israel, but in truly living abroad I was exposed to new challenges I had never previously faced. My understanding of myself changed in that I learned how I dealt with homesickness, extended amounts of free time, language barriers, and managing my finances without a steady income. I thought that in my previous travels I had encountered these things, but my experience in Israel truly challenged me in these aspects and I was somewhat surprised in how I reacted. I thought that I would enjoy the free time built into the program, but I found it difficult to take it upon myself to plan activities around Tel Aviv, sometimes opting to not do things at all when planning seemed too tough. Additionally, I had never been homesick in any of my previous travels abroad or had really dealt with homesickness in college, so I did not worry about missing my home, my family, or friends while abroad, but I found myself extremely homesick at many points during the experience.
One of the biggest elements of my education abroad which taught me about myself was the extreme independence I had in Israel. My STEP Signature Project was the first time I had been to another country without a detailed pre-planned itinerary. In high school I spent three weeks traveling throughout Western Europe with around forty other high school students through People to People International. Last May I participated in a Maymester with my Scholars program, International Affairs Scholars, living and attending school in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. I’ve also traveled with my Scholars program to Toronto, Canada during Fall Break of last year. Each of these trips so positively affected my life and are the source of some of my best memories, however, these trips were all planned and facilitated by a group bigger than myself which allowed me to travel without much stress or responsibility. This study abroad program is Israel was much different in that besides my class schedule which was continually changing, no part of my time in Israel was planned ahead. This required me to plan all of my own meals, travel arrangements, and excursions. While this freedom had its advantages, it was also very difficult at times.
In my first two years at Ohio State I lived on campus and had a meal plan to take care of all of my meals, so until traveling to Israel, I had never had to buy my own groceries or cook for myself on a regular basis. Aside from the difficulty of planning and making my weekly meals, actually purchasing food from the grocery store was at times very challenging since most packaging and all signs around the store were written in Hebrew which I know very little of. In our free time we were able to visit many different places around Tel Aviv and the country of Israel as a whole. Visiting different restaurants, clubs, museums, zoos, and other attractions was absolutely incredible, but figuring out the public transportation systems like the train and and bus was another great challenge, mainly due to the language barrier but also lack of knowledge about the geography of the country. And while every activity we planned taught us more about the country and created lasting memories, keeping track of my finances while abroad was an overarching challenge I had yet to experience since in my other travels I had paid a program fee prior to traveling, which included most activities and left me to only keep track of spending money.
Although I just wrote an entire paragraph about all of the challenges during my time abroad, in a way I am thankful for them, as they really taught me about myself, specifically when and where I am most comfortable and how I handle adversity. I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio and so even though I live on campus, my parents are never more than a fifteen-minute drive away if I were to need any and everything. At 6,000 miles away in Israel, I was the furthest I had ever been away from home and for the longest amount of time. I learned that I truly depend on my family, but also that I am perfectly capable in surviving on my own without them. I actually enjoyed cooking for myself and enjoying meals with friends. I learned that despite the prevalent language barrier, I am fairly unafraid of asking strangers for help and typically found them to be quite helpful. Something I believed about myself which was validated in Israel was my preference of spending my money on experiences, rather than material goods. I returned with very few souvenirs, but hundreds of photos of the places I visited and the meals I enjoyed with old and new friends. I found immense joy in making lifelong memories with two of my lifelong friends with whom I traveled to Israel.
Unlike my previous travels abroad, my trip to Israel contained hardships, but these difficult times made the joyous times so much more precious and meaningful, and for that I am grateful. In making memories with old friends and new friends from around the world, my interest in human connection was strengthened and validated. I was constantly exposed to a cultures very different from my own, enhancing my understanding of other people and their culture, while simultaneously enhancing my respect for them. I do not know the opportunities which await me after graduation, but my time in Israel validated my desire to dedicate my life to promoting and facilitating understanding and respect among all people of all cultures, and I now feel motivated and excited to explore the ways I can do that in my personal, academic, and eventually, in my professional life.