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Published: December 14th 2015
Milton and I in Tel Aviv
Now that it's almost time for my trip to end, I want to look back and assess everything that I learned and experienced here.
Before going to Israel, I had no idea what to expect. I had never been there before, and I wasn't even sure how to prepare for the journey. Once I got my acceptance letter to the University of Haifa for the Hebrew Ulpan and fall semester, I began thinking, "How am I going to do this?" I had so many questions running through my head like, "What kinds of things do they sell there? How will the campus be? and Will everyone be nice?" I had no idea what to expect. I was grateful for my dad coming with me the first time to help settle me in and carry my luggage since I still have a hard time with my shoulder. We had fun exploring Times Square and then checking in to our hotel here in Haifa. Everything looked so foreign. It's really hard to even explain what it was like. I felt so different from everyone, like everyone knew that I wasn't Israeli. Luckily, the man who worked at the hotel was
My classmates and I during a concert on campus
nice enough to show us where to eat, buy groceries, how to call taxis, and how to get to the school. Upon arrival at the dorms, the first thing I noticed was the amount of security. There were armed guards and checkpoints at every entrance on the road into the school and even walking to the dorms. While it made me feel safer, it was also strange to have people constantly rummaging through my bags and scanning me with metal detectors. Once we finally made it through security, we walked down several flights of stairs to get to my new dorm room. Unfortunately, it was not what I had hoped for. It was small, dirty, and only had the bare necessities. We scrubbed the whole place down and set up my things as best as we could. It looked better afterwards, but still not what you might call "luxury." But that seemed to be a characteristic of Israeli buildings anyways. There wasn't much decoration or luxury items in the buildings and homes here. They were built to fulfill the necessities of life but nothing more. But they need these types of things because they are easier and faster to build
as well as safer during war. And even though the architecture may not always be impressing, what is stunning is the amount of construction and innovation considering that Israel has only been a country for about 67 years. It's really pretty amazing what they've accomplished.
On my first day during the August Ulpan, I remember standing in lots of lines for orientation. I met two girls from Texas who were very nice, and we stood and talked about the program while we waited. Standing in line is also how I met Laura, who became one of my best friends. At the time, it was irritating to wait 2 hours to get to the front of a line, but looking back, it was a blessing in disguise because that's how I met those three girls. Afterwards, we had some activities by the dorms including making falafel and Israeli folk dancing. It was a bit overwhelming to befriend so many people at once, but everyone was so kind that I easily made friends with everyone there. So as it turned out, I didn't even need to worry about making friends there.
The next day was the start of class, and
I remember walking into a small class with about 15 people in it. Our teacher was very strict and I was so stressed out because of how fast and difficult the course was right off the bat. I made friends with the boy I sat next to named Kevin, and he tried to help me during class, but by the end, I realized that I was in the wrong level. The next day I switched to the next level down which turned out to be a better fit for me despite the fact that we had the worst teacher ever haha.
At the end of the week, all of us went out to a club there called Sifria. I sat at a table with Kevin, Laura, and my friend Izzy. During the night, Kevin also introduced me to his two good friends Milton and Moshe. They were great. I sat and talked to Milton about football for at least an hour there. We got along amazing well. Once again, something that had really stressed me out (being in the wrong level at first) turned out to be a blessing because through it, I met Kevin and then Milton and
Us at Laura's apartment for dinner
Moshe. From that moment on, Laura, Milton, Moshe, Kevin, and I became best friends. It felt like I had known them for years even though we had just met last week. We had amazing times going to Tel Aviv, the beach, and bars together. I was having the time of my life.
Then, almost as fast as it came, it was time to leave. It was a hard time because Kevin was going back to France, Moshe was going back to Chicago, and Milton was moving to Tel Aviv for medical school. The only one staying in Haifa was Laura. I didn't know how it would be without them when I came back in October. Fortunately, we still stay in touch through Whatsapp and Snapchat, but it wasn't the same.
It was great to come back home for a bit in September. I was grateful to see the family again and rest after my trip, and the next time when I went back to Haifa, at least I knew what to expect. I knew what things to bring and how to use the bus systems and get around in Israel. My biggest fear this time was staying for
Dinner in the German Colony
so long. I'd never been away from home for so long all at once, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to do it. But once again, God surprised me by answering my prayers.
When I got back, I still had a lot of my friends here from Ulpan, and there were many new people as well. I got to reconnect with everyone and meet the new kids during our first activity there. I was impressed by how nice everyone was. We all got along very well, and on our first weekend we went out to Sifria together for dancing. We had an amazing time there. I still remember how much fun we had that night. It was perfect. Even though no one could replace my old group, I easily became closer friends with everyone else there, and I got to see Laura a lot since her boyfriend lived on campus. Things were going great.
Two weeks after I got back, Laura and I decided to go to the beach even though it was getting a bit colder. While we were there, we ended up meeting two Israeli guys named Carmel and Or. We all instantly
Or and I at the beach
hit it off and spent the rest of the day hanging out on the beach. Then, before we left, Or asked me if I wanted to get dinner with him that night, and so I agreed. He seemed really nice and was pretty cute (haha). So later that night we went to Cafe Cafe and had an Israeli dish called Shakshuka. I had a lot of fun with him. He told me how he was back in Israel to apply for his student visa to study business in New York starting in January. He was really nice, driven, and a great listener. I liked him. Afterwards, we went to this place that had a big balcony overlooking the city and the ocean. I wish I had my camera because it was so beautiful! I loved it there. I do have somewhat of a confession though, and Dad please don't kill me. The only reason I'm telling this story is because now looking back on it, it's pretty hilarious. So here it goes. I'm not sure if my mom told everyone, but I actually ended up fracturing a part of lower spine while I was here. And I never told her or my dad how it happened because I was really embarrassed. But the truth is, while on that date, Or was kissing me while I was leaning with my back against the rail on the balcony. After a while, it really started to hurt because I was bending backwards over the rail, but I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to ruin the moment. But eventually it hurt so bad that I had to move, and when I did, I immediately realized that something was wrong. My back hurt so bad that it was painful to move and to sleep. Eventually I went to the doctor and then to the hospital where they told me that I had fractured one of my lower vertebrae. I couldn't believe it! It was really funny but also extremely embarrassing. I didn't know what to say when doctors asked how it happened so I just lied and said maybe it happened while I was working out. Or couldn't believe it either. He felt so bad! Once the pain wore off, I started to find it funnier. Like how could that happen? I have the worst luck with things sometimes haha. But I figured it would be good to tell about it now. So there it is. Mom, Dad, I hope you find it funny as well (please don't be mad)!!
A lot of these last weeks have flown by in somewhat of a blur. I go to school, see Laura, see Or, go the mall or beach, visit Milton...the list goes on. School is getting more difficult now that deadlines are approaching, but the rest of the semester has been pretty relaxed, giving more time to explore the city and see my friends. Of course now that it is winter, it's a bit harder to walk by the ocean or be outside too much, but I still try to enjoy it as much as possible. Once again, I have the feeling, "How could this be over already?" I mean I only have four weeks left? How did that happen? At some points I feel like I'll never get back home, and at other times, I'm shocked about how fast it's going. There are some things here that I will really miss when I get back home such as the beach, the scenery, and my friends. However, there also other things I can't wait to leave behind such as my dorm room, the buses (they are literally NEVER on time), and the expensive prices of everything here. I know I'm going to have mixed feelings about leaving. It will be a sad and happy experience all at once. I'm happy that I know now how to live in Israel for when I return to continue learning Hebrew. It'll make the transition here much easier. In any case, I can't wait to be home again and tell everyone about all the stories I have from Haifa.
By the way, you have to click on the pictures to scroll through all of them. When you click on one, it'll pull it up and then there'll be a button at the top right that says next and then you can scroll through them all.
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