Jeremy Weinberg ’12 is studying abroad in Haifa, Israel.
When I went on the Brandeis Taglit-Birthright Israel trip last winter, I had a wonderful time and got to see many parts of Israel in only ten days. I thought I had a pretty good picture of what life in Israel was like, and I learned so much from each trip I took. After that, I finalized my decision to study abroad in Israel, and got excited to have some more experiences like those on Birthright.
When I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, however, I realized that it was going to be a very different experience. I didn’t have the comfort of a large group of Americans to travel and converse with, many of whom I knew already. I arrived with one friend and we had to get to the University of Haifa with limited help. After taking a long cab ride up Mount Carmel, we arrived to our dorms. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Friday afternoon, which meant the campus was deserted and there was limited transportation and food available. Knowing this would probably be the case, we had asked an admissions representative to give us some tips about what is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and we got a cab to Central Carmel, where we found a restaurant and enjoyed our first real meal in the Holy Land.
I am used to my typical Brandeis Friday night: get out of class, get spruced up for Shabbat, go to a beautiful service in Berlin Chapel followed by a delicious dinner at Chabad, then hang out and relax with friends. But there I was, at an Asian restaurant enjoying a veggie noodle dish and sushi, slowly realizing how different my experience in Israel was going to be. Still, it was a nice relaxing first night, and my first weekend was spent exploring the campus and Haifa area with a friend.
The language was another issue entirely. I know some Hebrew, but my ability to understand the Hebrew grammar, systems and writing is different from listening and speaking, which I am not as good at. On Birthright I was able to use some Hebrew, but the majority of the time I was surrounded by English and felt extremely comfortable. I was in Haifa a month early to do Ulpan (intensive Hebrew class), and planned on taking Hebrew during the semester as well, but had no idea how difficult it would be to adjust. After being here for more than two months, I have become more comfortable with the language and now feel like I can actually use it without sounding completely American, but the initial shock was something I did not completely understand until I got here.
Now that more time has passed, I have realized how much I was not prepared for, but how important that was for the experience. Predictability is never fun, so I have learned to be more spontaneous and take in every new memory as best I can. My Hebrew is improving, I am meeting a lot of people from Israel and around the globe, and I am slowly but surely falling in love with the Israeli way of life. I go to the Shuk (Israeli farmer’s market) at least once a week, I have learned to navigate the bus system pretty well, and I have done some traveling outside of Haifa to other Israeli cities and made new discoveries. I am truly embracing being abroad, and I am so happy to be in this special area of the world, where modern and ancient live side by side.