Originally posted March 19, 2010
Time has already begun to fly; I leave in less than three months! It’s truly unbelievable. I’m going to have to start finding things about Israel that I hate so that it will be easier to leave. As you can see, some of the pictures are a bit old, from when my parents were visiting. I also took a few from the costume shopping for Purim, the Purim parties and salsa. I also decorated my room with all the maps and tickets that I got from all over Europe and finally it feels nice and homey (as you can see).
The semester is officially underway, and everything should be settling down and yet they aren’t. I have so much to do for next year and this summer that its dizzying, but at least my classes are finalized for this semester, as a few days ago. I’m taking Women in Israel, Hebrew (א3), Literature of the Shoah, and the Morals of Asymmetric War, and I’m auditing Markets, Games and Strategic Behavior (an econ class). I’ll also be doing some volunteer work with the MASA scholarship group, and I think will end up teaching English once a week in a school somewhere in the French Carmel, a neighborhood in Haifa. It should be fun, I heard good things about the volunteering last semester. I’m really enjoying my Morals of Asymmetric War class; my teacher is good (though his book isn’t excellent, it’s got a lot of good information) and interesting, but what really makes the class so fascinating is the class dynamic. Even though it’s four hours long (with a half hour break in the middle), I can easily stay alert and I’m constantly learning. It’s a class offered by the regular university so there are some Israeli students in it, some Americans, and Europeans. It’s a small class, I think we’re down to about 13 now, and it’s so cool because there are people from such different backgrounds. It’s also a good mix in that despite our differing opinions sometimes, we all listen to each other.
That’s not even the best part. Before our coffee break this week we were talking about the Finnish civil war. I’d never heard of it, so when we went on break I asked the guy from Finland about it. We chatted for about 10 minutes and came back to class, where there were two Israelis still there, one who’s in the army and an Arab Israeli. For the next twenty minutes we started talking passionately about the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict from each of our point of views and it was just so freaking cool! They’re all very smart so it was an intelligent, respectful, incredible discussion. What was super interesting was that by the end, we were all chatting and laughing! Who knew? At the beginning we were talking about the army and the guy from the army was saying that everyone in the army knew someone who’d died and that’s what they told them in the army, to remember them. The other Israeli countered with that the Arabs also feel the same way, and I could tell things were getting a bit tense.
But gradually we talked about it, what the solution could be, and I interjected my psych knowledge and we actually found a solution. Yes, a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It goes back to the Robbers Cave Experiment, by Muzafer Sherif, where he took a group of boys around 12, split them into two groups and made them dislike each other. Then he had them work together towards a goal that they could only solve together and the hostilities were solved. There’s more about it here Robbers Cave. So that was a very interesting conclusion to come to. It would not erase history, or prejudices, cultural differences, religious preferences, politics or anything, but it would be a common ground, a common interest to connect everyone showing they need each other. The guy from the army put it this way: they need a common enemy. Unfortunately that’s the truth, that’s the only thing strong enough that could bring the two communities, really two nations, together. All in all, a great class. Can you tell I go nuts for this kind of thing?
I had a few stressful moments last week when I realized that I had missed the deadline to apply to live off of campus, something I had considered but not made up my mind about yet. So I emailed and they let me apply late and I got accepted, so as of right now I’ll be living off campus next year. I thought a lot about the decision, as I know it will separate me from my friends on campus and from the community, but I think it will be best. I have a good friend who wants to find an apartment in Amherst and though that means a long-ish commute for me, I think that the experience of living in an apartment and having some separation from the (at times) hyper-stressful academic environment at Mount Holyoke will be good for me.
That’s something I’ve learned about myself living here; I really didn’t know how to balance my life back at school, when to stress out and make things happen, and when to let them go and just relax. I didn’t have enough fun. Sounds silly, I know, but I really didn’t enjoy going to class that much (unless it was a psych class or a politics class), as I was often unprepared, under-slept, and overwhelmed. I’d worry about being called on and not knowing the answer, about getting enough sleep, about getting homework done, and more. So yes, it’s been easier in Israel, the academics are generally easier, and I have time to relax, have tea with my neighbors, sit and talk with my great friend Dani for two and a half hours like we did last night, just on a whim. And I didn’t worry that there was something else I should be doing instead.
Aside from my Morals of War class, most of my classes are comparatively easy to what I take back home. But the amount that I’m learning about myself, about Israel, and about life makes up for it a hundred-fold. I’m talking with people from all around the world all the time, talking about their lives and experiences and views. And sometimes just making ridiculous jokes and enjoying laughing for the sake of laughing so hard that you cry, like last night at fondue night. This girl in the international school told a story about how when she worked at Target she got stuck in a basket. The basket was on her head, and her arm got stuck straight up in the air, and she had to be cut out. It was hilarious (and the chocolate high we were on definitely aided things).
Being able to have a real social life has been a great addition to life, needless to say. Sure I had one back home, but it was more of a “let’s sit around and watch movies and hang out and stress about life/school”, rather than a “let’s go do fun things and not worry about school at all for a few hours”. Some people have complained about the lacking academics here, but I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Sure it wasn’t quite what I thought. But what I gained in return is absolutely priceless. I’ve learned a lot in class, of course, but taking away the stress and worry has helped me to get so much more out of each of my classes, I actually do all of the readings again, and that allowed me to enjoy and embrace everything that this program and Israel has to offer. Which is a lot.
So I got the housing situation figured out (for now), and that was a relief but it made me realize that I really have no plans for this summer and I should really make some. Like yesterday. So I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week; I haven’t gotten around to it yet but that’s the plan for today. I need to revamp my resume (which I haven’t done for almost a year), get into cover-letter-writing mode and start hitting the pavement. Or internet waves. I also need to work this month at declaring my major. Yes I’m already declared, sort of, but since I’m a special major I need to write a major proposal and figure out which classes I’m going to take all of next year. It’ll take some time, but I’m not too worried about it as it’s quite flexible.
But back to adventures. Last weekend we went hiking in Eilat, as you can see from the pictures, and it was a lot of fun. Before we left, however, I lost my voice. Israel gets these winds called the Khamsin (or sharav), which are basically warm winds from Saudi Arabia. The name is taken from the Arabic word for “fifty”, as the winds are supposed to last for that many days. Unfortunately they carry a lot of dust and so my voice took a leave of absence for a few days (which people loved making fun of). It got a bit better over the weekend, and finally came back just a day or two ago.
But anyways, we started near to Eilat, hiked to the Amram pillars on Friday (after waking up at 3:30am to drive there) and to our campsite around mid-afternoon. We slept outside on the rocks and had a lovely Shabbat evening with tons of food. I helped make the fire that we used for light. For a while we fought over how to make it, but eventually the group of guys assembled (and Sara) realized that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to fire building and they listened (see picture of successful fire). Apparently we got some wolf-ish visitors sometime during the night, but I slept through it.
Saturday we did more hiking but it was beastly hot (and some people couldn’t continue) so we ended a bit early and had fun showering and walking around Eilat. Sunday was beach day, and what a lovely day it was! I was super careful with sunblock and barely got any color at all and had a lot of fun. On the bus ride home we all slept for a little (exhausted from so much sun) and somehow made it back in 5.5 hours. Oddly it should have taken us at least 7 hours. Pretty amusing, but it was nice to get back early. Wednesday I went to salsa (as I’ve done the past few weeks) and had an absolutely amazing time. I am so hooked on salsa, it’s crazy. The lesson was good, even though I didn’t understand much, but I did understand one verb that was on the Hebrew test the next morning I was supposed to be studying for. I’m finally getting to know a fair amount of people who regularly dance, rather than just the international students who dance there, and it’s great to have people to dance with most of time and to not have to work hard to find dance partners.
Last week we had a few hilarious moments when we were working on a certain move that involved knowing your lefts and rights. But it was in Hebrew, and I don’t know my left from my right in Hebrew. I have since learned it’s סמל (left) and ימין (right). So we switched to English, but people were still crashing into each other, confused. So we tried Spanish (izquierda and derecha), but no luck. My instructor joked about trying Hindi, but I think he was the only one who knew that. It was funny how we couldn’t quite find a language in common, but still usually manage to dance well together as a group.
So I studied for my test a bit after salsa that night but soon fell asleep. I woke up early to study, knew I wasn’t very well prepared, and just gave it my best shot. It really wasn’t that bad, so I relaxed, finished early, and went back to bed. I was half asleep when I heard a siren start going. I thought it was kind of weird, it didn’t sound like a police siren or anything I was used to, so I woke myself up. I then realized that it actually sounded like an air raid siren. So I jumped out of bed and ran into the main room. I opened the window and sure enough, it was an air raid siren. I saw other people at their windows but no one seemed worried. I called out to a friend of mine and she said “Didn’t you get the message? It’s a test”. So I thanked her and fell back into bed, relieved and feeling silly. Turned out the text message telling us it was a test was sent while I was sleeping. At least I know what it sounds like now, and it ended up being pretty amusing. It’s a nice supplement to all of the earth tremors we get here. Everyone tenses for about five seconds, thinking that rockets are being fired, and then relaxes because they remember that they’re blasting a tunnel through the mountain and that was just more dynamite going off. No big deal.
It’s also been crazy weather recently. Before the Khamsin it was cool, but then the Khamsin made the temperatures rise dramatically in just a few days. Sometimes the dust was so heavy, we could barely see the bottom of Mount Carmel (which is where the school is). Luckily in the past few days we’ve gotten some very heavy thunder storms and the dust has cleared, making the temp drop a bit but cleaning the air (and my voice).
It’s the 19th, in other news. Which means the 20th is tomorrow. The big B-day. Well not so big here, but big in the US. I am finally legal to drink. Goodie. Everyone knows it’s a big birthday, but I’ve been legal since September since I started traveling then, so it’s pretty anti-climatic. I decided to use it as an excuse to see my friends and to go out with them, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. I invited a bunch of friends from last semester and a few from this semester and it should be fun. I’ll try and do fun things all day (maybe watch a movie and color, or clean my room) and not work, but I have a feeling that I’ll need to do at least some homework. Alas alack, life goes on.
And finally, my last bit of news is that I have friends coming to visit me over the next few weeks. Nate is coming on Monday and I am so unbelievably excited! We have passover vacation starting Thursday for the next 2.5 weeks, so I’ll have tons of time to spend at the beach, travel around Israel with him, and relax before he leaves April 5th. Then my friend Will is coming to visit from London, on the 2nd! He’ll be here for about a week and a half and I get to do more travel around Israel, more beach days, more salsa, and more Legennda trips. It’s going to be a really fun vacation, and Dani will be around too so it’ll be a great time had by all.
I think that’s it for now (finally), congratulations if you made it this far! I’ll probably update mid-break, once my major is all done, I have some plans for the summer, and things are calming down. A brief Hebrew lesson before I go: היום הולדת שלי מחר. That means “My birthday is tomorrow”. (Ha yo-m hu-led-et shel-li ma-khar.) שבת שלומ! (Shabbat Shalom)