September 24, 2017
After 1 sleeping pill, 2 movies, 3 meals and 2 bathroom breaks, I made it back home. I knew it would be a difficult return but in all honesty, it almost feels like I’m going through a break up with Israel. Since I’ve got back I’ve been constantly thinking about my experiences there and therefore mention Israel in almost every conversation, like how one would do with an ex. I’ve been saying things like “Well when I was in Israel…” or “That would never happen in Israel” or “That would most definitely happen in Israel”. I know my family and friends are probably annoyed but I honestly can’t help it. I know in a couple days or weeks I’ll get over it but I think I need time to just relax and process this change.
I think the most important things I gained during my time abroad were definitely independence and becoming more comfortable with starting/trying new things. Growing up, I used to have a lot of anxiety right before going to summer camp alone or starting a new class. Even in college I got nervous about going to classes not knowing anyone or days before an interview. Studying abroad not only exposed me to so many new opportunities to take more chances and be daring, but often times it forced me to. I entered so many unfamiliar environments and met so many new people, that eventually every new thing became less and less daunting. I’ll be honest, I still got nervous about speaking Hebrew to the Israeli TSA and I’m sure I’ll encounter a number of nerve-wracking experiences during my last year of college. However, I’m so glad that I was able to take myself out of my comfort zone over and over again while abroad.
For students interested in going abroad, even if it’s just a slight inclination, I’d say JUST DO IT…or at least apply. There a tons of programs suited for all types of majors and interests, located all around the world, that I’m confident there is something out there for everyone. I know all too well that it can seem like such a big and scary change in life but I think most, if not all, participants don’t regret going abroad and can say that it positively influenced them in many ways. Also, a semester or year can seem like such a long time but while you’re abroad, time seems to fly way too fast! I actually do recommend signing up for a full year since, personally, I really would have wanted to stay. However everyone’s preferences and schedules are different so a quarter or semester can also be the best option.
As far as anything I’d consider doing differently, I think that I spent way too much time researching about my program prior to my departure. I was so nervous that it wouldn’t be a good fit or that I’d be making the wrong decision, I ended up stalking people who were on the program already, calling the director multiple times and debating back and forth about whether to go through with it or not. Looking back, I shouldn’t have spent so much time trying to research every single detail about the program before going because there were times where I actually ended up spoiling little surprises for myself.
In order to graduate on time, I don’t think I’ll be able to participate in another study abroad program during my time in college. However, now that I know I’m capable of and enjoy living on my own abroad, I’d definitely consider moving out of the country, or at least away from Washington or California post-graduation. I don’t think I’d move anywhere without having some sort of job security or further schooling lined up, however I think I’ll look into it once I start applying.
Throughout the last few weeks of my trip, I’ve thought about how I can use the time I spent abroad to positively influence others. First off, I think that writing a blog was not only a great way to record my experiences, but to also spread the word about studying abroad, interning abroad, Israel and the Middle East. I explained things like how much credit I was able to earn, the strong bonds between friends I made and the qualities I gained/discovered. I knew I had a few people reading my blog (my mom), but unless I actually shared it publicly, it wasn’t reaching many. At first, I reasoned that this journey is a personal one, that I don’t need to post about it and that whoever really wants to follow me will follow my blog. However, I ended up sharing it on study abroad websites, Western’s Travel Blogs page and to Facebook, because I really wanted people to know how amazing this opportunity is and why college students should take advantage of it.
There was another reason why I wanted to share my blog posts and photos with others. Before I went abroad, I would tell people what my study abroad plans were and often times I got responses like, “Israel? Why would you want to study abroad there? Isn’t there a war going on?!” or “Oh…must be a heritage or faith thing”. Many of the people I shared my plans with assumed that I was shipping myself off to a terror-infested war zone filled with religious extremists. I won’t lie, there were a few dangers that occurred during my time there, however I think any location can present itself with risks. Through posting my blog and photos, I provided my social community with a new perspective of Israel. I showed them the amazing food I ate, the gorgeous beaches I swam at, the friendly people I met and the influential dance styles I studied. Israel definitely has its complexities, but it is such a diverse, innovative and warm-hearted place, and that’s all I wanted to expose.
I’ve also begun to submit reviews of my program on several study abroad websites in the hopes of encouraging, or at least providing information to, those interested in a similar program. Even just through conversations during my last year at Western, I know I’ll be advocating for studying abroad through sharing my experience. I also want to look into volunteering at study abroad fairs because I know that they really influenced me in making my initial decision to go abroad.
Overall, spending the last 8 months in Israel has been a meaningful and much-needed experience. I know that many can relate to the feeling of being stuck or bored towards the end of sophomore year and are looking to change things up without actually taking a break from school. Now that I have returned from my time abroad, I can honestly say that I feel much more refreshed and motivated to begin my senior year and post-grad life. I was able to discover so many things about myself, not just as a student, but as a dancer, friend, traveler, American and Israeli; things that a classroom setting would not have exposed me to. Although it took a lot of adjusting to, my internship abroad also allowed me to be more comfortable when approaching new work environments and helped me redefine my professional strengths and the skills I want to improve. Even just making new friends and figuring out what kind of people I want to surround myself with was also very meaningful and something that I will hold on to for the future.
As I said in an earlier post, I don’t know if choosing to study abroad was “meant to be” or “right”, but I do know that, while in Israel, there were certain things I did and people I met that made me feel like it was a good decision. As I integrate back into my school community, I’m excited to see how my experience will influence this last year and how it will inspire any post graduation decisions. For one thing, keeping a blog helped me realize my interest in writing and I hope to continue my blog in some form or another…so be sure to keep an eye out!
Thanks for following me through my time abroad (mom), apologies for the typos and hope to see you soon!